12 Healthy (And Cheap!) Trader Joe’s Products I Can’t Live Without

If you ask me, there’s one grocery store that trumps all the rest, where I’d willingly shop to the end of my days: Trader Joe’s. I firmly believe that this unique chain has excellent business practices, amazing products, and some of the smartest marketing on the planet. (Ever heard the Freakonomics podcast about how Trader Joe’s should run the country? Pretty compelling stuff.) My long-term plan, after retiring from my writing career, is to trade in my laptop for a Hawaiian shirt to become a TJ’s checker. I imagine spending my twilight years preparing samples of plantain chips and using my employee discount to purchase copious amounts of Neapolitan Joe-Joes. (I hear they pay pretty well, too!)

As both a nutritionist and a long-time Trader Joe’s shopper, however, I’m familiar with the common criticism that too many of the store’s products are highly processed. While it’s true that TJ’s carries plenty of not-Whole Foods (badum ching!), I’ve found that it’s entirely possible to find lots of healthy, minimally processed products–and I’m happy to share some of my favorites!

Here are 12 TJ’s products I buy time and again. They’re not only healthy, but (at least where I live) significantly cheaper than their counterparts at big-box grocery stores. Happy shopping!

1. Les Salades du Midi Fresh Spinach

Sure, you could buy fresh spinach just about anywhere, but I especially like getting mine from Trader Joe’s for a couple of reasons: 1. At 10 ounces, the bag is enormous and lasts a good two weeks, and 2. It’s consistently inexpensive. I almost always have a bag of Les Salads du Midi in my fridge.

2. Multigrain Blend With Vegetables

You’ll spot this one in the frozen section. Read the ingredients and you’ll find it’s literally just a mix of barley, spelt, and rice with veggies, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Pro tip: heat in a saucepan with some extra olive oil and lemon juice until warm, then add crumbled feta for an easy, healthy side dish to go with meat or fish.

3. Creamy Salted Peanut Butter

If your peanut butter has any ingredients besides peanuts and salt, that’s a problem. Added sugars are oils are NOT necessary in peanut butter–which is why I dig TJ’s very basic two-ingredient recipe.

4. Spicy Lentil Wrap

Need a quick, healthy lunch? This spicy lentil wrap is plant-based with mega-high fiber. Accompanied by a dippable tahini sauce, it makes a super convenient take-along meal. I eat half of it one day and half the next to stretch the veggie goodness over two lunches.

5. Soft 10-Grain Bread

For as simple as bread is to make–flour, yeast, water–it’s amazing how difficult it can be to find a commercially made variety that doesn’t contain at least a dozen suspicious ingredients. But TJ’s 10-Grain Bread’s ingredient list is long for all the right reasons: 10 whole grains!

6. Frozen Fruit

Frozen fruit is often harvested at the peak of freshness, so when strawberries or mango aren’t in season, you’ll probably do better to buy them frozen than fresh. Trader Joe’s sizable frozen fruit section typically offers competitive prices and a broad selection. I stock my freezer with berries and tropical fruits to use in smoothies, oatmeal, and muffins.

7. Roasted Red Peppers

Canned and jarred veggies don’t have to be boring or gross (unless we’re talking about canned beets which are, by definition, boring AND gross). Roasted red (or yellow!) peppers are an awesome staple to add flavor and interest to recipes. Toss them in a salad, layer them into a dip, or whip them up in a soup.

8. Whole Wheat Pizza Dough

For pizza night, you could go through the rigamarole of making your own pizza dough from scratch (and good for you if you do)–but to save time, TJ’s whole wheat pizza dough sure is a sweet whole wheat convenience.

9. 2% Greek Yogurt

Hellooooo, probiotics! Greek yogurt is a great source of good gut bugs, calcium, and protein. I eat it almost every day in some form or another and I’m always happy to use TJ’s 2% variety for a few less calories than the whole milk kind.

