Trader Joe's Haul

Trader Joe's has been in Miami for only the last five years.  And truth be told the parking situation is such a nightmare I've only been a few times (to the store in Dade county).  Seriously.   It's that bad.  Either my mother will pick me up a few items (she goes right when it opens since she lives close by) or I end up going to the Pines store (West Broward).  And it's for good reason that they're always packed.  There are deals and really good deals at that.   Check out their Fearless Flyer if you don't believe me before actually making a trek into the store.

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People always ask me for recommendations of what to buy when it comes to grocery shopping.  Grocery shopping can be a little intimidating if you're not sure what you're looking for (and you can't have a dietitian at your fingertips!)  There are quite a few temptations, so definitely try not to go when you're hungry - that is not an old wives tail.  But gone is the notion that you must shop only on the perimeter - there are many items in the aisles that are healthy and worthy of you buying.  So where does one start?  I'll take you through a little tour so to speak of a few key items that you should look out for.  Keep in mind I am not sponsored by Trader Joe's nor do I endorse any one product/brand.  These are key helpful tips for any supermarket you wish to shop at.  Although some items are only found at Trader Joe's, but I think you know what I mean.  And if I use the words of Trader Joe's themselves:

"Filling your cart won't be a problem; deciding which items make the cut could be a challenge.  Our solution?  Come back often; repeat."

I love when I first walk in to Trader Joe's and am greeted by flowers.  Flowers upon flowers.  When I lived in San Diego I used to buy flowers at the farmer's market every week.  Some people might think that it's a waste of money, but I found it to be a form of self care.  No one else was buying me flowers, so why not treat myself, right?  Not to mention they just make the day brighter.  At least for me they do.  They bring me joy just to look at them.  I get the $4 bouquet mix of flowers.  There are plenty to choose from.  Even if you don't buy flowers, it's a nice reminder to "stop and smell the roses".

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I pride/challenge myself on making all things homemade.  I can make homemade pizza dough.  I just can't seem to roll it out just right.  I think that's always been my challenge with baking in general - the dough - it is sometimes hard to work with if I'm being honest (or maybe it's just me.  Ha!)  Enter the cheapest pizza dough around town.  Instead of having to make the dough and then let it rest, I buy the dough already made from Trader Joe's.  In the time I drive home it has "warmed" up and then is ready to roll out.  This gives me the practice I need - because that's what I seem to have a problem with, rolling the dough - and it's a win win, because pizza!  I always recommend this to people because who doesn't love a $1.99 pizza?  I know when you add the toppings it will cost more, but this makes pizza night a little more affordable and doable if you ask me.   

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All I will say about the produce is that I haven't had the best luck.  I've heard the same from other people as well.  And by produce I'm talking the green leafy vegetables here, not all produce.  If I know I'm going to use it the same day or the following day I will buy it.  And there are some exceptions, just keep that in mind when you think you're getting such a great deal.  It's not such a great deal if you have to throw it away.

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I love that Trader Joe's focuses on fruits and veggies that are in season.  I'm always eager to stop in (when parking isn't an issue) and grab some of the seasonal items that they do feature.  Again, not all their produce ripens too quickly.  There are some exceptions.  And Brussels is one of them.  This is the way they were intended to buy.  Just look at how gorgeous they are!  When I was in the store this weekend a little girl was shopping with her parents and was begging them to buy her some Brussels.  I mean, isn't that the best?  A kid begging for veggies?  They need to get that on record!  Next up...persimmons.  I'm eagerly awaiting their arrival.  

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Sauces/Dips:  this area is a little overwhelming, even for me.  I typically again make my own homemade sauces, but again know that's not everybody's journey as it is mine.  So I think this section has some sauces that I would deem #dietitianapproved.  The cashew pesto is one of those very sauces.  Traditional pesto is made with parmesan cheese.  This vegan take on pesto is made with cashews and cashew butter.  Tastes phenomenal.  So if you're looking for a vegan pesto, this one is good.  The thing to keep in mind is the sodium in most of these sauces.  Where you don't have the control over how much salt you're adding in, keep that in mind with what you're combining the sauce with.  Then you can keep your overall meal lower in sodium (if that's the issue, which it sometimes is).  I've had their tzatziki as well as the Zhoug sauce (think spicy cilantro sauce).  I'm sure there are more here to try - I always say that "it's all about the sauce" - it can either make or break your meal, flavor and/or healthwise.  So, choose wisely.

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I always have tofu or tempeh in my fridge.  It's a go-to plant-protein for me to have on hand.  I typically just saute it up and use with aforementioned sauces.  And I also stock up because I'm not always close to Trader Joe's.  Tofu is cheaper at both Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.  Publix, my main supermarket, it's almost double in price.  So, yes I always try to keep tofu in my fridge and handy.  Saves me time and money in the long-run.  

