What I buy at Trader Joe’s

Readers have been asking more and more what real food products to buy at Trader Joe’s, so I thought I’d just turn the discussion into a blog post! First of all, I don’t do all my shopping at Trader Joe’s (I get produce, dairy, and other items at Earth Fare and the farmers’ market), but I do go there every couple weeks for some staples that in some cases I can’t get anywhere else.

Secondly, I know Trader Joe’s is touted as a health food store, but just like the rest of them they still sell a whole lot of (organic, gluten-free, vegan, multigrain, etc.) junk food! A reader asked me once if there was anywhere she could shop for food without having to scrutinize labels and just buy anything that’s available (while still avoiding processed food).

To be honest, the closest you are going to get to a place like that is the farmers’ market, and even then I still like to ask if they spray chemical pesticides or use synthetic fertilizers on their produce. So long story short, you pretty much always have to have your guard up…and that even includes shopping at Trader Joe’s!

Before I dive right into the products though I want to be sure to tell you about two of our sponsors. Our sponsors are what keep this site going for free so we really appreciate it when you send them some love. :)

First, there’s Real Salt that’s produced without additives, chemicals, or heat processing of any kind. Real Salt has a pinkish tint with flecks of color from more than 60 naturally occurring trace minerals. All salt is not created equal so you should definitely check them out.

I’d also like to make sure you know about Tattler’s BPA-Free Reusable Canning Lids. If you haven’t finished canning all your summer produce yet then now is the time! I canned some green tomato relish myself last weekend and it was super nice having the Tattler lids on hand because to be honest I have trouble keeping track of which Ball lids have been used before or not. :) If you want to give them a try be sure to use coupon code “100Days” for 5% off! And now back to Trader Joe’s products…

What I buy regularly at Trader Joe’s…

  1. Trader Joe’s Whole-Wheat Pitas
    Finding decent bread products at the grocery store is no easy task. Most people have to go to a bakery or make it themselves in order to have 100% whole-grain bread made with only 5 or 6 ingredients, which is why I was so excited when I figured out that these Trader Joe’s pitas fit the bill. It’s so great to have an alternative to regular sandwich bread…because I like to switch things up every now and then!

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  2. Trader Joe’s Sliced Havarti Cheese
    I like the convenience of pre-grated cheese, but not the powdery additive that’s used as an anti-caking agent to keep it from sticking together (cellulose – made from wood pulp), which is why I think pre-sliced cheese is the perfect middle-ground. It’s super quick and easy without any unwanted additives…because no matter how hard I try I cannot get my cheese slices this perfect and uniform. Plus I am learning that havarti is good on just about everything (including those pitas that I just mentioned above!). :)

  3. Trader Joe’s Organic Hummus
    It would appear that I am creating a delicious pita sandwich here with these first three items! Sure, I like to make homemade hummus, but I don’t always have time and this is the only organic version that I can easily find. They no longer carry organic hummus (to my knowledge) at Earth Fare, which is again where I do my main shopping.

  4. Coconut Oil
    I can find organic coconut oil elsewhere, but not at the TJs price of only $5.99! Now that’s a deal compared to around $10 at other stores.

  5. Yogurt
    Sometimes it can be a challenge to find yogurt that meets all my criteria…organic, whole-milk, plain, and reasonably priced! Now if yogurt is on sale at the other stores it’s the same price as the Trader Joe’s stuff, but when comparing regular prices this one is a little bit cheaper.

  6. Honey
    It may not be local honey, but once again it’s reasonably priced! I normally buy big glass jars of local honey from Earth Fare or the Farmers’ Market, but for convenience I do like to have one squeeze bottle around for when we need just a little (on oatmeal for example).

  7. Nuts and Seeds
    Speaking of cheaper…you cannot beat the price of nuts (almonds, cashews, walnuts, pine nuts, pecans, etc.) and seeds (sunflower, pumpkin, sesame, etc.) at Trader Joe’s. BUT I will say that price sometimes comes at the cost of quality. Earlier this year I noticed a few bags of our Trader Joe’s cashews smelled and tasted funky. I tried using them anyway and they pretty much ruined our whole batch of granola. Nuts may be more expensive out of the bulk bins at Earth Fare, but at least I can do a quick quality check. I do know that Trader Joe’s does accept returns so you could still roll the dice and try to save money on their nuts and seeds…and just return them if they don’t work out.