10. Sun-Dried Tomatoes

Tomatoes are high in vitamin C and the antioxidant lycopene, so they’re certainly a valuable fruit-slash-vegetable to include in your diet. But is there really any reason to pay $5-plus buy them sun-dried? Not when you have a Trader Joe’s close by! Even when a recipe calls for sun-dried tomatoes packed in oil, I simply drizzle some olive oil over these lovelies and let them sit in a jar for awhile. Try them in these dinner recipes.

11. Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus

You’re gonna need to like spicy to like Trader Joe’s Cilantro Jalapeño Hummus. This creamy dip definitely has a kick. With a garbanzo bean base and generous amounts of jalapeño, garlic, and cilantro, it’s a healthy alternative to heavier dips. I could eat it by the spoonful, but you’ll probably want to spread it on crackers or crudités.

12. Lentil Soup With Ancient Grains

Can we talk lentils one more time? This tomato-y lentil soup with ancient grains may be rather high in sodium (as are most soups, let’s be honest) but its ingredients are simple and nutritious: lentils, veggies, grains, and a smattering of spices. All at just 200 calories per serving.

Flax Seed Meal

I’m late to jump on the flaxseed meal bandwagon, and now I can’t get enough. These ground seeds are full of ALA omega-3 fatty acids. Try them in these Blueberry Flax Seed Muffins!

What’s your favorite healthy Trader Joe’s product? Tell me in the comments!

Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake

Need a dessert to feed a crowd? This Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake with yogurt icing is just the ticket!

Every other Sunday for the last fifteen years, my husband and I have had Sunday dinner with his family. Coming from a New York Italian family as he does, Sunday dinner is almost more of a religious observance than a simple meal. Barring an act of God, it WILL happen. And it will probably involve sausage.

Over the years, as we’ve gotten together, the family has seen many changes. While Sunday dinner started out at his parents’ house every week, we’ve now transitioned to rotating between the homes of his mom and his siblings. And whereas, fifteen years ago, there were seven of us around the dinner table, there are now eighteen adults and kids. When it’s our turn to host, you can find me searching for recipes that feed a crowd.

I’ve assembled a handful of go-to entrees to serve for dinner, from chili to casseroles to barbecue chicken sandwiches (thank God for the Crock Pot). But sometimes the course that leaves me stumped is dessert. A single pan of brownies no longer suffices for this many people, and forget about a single pie–or even two. One dessert I come back to time and again is the ample, flexible bundt cake. It’s easy to slice and serve for any portion size, it doesn’t require the effort of frosting of a layer cake, and it always turns out so pretty. Plus, who doesn’t like cake?

I made this Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake for our most recent Sunday dinner. Lately I’ve been digging in to a bit of “research” (aka baking and eating) on replacing butter or other fats with heart-healthier olive oil. This particular olive oil baking experiment was certainly a success! The cake turned out slightly–but not overly–dense, with a delightfully almost-crunchy crust. Drizzled with a yogurt icing with a hint of orange, each slice was a little bit of citrus heaven, especially when accompanied by a dollop of vanilla ice cream.

To complete a Mediterranean-themed meal, I served this after my Twice-Baked Spaghetti Squash with Sausage and Kale. (See? I told you sausage would be involved.) For Sunday dinner or to feed any crowd, I’d say you can’t go wrong with bundt cake–especially this one.



Print Recipe
Orange Olive Oil Bundt Cake
Serve up a slice of citrus heaven with this orange olive oil bundt cake topped with yogurt drizzle!
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Prep Time 15 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Servings
Instructions
Make the cake:
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and generously grease a 12-cup bundt pan.
  2. In a large bowl, mix sugar and eggs with a hand mixer on medium speed. Add olive oil, vanilla, and orange extract and mix until smooth, then repeat with orange zest and juice.
  3. Add flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt and mix with hand mixer until no lumps remain.
  4. Pour into prepared bundt pan and bake 40-45 minutes or until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before frosting.
Make the glaze:
  1. In a medium bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, orange juice, and yogurt until smooth.
  2. Drizzle icing over cooled cake. Garnish with additional orange zest. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
Recipe Notes

Adapted from Food Network, glaze my own recipe.

