December 22, 2012 6:00 am

How to Shop at Trader Joe’s

A few years ago I visited my older sister in California, and she dragged me to this grocery store she could not stop raving about called Trader Joe’s.

I was not impressed.

It was crowded, expensive, and smelled like tofu.

The only think I bought was a reusable shopping bag.

Well, last month a Trader Joe’s opened in Salt Lake City and I am determined to give it another go. My bestie friend Megan Cowley who lives in Virginia was so excited that her Utah friends were getting a Trader Joe’s, she typed up this amazing list of how to shop there and shared it with me. With her permission, I am sharing it with you too.

Are you a fan of Trader Joe’s? Check out Megan’s amazing tips below, and let me know in the comments if there is any favorites you have that I should stock up as well.

Thanks Megan!

All right, you lucky Salt Lake-ers.  You now have a TJs!  It’s the best, and you’re going to love it. With everything I put down here, assume it’s cheaper at TJs than your grocery store.  It definitely is for me.  And what I love about TJs is that everything is all-natural.  There are no colors, preservatives, chemical nitrates — no junk — in any of their things.  I don’t even have to look at the labels.

Here is what you must buy there.

1.   First and foremost, CHOCOLATE CHIPS.  After having eaten the Trader Joe’s semi-sweet chocolate chips, all other chocolate chips literally taste like dirt (or, how I would imagine dirt would taste).  Nothing else is even worth eating.  I use them for anything that calls for chocolate pieces/bars/melting chocolate — anything.  They are divine.  I also dump them into a jar of Costco organic peanut butter (the best) and eat them with a spoon.  Don’t judge.

2.   This goes for BAKING COCOA.  Again, don’t bother with any other kind.  I will be sending myself a huge box of chocolate chips and baking cocoa before I move, and then will make my very kind friends send me supplies when needed.

3.  Also go for the CHOCOLATE SYRUP.  Again, nothing else even compares.  This stuff is the chocolate of the gods.

4.   CHEESE.  Buy any and all cheese at TJs.  It’s made without junk in it and it tastes so much better than Kraft or whatever grocery store cheese you probably buy.  I buy the Wisconsin cheddar there for my family (you can freeze the blocks in a freezer bag so you can stock up when you’re there).  I also buy all my shredded cheese there, and their light cheese sticks are amazing.  Again, everything else tastes like junk after you eat their cheese.

They also have great specialty cheese and we always pick up something fun to try.  They have a great price on their WATER CRACKERS so you can pick those up to eat with your fancy cheese. My seasonal favorites right now are the cranberry covered goat cheese and the cinnamon something or other cheese.  They can help you find it.  The TJs cheese is the only kind that doesn’t upset my stomach.  Love it.

5.   PEPPERONI and CANADIAN BACON.  If you make your own pizzas at home pick up your pepperoni and canadian bacon here.  It’s cheaper and much better quality.  They also sell pizza crust, if you’re feeling lazy.

6.   GRANOLA BARS.  We haven’t met a flavor of granola bars at TJs that we haven’t liked.  My personal favorite is the chocolate peanut butter (it’s in a green box — I don’t know the real name).  I like these because, while of course they have some sugar, they’re not full of crap.  Eating crap is bad, in case you were wondering.

7.   CEREAL BARS.  Again, no dyes, no junk.  I don’t happen to care for any cereal bars but they are a staple for my son, who can sometimes be a picky eater.  If he eats one of these at least I feel like he’s had something wholesome and nutritious, and without Red Dye 40 giving him cancer.

8.   CHIPS.  This is not the only place I buy chips but they’re good ones.  They have some really good sweet potato chips that I love but I don’t eat that many chips and my family, minus my son, doesn’t like sweet potatoes, so I don’t usually buy them.  But they’re really good with salsa.

9.   HONEY WHOLE WHEAT PRETZELS.  These are delicious.  We go through these like gangbusters.  In our TJs they’re usually above the frozen foods.  TJs puts their stuff in random places.  It’s annoying but they’ll help you hunt it down if you need them to.