  8. Coffee/Espresso
    I save lots of money stocking up on coffee and espresso from Trader Joe’s whenever I am there! Organic coffee can be a big ticket item elsewhere.

  9. Three Buck Chuck
    Yes, guilty as charged. We put a great deal of effort into selecting the highest quality food available and then we wash it down with cheap wine. What can I say…we are definitely not perfect! It’s not that we don’t enjoy (or want) more expensive wine it just doesn’t help the budget if you know what I mean. [UPDATE: Since writing this post I’ve switched to the organic wines that Trader Joe’s offers instead of “3 Buck Chuck.”]

What I buy occasionally at Trader Joe’s…

  • Whole-Grain Pretzels
    There are not many 100% whole-wheat pretzel options out there. These contain corn syrup (although not much), which is definitely less than ideal, but sometimes beggars can’t be choosers. So every couple of months we’ll pick up a bag of these just to keep our school lunches interesting!

  • Lara Bars
    These are available at quite a few places now…Target, mainstream grocery stores, all the health food stores, etc, but once again it’s hard to beat the price at Trader Joe’s. So if I am there and happen to think about it I pick some up.
  • Ak Mak Crackers
    These are one of our favorite brands of crackers because they are both whole-grain and organic! I can buy these elsewhere, but I do sometimes get these from Trader Joe’s as well.

  • Cheese
    It all comes back to price. Trader Joe’s has some of the best prices on cheese (which can get pretty expensive elsewhere), but to be honest their selection isn’t my first choice when it comes to taste. So depending on how the budget is stacking up at the end of the week I sometimes go for their cheese as a cheaper alternative.

What non-processed foods do you like to buy at Trader Joe’s?

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547 thoughts on “What I buy at Trader Joe’s”

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  1. I love their frozen riced cauliflower, the nuts, the small packs of cashews or mixed nuts with dark chocolate (my only indulgence) for in the go, and the oil-packed tuna…among other things. Do love TJ’s, but I agree with you, I’m a dietitian and even I have to not get sucked into “preservative free=healthy” in the moment! I love your blog, BTW!

  2. I like their organic cream cheese and goat cheese. I also like their frozen organic veggies like peas and corn (great prices!), and some of their organic produce like zucchini, cucumbers and peppers.

  3. Pleased to find your site..
    We (an older, retired couple) enjoy shopping at TJ’s but are sometimes overwhelmed with the variety of items we don’t know a lot about…(we don’t always go there with a purchase plan)
    I believe that your site can give us insight as to what to look for…
    Thank you… :O)

  4. They have the very best whole milk ricotta cheese and at a better price. Also the simply sour cream has no stabilizers and the shredded mozerella is fantastic. Also buy their cereal and produce

  5. I love reading about what other people buy at TJ’s. I’ve been a devoted fan for over 15 years. Unfortunately, a lot of bloggers give misinformation about Trader Joe’s as well. “Trader Joe’s is touted as a health food store” is a classic example. Tjs never refers to themselves as a health food store, and those who shop there on a regular basis understand the difference.

  6. Frozen mango and pineapple for smoothies (by far best price!), natural peanut butter (same price as costcos, but much better flavor and crunchiness ratio); nuts (although same price per pound at Costco); sweet potato chips :)

  7. As a busy working mom, I buy their Mire Poix. and organic vegetarian stock. Great way to throw together an easy and healthy lentil soup for dinner,

  8. Trader joes discontinued the organic hummus, which was my favorite for years. They also haven’t carried any pita bread all year. Have you had the same issue and if so what substitutes have you found at TJ’s or elsewhere? I especially like the mini pitas for the kids.

  9. Best prices for some quality stuff! Organic broccoli slaw, organic apples. Eggs, plain yogurt. Almond butter. Mediteranean hummus, organic dark chocolate, and yes the organic coffee!

  10. I buy the no salt added marinara sauce and no salt added canned tomatoes for quick sauces to put over my zucchini noodles. Bananas are a good price too depending on sales at other stores. I also like the low sodium vegetable juice and chicken stock.