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My Takeaways From the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium

This past week I had the pleasure of attending the 2019 Today’s Dietitian Symposium just a quick drive away from home in Scottsdale, AZ. If you aren’t familiar with Today’s Dietitian, it’s a top-notch print magazine and online publication nutrition professionals look to for reliable, evidence-based health and nutrition information. In addition to their publications, the brand offers an annual roaming conference in May. This was my first time attending, and I learned a ton!

Although I’m not a dietitian (and I was literally the only dietetic technician I saw at the conference–ha!) I didn’t feel out of place. As a health and wellness freelance writer, I try to stay pretty hip to the latest research and trends. The sessions felt digestible, and, for the most part, very helpful.

Looking out at the room during a session

I shared a bit on my social media channels about what I learned at the symposium, but wanted to go more in-depth here on the blog. Here are four of my top takeaways from the two-and-a-half days:

1. Now is a great (but also super challenging) time to be a nutrition professional

Nutrition is sexy! People care so much these days about what they do and don’t eat. The public is seeking diet advice under every rock and behind every tree (and definitely on every shiny website and image-conscious Instagram post). Because of this uptick in interest, now is an awesome time to work in nutrition. As I’ve found in my own brief career, there are innumerable opportunities for credentialed professionals. The conference displayed the immense variety of the nutrition working world.

On the other hand, it also highlighted some of the ways being a dietitian (or NDTR like me) is more difficult now than ever. At the moment, there’s a MAJOR emotional component to people’s beliefs about food… so although, as scientifically trained nutrition professionals, we might emphasize our credibility by pointing to our degrees and the hard evidence behind our advice, this isn’t necessarily what the public wants. We’re living in an era of hashtags and sound bytes, not deep analysis or thoughtful reflection. It can be really tough to make the truth about nutrition compelling to the average consumer.

Secondly, in this age of social connectedness, with a million platforms to join and products to promote, it can feel like we have to be all things to all people. Be an influencer! Build your Twitter following! Secure brand deals! All while keeping up with the studies, determining your audience, and figuring out how much to charge for your services (oh, and maintaining your own svelte figure, because who wants to listen to an overweight dietitian?). Anybody stressed yet?

2. Networking is worth it — and it’s a pretty small world

One of my biggest goals for attending the conference was to meet and mingle with fellow nutritionistas. Mission accomplished! Despite my natural introversion, I went bold with introducing myself to strangers–and often found the person I had just said hello to was a mover and shaker I’d heard of before (hashtag #starstruck). I assembled a dozen business cards from other RDs over the course of the conference and was not shy about putting my own out there, either, like…

Not only was it cool to rub shoulders with some big names in the industry, it was also just great to sit down and chat with like-minded nutrition professionals. We’re not that big a club, so we get pretty excited when we meet.

3. Nutrition science has come a long way — but we still have further to go

Justified or not, nutrition science gets a bad rap for constantly changing. “First they said eggs were bad, then they were good, now they’re bad again! What can you even believe?” goes the common criticism. (As Michael Pollan famously said, “Nutrition science is where surgery was in about 1650–you know, really interesting and promising, but would you want to have them operate on you yet?”) But I felt impressed at the TD Symposium with how cohesive most of the messaging from dietitians actually is.

We know a lot of things for sure: Overconsumption is a problem in this country. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains should be emphasized, no matter who you are (almost). Fad diets are usually a bad idea. Gluten and dairy are not the enemy. Overall, I think we’re getting a handle on a lot of tricky topics.

I will tell you, though–no joke–I sat in on concurrent sessions that appeared to give conflicting advice about carbohydrates and fats. The first presenter seemed to be saying we should embrace low-carb diets to treat obesity and heart disease. The second said we still need to focus on limiting fat (especially saturated fat). In the presenters’ defense, they both said a lot had to do with the quality of carbs and fats…but still.

