List: 11 Favorites from Trader Joe's
I first heard about Trader Joe's from the show "Cash Cab." You remember it? Taxi-based trivia show based out of New York City...it seems like practically every third group of people Ben Bailey picked up were headed to Trader Joe's. It held a real fascination for me; I had no idea what it was all about, really, and those New York City people seemed to be flocking to it like angry geese to a lakeside picnic.
Trader Joe's is still a novelty for me. This cult-favorite grocery store opened its first Oklahoma location in Tulsa in February 2016 and followed up with my OKC store that September. I'd been to only one other Trader Joe's before—it was in Plano, TX, not far from where my grandmother lived—and I instantly became obsessed. They had interesting vegetarian food, grab-and-go options, healthy packaged goods like I'd never seen before. It was just different, and I loved it (insert a bougie white people reference here).
The OKC store may not have Two Buck Chuck yet (only a couple of months until October and the new alcohol laws take effect, people!), but they still have plenty of products that keep me coming back for more. I by no means do all of my grocery shopping at Trader Joe's, but here, in no particular order, are 11 products that I adore.
1) Steamed Lentils
Lentils, along with quinoa, eggs, onions and bell peppers, are one of my dietary staples. It's not like it's difficult or time-consuming to cook lentils, but it's always nice to have a ready-made option like this available when need be.
The lentils are vacuum-sealed and are sort of like a brick, so I'd suggest cutting off what you want, separating them and rinsing them under cold water. I'm a freak so I'll just straight up eat lentils plain, but I think these steamed lentils are perfect for adding to salads, soups, or anything else you think might work. Yesterday for lunch, for example, I sautéed red onions and yellow bell peppers with olive oil, pepper and semi-cooked lentils, than added everything to a bowl with scrambled eggs, salsa and low-fat mozzarella. Highly recommend!
Serving size: 1/2 cup. 120 calories, 0g fat, 20g carbs, 9g protein.
2) Reduced Guilt Chunky Guacamole
Guacamole (and avocados in general) definitely has a reputation for being high-calorie. Avocado is high in monosaturated fatty acids, which are thought to help lower cholesterol. And if you're a vegetarian, then you know that adding avocado to practically anything helps fill you up and add calories where necessary. So in this case, I'm perfectly fine with the supposed "high-calories."
But let's get back to the premise of this chunky guacamole. It's made with Greek yogurt, and as you can see from the photo above, this means it has 50% less fat and 40% less calories. Whenever I make my own guacamole at home, I always add Greek yogurt anyway. It provides a nice creamy texture plus a kick of sourness that I really like. Making guac, just like cooking lentils, is not difficult, but if you need a quick option for a party I highly recommend grabbing a container of this.
Serving size: 2 tablespoons. 30 calories, 2g fat, 2g carb, 1g protein.
3) Lemon Basil Pasta Salad
I readily admit that this one’s kind of a splurge, both calorie-wise and nutrient-wise, but I don’t regret it! The pasta contains enriched flour, which for sure isn’t the best for you, and the only “vegetable” is basil; basically, this pasta salad is a literal pot of sugar, fat and carbs. However, I love the flavors involved and would maybe make something similar with a quinoa pasta and broccoli and/or spinach added.
I actually ended up eating this at home, so I added salt, pepper and a touch of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The lemon wedge included is fairly small, and if you're buying this to take to work or something, I’d suggest buying an extra lemon to go with it too.
Serving size: 1 1/4 cups. 200 calories, 8g fat, 26g carbs, 6g protein.
4) Lentil Soup with Ancient Grains
We’ve already established that I love lentils. I also love soup, if I haven’t previously made that clear; it could be 110 degrees outside and there’s a fair chance you’d catch me eating a bowl of lentil soup from Zoe’s Kitchen (have you had it?? It's amazing).
So yeah, I’m all about this soup from Trader Joe’s. The “ancient grains” involved include amaranth, quinoa, flax seeds and millet and are actually the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th ingredients listed. There may be more carrots and onions in this soup than there are grains, but nobody ever said that extras veggies was a bad thing.
Serving size: 1 cup. 200 calories, 9g fat, 24g carbs, 9g fat.
5) Tangerine Juice
Guys. Seriously. Tangerine juice blows basic bitch orange juice out of the water every damn day! It seems to be less acidic, and it tastes a bit sweeter too (but in a refreshing way). Juice, of course, can be high in calories and sugar, so what I like to do is add a bit to a glass with Sprite Zero and ice. Add a shot or two of vodka and you’re all set (try it, trust me)!