  11. My Trader Joe’s has the best prices for organic produce! There is a Whole Foods and Mariano’s right down the street and those places have prices that are 2 – 3 times more for organic anything.

  12. It’s hard to find flour tortillas without a lot of junk in them–except at TJs! Both the regular and whole wheat types are great, so I stock up on them whenever I make the trip there. They store well in the freezer, and are perfect for a quick meal of chicken quesadillas or as a wrap for school lunches.

  13. Did you know that many of the products at Trader Joe’s are actually top quality brands sold under the TJ label. Check out their quiche. A few years back one of the employees told me that these are actually the Nancy brand. No wonder they taste so good, and so familiar. Great savings there!

  14. I love trader joes harvest grains blend! perfect alternative to plain rice as a base for some of my dinners :)

  15. TJ’s Organic popcorn kernels are much cheaper than anywhere else I’ve found! Also bags of organic potatoes are a steal at TJ’s.

  16. The Fetzer wine rep. tells me all Fetzer wines are made with organically grown grapes. They are not “certified organic” due to cost. They are very inexpensive in comparison to others, so give it a try.

    1. I was looking for a barbecue sauce without artificial colors and one they have a TJ’s is marked all natural but has caramel color listed as an ingredient. How is caramel color all natural? Does anyone know?

  17. What a great post! I love to see we are very like minded. You’ve captured may of our TJ’s staples. I have not done the cheeses mentioned but I do the raw cheese and love it. I will have to try the pre-sliced. We also do greek yogurt instead of plain. :-) I certainly enjoy the organic wine selections!

  18. Leah Watkins McPeak

    Hi there. I feel like I saw a post on FB similar to this one, but with foods from Target. I’ve searched a lot for it with no luck. Can you tell me the link? Thanks!

  19. Candy Chamberlin

    I have been using Tattler reusable lids for several years. At first I would have 1 or2 that didn’t seal, but after a phone call to the company she was able to give me some tips. Now I have no trouble and love it that I don’t have to buy seals all canning season

  20. I noticed you said you have trouble keeping straight what canning lids you have used & which you have not. If you just throw away the lid when you open a jar of a home-canned product, there’s nothing to keep track of. Why would you keep a lid you’ve already used anyway? Toss the ones you take off the canned jars, keep the unused lids in the box til you’re ready to can again, & there will be no problem. The bands can be reused many times until they eventually rust or get warped, of course.

    1. I reuse used lids for fridge or dry-goods storage. The white plastic lids are nice but they are space hogs in my small, inefficient rental kitchen. If the lid isn’t already written on (I label my jars for my own purposes by writing on the lid – almost all my jars are in boxes slid under the bed, couch, chair due to small apartment so the top view is most efficient for me) I use the Sharpie I keep in my silverware drawer to put a big X on the lid when I open the jar. Now that we officially don’t need to heat the lids anymore I open up the boxes as soon as I bring them home, wash them and dry them thoroughly, and store them in a zip-top bag (reused, natch!) so I can deal them out as needed like cards off a deck. I have 2 baggies, one of new lids and one of used.

      Lids (and rings) are recyclable – don’t throw them in the trash!

  21. I have a hard time with TJ’s because they do not always tell you where there food is sourced from. and truthfully: i put buying local over buying organic. when they coincide great! too many things come from out of the country, when the farmers in my own town (and region) do such an amazing job – and i rather pay my neighbors!

  22. When you say the TJ organic cashews tasted funny, how did they taste? I just found your post googling about them because our new bag tastes a bit like bleach and I was wondering if there had been a recall for some kind of problem. Normally they have been delicious, but these ones taste like they fell in a pool.

    1. Amy Taylor (comment moderator)

      Hi there. I’ve had the same experience with nuts from Trader Joes though I wouldn’t describe them as tasting chlorinated. ;)

  23. I like to buy Trader Joe’s Grade A Maple Syrup, their Crowd Pleaser Cheese assortment as well as their Mozzarella cheese slices. I will occasionally buy their organic eggs, although I like to buy them from our local farm, and also Trader Joe’s whole milk

    1. Trying to keep in USA, Trader Joe’s Maple Syrup comes from Canada. By the way, all syrup is now considered Grade A. The label should say what level of color the syrup is, light, medium, dark or very dark amber. Buy from your local producer.