10.  WHOLE WHEAT ENGLISH MUFFINS.  We eat these like crazy, too.  They freeze well so I stock up when I go.  We use them for egg sandwiches for breakfast, and we love them just toasted, too.  My kids won’t eat any other brand.  We’ll be in trouble in England.  I know that’s where they come from originally, but…

11.  TORTILLAS MADE WITH WHOLE WHEAT.  These are lighter than full-on whole wheat tortillas, but still better for you than white.  They’re delicious — the right texture.

12.  YOGURT  We like their vanilla nonfat yogurt in the tub, and the vanana (that’s right — vanilla/banana = vanana).  The strawberry was good when they had it but they haven’t had it out here in awhile.  It has less sugar than the other brand we used to buy and no junk.  I am not, however, a fan of their TJs brand Greek yogurt.  I prefer Fage, which they also carry.

13.  SPICES  Their spices probably aren’t any different than anyone else’s, and they don’t have a huge selection, but what they have is much cheaper than McCormick or whatnot, especially their saffron.  I buy what I can there.

14.  FROZEN BURRITOS/TAMALES/ENCHILADAS  My husband likes their frozen burritos, etc. to take to work as a backup in case we don’t have leftovers.  I’ve had them and they are pretty good, and are very well priced.

15.  CURRY SIMMER SAUCE  It’s in the canned isle, and it’s Indian curry.  It’s not too hot.  We love it, and we’re picky about Indian food since we lived in Japan where Indian is the second biggest food there.  We throw some chicken in or some tofu and dip naan in it.  It’s good.  TJs has good naan, and I buy their whole wheat naan sometimes for the kids’ lunches, but if you’re going to go for the dipping NAAN, get it from their frozen section.  It’s really tasty and, again, very well priced.

16.  SALAD DRESSING  I buy pretty much all my salad dressing from them.  Right now we are enjoying the cranberry gorgonzola with walnut.  It’s in the produce section and is refrigerated.  Their cilantro dressing is there, too, and is also delicious.  One of our favorites is the sesame ginger, in the not-refrigerated section.  We also like the green goddess.  We like them all.

17.  OLIVE OIL  Their EVOO is MUCH cheaper and is delicious.  It’s always in the top 10, at least, in any article I’ve read comparing extra virgin olive oils.  I tend to like the “Spanish” version that they have.

18.  JOE JOES  They are basically Oreos but without the junk.  Mind you, they’re not good for you, but they’re better than Oreos and my family likes them better.  I don’t like Oreos anyway so I have no opinion.  However, their PEPPERMINT JOE JOES, and especially their CHOCOLATE COVERED PEPPERMINT JOE JOES are to die for.  And, remember, I don’t like Oreos.  These are amazing.  Just don’t look at the calorie information on the back.  And buy them NOW.  They only have them seasonally and a lot of times they sell out before the season is over.  In October they usually have Halloween Joe Joes but this year I didn’t even find them.

19.  CRACKERS.  They have great “chowdah” crackers that my kids love.  They are responsible for my kids even eating soup at all.  And I buy as many of my other crackers there as I can.  They have knock off Triscuits and Wheat Thins and Ritz and what have you.  They’re all good.  I really love their “EVERYTHING CRACKERS” with some brie.  It’s delicious.

20.  PRETTY MUCH ANY TREAT IS A GOOD TREAT AT TJS.  You can’t go wrong.  They have all kinds of fun cookies and goodies, some seasonal, that are fun and we like to try new things.  I try to buy something fun every time I go, whether it’s a goody or a snack or whatnot.

21.  SHELLED EDAMAME.  In the frozen section.  Asa (actually any of us) will eat this, heated up with some salt, any time of day.  I throw it in pasta, soup, stir fry, salad — anything.  It’s delicious, nutritious, and cheap.

22.  SOYAKI.  This stuff is heaven.  I wrote about it in my last post.  This stuff is awesome on any fish, tofu, chicken, beef — anything.  They have two varieties and I usually buy the general variety, rather than the island variety, but they are both good.  It is awesome and I will be packing myself some in my shipment to England.  And when it’s gone we will suffer.

23.  TUSCAN BREAD.  Fabulous for paninis or toast or dipping in olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  Actually, their BALSAMIC VINEGAR is also very awesome.