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People always ask me what tempeh is.  Like tofu, tempeh is a soy-based protein.  It's made by fermenting (hello probiotics!) cooked soybeans and then forming the mixture into a firm, dense cake (if you will).  Most versions also contain beans, grains, and flavorings.  There do exist some soy-free versions that only consist of grains and other beans.  Tempeh has a strong, nutty flavor.  It tends to take on the flavor of the food or sauce that you're adding it to (similar to tofu).  If you haven't tried tempeh, here's your chance!

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Just like pizza dough, I haven't had much success with homemade lentils.  Yes, I know they supposedly are the easiest bean to make.  But for whatever reason they aren't for me.  Although I will need to try them in the Instant Pot at some point and then maybe I'll have success.  In the meantime Trader Joe's is helping this girl out with pre-cooked lentils.  Yes, they're a little high in sodium but I always adjust with whatever I'm eating so the overall meal isn't too high in sodium (like I mentioned before).  These lentils have been a life-saver for me many a time.

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I have been buying grape tomatoes for the last little bit, because if I'm being perfectly honest, I can be lazy with grape tomatoes.  I can throw them into a salad whole - talk about easy meal prep and also no excuses not to eat a salad.  And if I'm roasting them (the two ways I eat tomatoes typically) I can roast them whole.  Again, enter lazy/convenient.  Win win if you ask me.  Also cheapest price around - the theme of why Trader Joe's parking lot is also chaos.

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Cheese - what can I say?  I could go crazy in this section (and often do).  True story.  They have a merlot flavored cheese that is to die for.  Their burrata is the cheapest I've ever seen so it makes for a great excuse to have it more often.  The goat cheese is also lower priced than other places.  Yes, I do love cheese.  And at these prices I'll often get a couple of different kind (blue, feta, goat) to rotate and have in my salads.  This is also my go-to when making a cheese board as they have a few festive flavored cheeses that make it fun.  That blueberry goat cheese is addictive.  Just saying.

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I rotate nuts throughout the week much as I do cheese.  But with nuts I have not only a nut butter but also the actual nuts during the day.  It's my go-to plant protein.  Not to mention I just have nuts with me at any time hunger might strike.  They say you are what you eat...  Ha ha - that's a total brotherly love joke by the way.  The nuts and the nut butters are the cheapest I have found almost anywhere - minus Costco/BJ's, but you need a membership for those so is it really cheaper?  I wouldn't know since I don't have a membership.  The only thing to keep in mind is that nuts can go rancid (go bad).  You will know by their flavor, it will taste just a little off.  I typically buy just one package of each (unless I'm baking with some and need more) and then rotate through.  Or if I end up buying one I already had I store the extra one in the freezer (where they won't go rancid).

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I forgot to mention, Trader Joe's has a mixed nut butter.  I have made mine homemade (and it's genius to make the nut butter mixed with a variety of nuts.  Pure genius!) but I'll be honest it takes a lot of time to keep scraping down the bowl of your food processor.  So until it becomes a little easier, I will be buying all my nut butters.  The mixed nut butter is delicious.

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I live in an area of Miami where it highlights more of the Hispanic cuisine among the aisles.  Suffice it to say polenta is not one that I can find in my general supermarket.  Anytime I stop in to Trader Joe's I pick up the pre-cooked polenta.  It's also a quick go-to meal for me.  I saute/brown the slices and serve them in a couple of different ways (with beans, tomato sauce, with cheese, etc.)

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Whole grains - Trader Joe's has a variety of whole grains on hand.  And while I only took a picture of the quinoa section (white, red, tri-color) they do have farro, couscous, wild rice, whole wheat pasta, etc.  The prices in general are comparable to other grocery stores, all except the quinoa.  I can't find quinoa anywhere cheaper.  So when I go I stock up - and while I have been trying to get better about rotating my grains, quinoa is always nice to have around in case I'm making a homemade veggie "burger".  Check out the section with all the whole grains and try a new one today!

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Not many supermarkets have a selection of whole grain crackers.  You obviously want to get crackers if you're making a cheese board, but just know that most crackers are not whole grain.  Trader Joe's does have a few to grab.  Here's a picture of one - and the brand Akmak is the other whole wheat cracker that they have.  I've talked about it before on the blog.

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Call this a new find, but the Miyoko's brand has been around making nut "cheeses" for awhile and they are definitely delicious.  Enter now their version of a vegan "butter" - tastes quite like butter.  I've made my own version of homemade "butter" and you do need a special ingredient, soy lecithin.  If you aren't going to be making it homemade then this is a product you'll want to try.  Made with coconut oil, so there's still saturated fat, but for all my vegans out there, this product is legit.