      1. That’s because a lot of maple syrup comes from Canada; there’s probably not a big enough supply in the U.S.

  24. I love TJs, but I once heard a story, I think it was on NPR, but I could be wrong, about their $3 wine. Ugh. Never again will I buy that. They basically do not sort the grapes very well and all kind of
    stuff goes into that wine. Yucky. I do love their organic OJ, and the fact that they sell reasonably priced
    Organic popcorn kernels!

  25. Thanks for this list, Lisa! It’s hard not to get sidetracked and over do it at TJ’s but now I’ll follow your lead!! Love your blog and am so thankful for such a helpful resource!!!

  26. So you spend tons of dough on organic cheese and yogurt and hummus but then you eat non-organic wheat? Once I found out that they basically spray Roundup on all the wheat crops in the US to make it mature at the same time before they harvest it, and that most of it is GMO, I switched to organic wheat only and it has made a big difference in the stomach trouble I had been having. I try to only eat it occasionally anyway, so it isn’t too much more expensive than before.

    Also, your whole wheat pretzels with corn syrup–most corn in the US is GMO unless otherwise specified. Just letting you know. We all have our different requirements. I just started trying to eat primarily “real food” last month, and now I swear I can taste the chemicals in the other stuff when I do try to eat it! I don’t think I’m ever going back!

    1. Glyphosate/roundup is a problem- but few farmers use it regularly.
      However, if a company primarily uses one source for wheat and that producer uses it often, then that company will have more residue in their products.
      FYI- Bill Gates is the largest shareholder in Monsanto…. He is also pro-sterilization and population control, among other things.
      This product is used on grains besdides wheat- therefore the buildup.
      There is absolutely NO GMO wheat. There is GMO corn & rice.
      That being said, I still seek organic wheat for my kids/husband- they do fine with wheat, while I can only tolerate ancient forms/spelt.
      Most wheat before the 50″s was spelt variety.

  27. have you found any info on the nutritional quality of these products? I don’t know what to look for exactly, but, it seems like some of the items at TJ’s just simply cannot be OK. The honey for example, I do not understand how they can sell REAL honey for those prices (unless it really does come down to exploitation). I’d suggest for info, reading about the honey black market. A lot of it is mixed with corn syrup, and the pollen is filtered out which is the only way to tell true honey and its origin. Its worth a further read if you haven’t already looked it up. I love your blog, thanks for all the great resources and info!

  28. Great deals at a high cost for those who actually do the work. Trader joes, along with other supermarket chains can sell items at lower prices due to exploitation of workers. Their coconut out May me “organic” but it’s not fair trade. That’s what it should really be about. It’s a sad messed up system.

  29. thank you for the good ideas plus pictures of them! I have found the Trader Joe’s canned coconut milk is always .99 and it does not contain guar gum or other additives like many other brands! plus the price is about half of any other stores! I also get nitrate-free bacon and lunchmeat there (for a treat) ;-)

  30. I get coconut oil, hummus, nuts, wine, and occasionally frozen entrees for quick lunches. I am pretty picky about those, so it depends on what is available and what the ingredient list looks like. I like that they don’t add preservatives to most of their frozen stuff. I will try the pita next time I go. Thanks.

  31. GettingRealwithFood

    I was so disappointed when I went to my local TJs for the whole grain pretzel sticks. I couldn’t find them, so I asked an associate to look them up…they are discontinued :( At least at my store. Pretzels are one of the things my kids miss the most since going “real” with food. Anyone else have any suggestions on where I can find whole grain pretzels?

    1. Assistant to 100 Days (Amy)

      Hi there. Look for Unique (brand) sprouted whole grain splits. They are good. If no stores in your area carries them, I know you can order them through Vitacost. :)

  32. Trader Joe’s is only touted as a health food store by people who like to assume. They offer a variety of products for a variety of people, and never try to make someone’s choices for them. People who want to be healthy should make smart choices wherever they shop. I know I can come out of whole foods with a bag of smart choices or really unhealthy ones…