4. Nutrition professionals need to be kind, flexible, open-minded, and show our love of food!

Dietitians and NDTRs are competing with a lot of other (sometimes very loud) voices when it comes to giving the public sound, evidence-based nutrition counsel. To stay relevant, we have our work cut out for us. Some of the best advice I heard at the Today’s Dietitian Symposium was about the soft skills side of being a nutrition professional.

Gone are the days of beating people over the head about diet changes. It doesn’t work (and it’s really not fun for anyone). We have to approach clients/patients/friends/readers with kindness, flexibility, and open-mindedness. For eating, one size definitely does NOT fit all. How can we help people to enjoy their food while making positive changes? How can we “liberalize” instead of restrict? I think these are extremely important questions everyone working in nutrition should consider.

Finally, the best approach to food and diet is FUN! I absolutely love the concept emphasized at the conference that dietitians and DTRs need to show people how much we freaking love to eat. (I mean, I hope for me it’s obvious, given the name of this website…) Eating is one of life’s greatest pleasures. It’s our job to help others as a cheerleader and fellow lover of food.

So thanks, Today’s Dietitian 2019 for an informative, interesting conference! Hope I can make it next year in Savannah, GA!

Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars


What would you do if you had a few extra hours to yourself per week?

Someone asked me this recently, and I didn’t have to think very hard before answering: “I’d read more, watch my favorite ’90s movies, probably go shopping for some professional clothes for an upcoming conference, and bake. Definitely bake.”

This weekend, thanks to a much-needed housecleaning service mid-week, I found myself with a bit of extra time on my hands. And, true to my prediction of what I’d do in this situation, I decided I really wanted to bake. But I didn’t want to simply follow a recipe like I normally would.

For me, it’s the creative process that makes cooking (and especially baking) not just fun, but actually therapeutic. Still, because I often have a reason my finished product needs to turn out nice-looking or at least reasonably presentable, I’m usually a recipe-followin’ gal. The trial-and-error nature of free-form baking just isn’t worth the risk if I’m preparing dessert for company or bread for family breakfast. Give me a list of steps someone else has promised will lead to success and I’ll follow like a trusting puppy dog.

Sometimes, though, I get the chance to create my own recipe just for the joy of it. Art for art’s sake, let’s say. My canvas? Today, it was a mixing bowl, a baking pan, and a blend of go-to ingredients. The end result? Granola bars! To me, these DIY noshables are a great option for experimentation. They’re low-risk (’cause, hey, they’re just a snack) and generally forgiving, with their wide-open hodgepodge of various ingredients.

Making these Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars, I had a great time tinkering with the ratios of dry ingredients, binders, and mix-ins–and I’m happy to say they came out just right! These start with a flax egg to make them vegan (just kidding, it’s because I didn’t have any eggs). Then, wholesome additions like oats, whole wheat flour, and honey make their way into the mix, plus sweet treats chocolate chips and coconut. After a 30-minute stint in the oven, these bars emerge chewy and ready for snacking action. Our whole family loved them.

If you’re new to making your own recipes, I say start with granola bars. Or, if you’d like a recipe, start with this one! Tried and tested by yours truly, I can assure you these bars make a delicious homemade alternative to packaged snacks.

 


Print Recipe
Coconut Chocolate Granola Bars
Chewy, chocolatey, and coconut-y, these homemade granola bars are a yummy alternative to the packaged variety.
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
bars
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 30 minutes
Passive Time 15 minutes
Servings
bars
Instructions
  1. Prepare the flax egg: In a small bowl, combine 1 Tbsp. flax seed meal and 3 Tbsp. water. Place in the refrigerator to firm up for about 15 minutes.
  2. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and grease a 13 x 9-inch baking dish with cooking spray.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all dry ingredients: oats, flour, coconut, chocolate chips, and salt. Mix in coconut extract, vanilla, honey, almond milk, vegetable oil, and flax egg. Spread in prepared pan, pressing down firmly to smooth.
  4. Bake about 30 minutes. Let cool 10 minutes, then slice into 16 bars. Store covered at room temperature.
Recipe Notes

A Love Letter To Food Original Recipe.