8 fl. oz. 110 calories, 0g fat, 25g carbs, 1g protein.
6) Frozen Cauliflower Pizza Crust
I’ve encountered mixed reviews for TJ’s frozen cauliflower pizza crust, but I’m personally chalking it up to user error. The instructions say to cook the crust for 10 minutes, flip it over, cook it for another 10 minutes, then add the toppings and cook again. I’d go so far as to say cook each side for 13-14 minutes, cook for five minutes with the toppings, then add to the broiler for extra crispiness. Otherwise, you might end up with something mushy that doesn’t much resemble crust. Skipping the sauce and serving it on the side for dipping isn’t a bad idea, either.
Flaws aside, I still think this is a great product! Making your own cauliflower crust can be pretty intimidating and time-consuming, and I like that there’s a frozen option available. It’s big enough for one person and pairs well with a variety of toppings. Ed’s not into it, so I usually buy it when he’s out of town and load on “gross” stuff like kalamata olives.
Serving size: 1 crust. 0g fat, 102g carbs, 6g protein.
7) Frozen Channa Masala
There’s something strange about the premise of frozen Indian food, but I knew if anyone could pull it off it would be Trader Joe’s. Their chana masala, which is basically a sort of chickpea stew, is a great place to start.
You know how you’ll get a frozen Lean Cuisine mac n’ cheese and you’re like, “ok, doesn’t taste homemade, but it’s frozen so what the hell am I supposed to expect”? I promise that you can set your expectations a bit higher here. This chana masala, really and truly, does not taste like it was ever frozen. If I was eating this for dinner, I’d probably serve it with some broccoli and quinoa, but as a light lunch option this does the trick all on its own.
Serving size: 1/2 cup. 180 calories, 9g fat, 20g carbs, 5g protein.
8) Frozen Garlic Naan
I love naan, whether it’s paired with curry or as a base for pizza. It’s usually fairly high in calories, but the frozen garlic naan at Trader Joe’s is just 230 calories per slice (this is even less than their naan in the bread aisle)! It’s a bit thinner than the fresh, fluffy naan you might otherwise encounter, but I think the cut in calories well is worth it, plus it has a really nice, strong garlic flavor. An all-around win in my book.
Serving size: 1 piece. 3.5g fat, 43g carb, 7g protein.
9) Thai Red Curry Sauce
Thai red curry paste is a common item at most grocery stores, but I’ve yet to find a Thai red curry sauce that’s anywhere near as tasty as this one. The second ingredient in it is dehydrated coconut milk, which gives it a killer creaminess (duh). It’s really not very spicy, so if you’re wanting something with a kick then I’d suggest mixing in some sriracha. We mostly use this mixed with tomato sauce on Thai Curry Naan Pizzas, but it’s also great as a pre-made curry sauce that requires little to no doctoring up.
Serving size: 1/4 cup. 80 calories, 6g fat, 7g carbs, 1g protein.
10) Spicy Cheese Crunchies
Are you calorie-conscious Flamin’ Hot Cheetos-fiend? Then this product is for you! They’re gluten free, made from cornmeal, baked and incorporate real cheddar cheese and a blend of savory spices. No stained-red fingers! No fake food-induced stomach ache! They’re not as spicy as real Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, but an extra dash of cayenne will fix that in no time.
Serving size: 1 oz. 130 calories, 6g fat, 17g carbs, 2g protein.
11) Oven-Baked Cheese Bites
If you have an addictive personality, then step away from these cheese bites now. They are crack-laced morsels of cheesy, cheesy goodness and I will literally slip you a tenner (not made of money, sorry) if you are mentally capable of eating a single handful of these babies without going for round two.
These aren’t your grandma’s cheese-flavored crackers, oh no—they are made with 100% real cheese (as in there's literally nothing else in them) and are baked until crispy and godlike. If you want to get really crazy, I suggest adding them to a bowl with the aforementioned Spicy Cheese Crunchies.
Serving size: 1/2 package. 170 calories, 12g fat, 0g carbs, 15g protein.
What’s your favorite Trader Joe’s product? I’ll accept any answer that’s not “cookie butter.” Please be more original than that.
Stay tuned next week for Part 2, featuring 11 more tasty TJ items!