24.  SPICED APPLE CIDER.  Also seasonal, also very, very good.

25.  KETCHUP.  Never by Heinz again.  This stuff is good, good and no red dye.

THINGS I BUY THERE THAT ARE JUST CHEAPER, EVEN THOUGH THE GROCERY STORE’S ARE PROBABLY AS GOOD:  Black beans, refried beans — really any beans, pasta, nuts, dried fruit, some baking supplies, frozen veggies, most canned things.  And pretty much anything I buy there is cheaper than the alternative.  I can’t think of anything above or anything else I buy that’s more expensive.

THINGS I DON’T BUY THERE BECAUSE THEY ARE NOT CHEAPER:  Meat (with the exception of pepperoni, salami and canadian bacon), fish, ice cream, a lot of the produce, cereal (with the exception of a few varieties).

If there are things I need to pick up that are not exclusively things I buy at TJs, I will just pick them up while I’m there because they’re going to be just as good, if not better, and usually just as cheap.

SOME EXTRA TIPS

The thing that is annoying about TJs is they will carry something for awhile, and then they won’t.  Maybe it’s gone forever or maybe they’re just out of stock for awhile.  I hate that, so if there is something that you love, stock up as much as you can so you have a stash just in case.

They move their stuff around a lot.  So you possibly know where something is shelved for awhile, and then you go in another time to get it and the store is completely changed around.  Corbin does not appreciate this.  It is annoying but they’ll help you find something if you need it.

Try new things.  They have new things all the time.  We’ve tried a few of their frozen convenience foods (i.e. fish sticks, orange chicken, etc.) and they have all been good.  They have good MEATBALLS that I will buy if I don’t want to make my own.  Try something new.  They’ll take it back, no questions asked, if you don’t like it.

Their service is excellent.  They spoil the kids.  Our TJs has a treasure chest and my son thinks it’s there just for him.  When we get in line he said, “Going to the treasure chest” and walks off to get his goodie.  They have stickers, and sometimes balloons.  It’s like going to a party for my youngest.

I’m sure there are more things, but this should get you more than started! Congratulations on your luck of getting a TJs in SLC!

6 Comments

  • deb roby

    I shop at TJs a lot as an addendum to my regular shopping.

    I WILL buy meat there. Yes it’s more expensive than what you buy at the grocery store. But it’s hormone free, often grass fed, and cheaper than finding that anywhere else.

    I LOVE their cheese. I can’t eat cow’s milk, and they are the only store with an assortment of sheep and goat milk cheeses.

    The cooking sauces are awesome.

    Their produce is typically organic and healthier than most of the grocery store produce. Worth it for me.

    They have some good specialty beers.

  • Anonymous

    I make special trips from Canada to Detroit especially to visit Trader Joe’s! Their cheese, milk and eggs are considerably cheaper than what I pay here.

    A lot of my favourites were already mentioned above. The granola bars, ketchup, Island Soyaki sauce and baking supplies. They currently have a Blondie Brownie mix that is to die for.

    Another favourite is their frozen Mandarin Chicken. It tastes like Chinese take out for 1/4 of the price!

    Their versions of Rice Krispies and Frosted Flakes are all natural and only $1.99 a box!

    Their spicy mustard has great flavour and is $.99.

  • I will only buy their organic, salt free tortilla chips. They are THE best and they don’t taste stale like all other “health food” store chips taste.
    And their salsas are the best!
    So glad TJ came to SLC…thanks for the list!

  • Megan

    Thanks, Natalie! I should mention, in response to one of the comments, that I buy my meat from an all-natural (farmer? rancher? I don’t know what to call him) in Pennsylvania. I buy in massive bulk (i.e. 1/4 of a cow, 1/2 of a pig) so it’s much cheaper to do it that way. I do agree that TJ’s meats are healthier than grocery store alternatives. But they are much more expensive.

  • Donna Furrer

    The turkeys they had at thanksgiving were great! I love the 21 season salute. The spinach dip in the frozen section is also good.
    Our TJ has a wine section with a helpful staff. Also, their fresh flowers are great!

  • Barbara Menzel

    We need a Trader Joe’s in PA (Wilkes-Barre/Scranton area) It would do great!!!!

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