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7 Creative Ways to Use Dried Fruit

When you think of dried fruit, what comes to mind? “Part of a gift basket we always give Grandpa for his birthday”? “A grab-and-go snack for hiking”? “Shriveled excuse for real fruit”?

Historically, I was never too impressed with dried fruit. (Though, one thing it has going for it is that, here in the States, we don’t call it “desiccated fruit” like I’ve seen in the UK. Sounds more like roadkill than a tasty treat.) Part of my issue was that I always believed it to be less nutritious than regular fruit. With the water drawn out of it, I figured, you get none of the digestion-promoting, skin plumping, all-around body-boosting hydration you would from regular fruit.

But come to find out, just because water is removed doesn’t mean all nutrients have left the building. Dried fruit retains (almost all) its antioxidants, micronutrients, and fiber—more, in fact, per weight, than fresh fruit. So, in one sense, dried fruit could be considered more nutritious than fresh.

Still…even though it turns out dried fruit is actually healthy, I never knew what to do with it. Eating it plain always did remind me a bit too much of Grandpa’s annual fruit basket birthday gift, and not in the most appealing way. So when the friendly folks at Bare Snacks reached out to see if I’d like to try a smattering of their dried fruit and veggie products, I was intrigued. Were there more creative ways to use dried fruits and veggies I just hadn’t thought of yet?

The short answer: Yes!

The bountiful sample Bare sent over invited a whole new world of experimentation with dried produce. The last month or so has been a fun process of discovering the many delightful uses of dried strawberries, apples, bananas, coconut, pineapple, and more.

Here are seven creative (and tasty) ways to reap the health benefits of dried fruit:

1. Make a popcorn trail mix.


Call me crazy (it’s okay, my family does anyway) but I sometimes think popcorn could use a little boost. That’s why I so enjoyed adding dried strawberries and bananas—and chocolate chips, obvs—to this tasty popcorn trail mix. The sky’s the limit for what kind of dried fruit you’d like to mix in for a unique movie night snack.

2. Top cereal with it.

What’s the difference between cereal you see in commercials and the cereal that actually comes out of the box? FRUIT, baby.

(Everyone knows Crispix doesn’t come with raspberries, right?)

Add a little luxury to your breakfast bowl by sprinkling it with dried berries. You might even feel like you’re in a classic, overly enthusiastic 80’s cereal commercial.

3. Make a fruity PB-graham cracker snack.

Peanut butter graham crackers are one of my go-tos for an afternoon snack. Adding dried strawberries and apples makes them a bit more interesting (and tangy! and nutritious!).

4. Make granola or oatmeal with it.

For me, breakfast is the toughest meal of the day to include fruits and veggies in. I honestly have to “trick” myself a lot of the time by incorporating them into the package of whatever I’d choose anyway, like a baked oatmeal or bowl of granola. Try using dried apples in place of fresh in this Peanut Butter Apple Baked Oatmeal, or pump up the nutrition in Vanilla Chai Granola by adding dried coconut or mango to the mix.

5. Use it in a yogurt parfait.

Don’t have time to make homemade granola to put in a parfait to start your day? No worries. Simply use dried fruit all by its lonesome. You’ll still get a pleasing crunch mixed in with smooth and creamy yogurt.

6. Put it in cookies.

There’s SO much more to the world of dried fruit in cookies than slipping some Craisins into your Toll House recipe. Jazz up your cookie game (and add some fiber, vitamin C, and vitamin K, among others) with the dried apricots, figs, and cherries in Ina Garten’s nearly all five-star-reviewed Fruitcake Cookies.

Alllllll the jazz hands for jazzed-up cookies.

7. Use it as an ice cream topping.

Don’t worry, I don’t mean ruining perfectly good Oreo ice cream with dried apricots or some such nonsense. I mean enhancing ice cream with a similarly-flavored dried fruit, like adding some dried coconut and pineapple bits to a bowl of piña colada gelato. Instant added fiber and nutrients plus added yummy taste!

What’s YOUR favorite way to eat dried fruit?