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I bake a lot.  And if you don't know what creme fraiche and Mascarpone are they are simply a better, creamier version of sour cream and cream cheese respectively.  When it comes to baking though, it's that little touch that matters when it comes to taste.  Enter the cheapest , yet flavorful, versions around.

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Any supermarket's yogurt department is/can be confusing.  Let me make it a little easier for you.  Buy plain yogurt and add your own fruit.  There, wasn't that easy?  Yogurt has a lot of added sugar and/or sugar substitutes to make you think you're eating healthy, when you're really not.  The goal for anyone is to know how much added sugar you are eating in a day and begin to lower the amount that you are eating.  Which the goal would be to eat plain yogurt which is natural sugar not added sugar.  And then you can add your own fruit to make your own flavor.

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Trader Joe's has been known for their "2-Buck Chuck" over the years - wine for $2.99 a bottle.  And while it does depend on the state, shipping and state regulations etc., overall it's still a low-price wine.  They have a great selection in general and most of the prices are fair and comparable.  So if you're looking for a bottle of wine and/or specialty beer, they may just have it.

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As all supermarkets do, and Trader Joe's is no exception, they have a section in their store where they feature their "new" items.  It's at the end of one of their aisles, they feature  these new items and then they'll infiltrate to the regular items in the coming weeks.  Call it gimmicky or call it good salesmanship, they want you to try these new items.  I always say beware, just because it''s new doesn't mean it's healthy.  They are trying to make a sale, so be cautious - especially if you're in the store hungry!  This week they had a few pumpkin and apple features, along with a hot cocoa.  In Florida I'd say we can skip this item. Ha!

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As they have a "new feature" area Trader Joe's also has a "seasonal section" area - again, kudos to their marketing department.  They have pumpkin just about everything - JoJo's (their version of an Oreo), pumpkin coffee, pumpkin tea, harvest salsa, harvest spice granola, I could go on.  I love the idea of featuring the seasonal items - pumpkin and apple are in! - just be cautious of all the things they are selling.  I'm a proponent that all foods can fit, but when it comes down to weekly shopping I'm not sure that Trader Joe's is thinking about all the added sugar in their products nor the saturated fat, etc.  Not here to be the debbie downer, but remember they are trying to make money.  How I use the seasonal section is to come up with ideas of my own I might make.  The harvest spice granola sounds like a win win to me and while I didn't check out the "added sugar' in this particular item, granola in general can have a lot of added sugar.  The key is to stay in tune with some of these health habits that you might be working on to improve.  Decreasing the amount of added sugar is a common theme these days.  I know when I make granola I always try to use half of what the recipe calls for.  It's granola, you need some amount of added sugar to be the binding agent.  Most times I can get away with using just half the amount.  The seasonal section is what I call inspiration, just make sure it doesn't derail your shopping list and/or bank account - it's easy to want to buy it all!

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And last but not least, the card section.  Every card is $.99!!  Like are you kidding me?  No I am not kidding around.  While I love a nice Papyrus card, the truth is most people read the card and then after some time throw them away.  So $.99 I can handle.  I always grab a few just to have on hand for a birthday, thank you, or sympathy - they have them all.   You can thank me in advance if you didn't know that about Trader Joe's.

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The other fun things I like about Trader Joe's - every time I'm there I grab a small free cup of coffee.  I love that added touch they bring.  I love coffee and I love free.  But more than that I love having the coffee while I peruse the store for those new items and/or seasonal items.  Call me a neRD but I do love it.  And the other thing I've noticed is that almost every time I'm in the store they seem to be sampling a food item and/or wine.  I think that's again a great marketing tactic to get you to buy their products.  They have a whole section in the back devoted to just that.  The day I was there they were sampling their frozen sweet potato puree.  Which leads me to what I left out on today's tour/haul:  the frozen food section.  I have perused this section many times and while there are great items to grab - think roasted corn, salmon fillets, etc.  there are also items there that are not the best - some of their prepared type items, the tarts, pizza, you name it.  Convenience is there most times when it comes to frozen items.  Again use your discretion when buying items in this section (and even their other prepared food item section for that matter).  Yes, I know time is money and some already prepared items can help in a pinch.  As I said, use your discretion.  That is all.

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Planning and preparing a list of what you need to buy before going into the store is key - at Trader Joe's or any store for that matter.  We do eat with our eyes and even I've been tempted by all that Trader Joe's has.  I now know for the most part my go-to items when I shop here and I stick with that as the plan.  I wouldn't be honest if I didn't tell you that I probably bought more nuts and veggies than I needed this week - so even I fall prey to Trader Joe's marketing ways.  Or maybe I just know that I won't be back for a while and need all those nuts for upcoming baking sessions.  Either way, have a plan and stick with it.  Extra veggies and nuts isn't the worst thing in all the world.  Am I right?  Happy shopping.