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!

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!

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?

5 Best Books About Food and Nutrition

Are you a reader? As a freelance writer, I consider reading part of my job–and, honestly, it may be my favorite aspect of my work. As many a writer will tell you, keeping up your wordsmithing skills is, to a degree, a matter of putting good writing in front of your eyes. Reading other people’s material helps me stay fresh and reminds me what quality looks like. (If only I actually got paid for it!)

In addition to the craft-honing perks that might come with devouring novels and memoirs, I love to read about food and nutrition. It rounds out my knowledge for both my personal and professional purposes. And back when I was first starting out, wondering whether to make nutrition my career, books had an enormous impact upon that decision. In fact, since I didn’t actually know any dietitians at that time, I’d say books had a greater influence on my career choice than any actual humans.

Here’s a look at five books that fueled my desire to become a nutritionist–and which I continue to recommend today. They enlightened me, educated me, and got me asking some tough questions about what it means to eat a healthy diet. I hope you’ll find they do the same for you.

(And maybe, when I get my butt in gear and read a few more current books, I’ll write another post with a few newer additions!)

1. Food Rules by Michael Pollan

Something like ten years ago, when my husband worked for a well-known book publisher, every employee in the company received a copy of Michael Pollan’s Food Rules. I honestly don’t know the exact impetus behind this (I don’t remember ever receiving other books for free), but I’m certainly glad this one came into my life. Simple and straightforward, it offers a what-you-see-is-what-you-get format of 64 dietary principles we could all stand to adhere to. It’s not rocket science. It’s just sound, evidence-based recommendations for how to eat for good health, like “don’t eat anything your great-grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food” or “avoid high fructose corn syrup.” Pollan’s overarching mantra sums it up: “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

2. The Cleaner Plate Club by Beth Bader and Ali Benjamin 

Part cookbook and part food exposé, The Cleaner Plate Club explores the world of “kid” foods–and why there really should be no such thing. Food is food is food, and as families, we should (generally) all be eating the same things. In our efforts to get kids to eat, we’ve created a bit of a monster…a greasy, processed, dinosaur-shaped chicken nugget monster. This book offers solutions for getting the entire family’s nutrition back on track.

3. The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan

Another one by Michael Pollan? But he’s not even a nutritionist! Or medical professional! True and true. But while Michael Pollan may be “just” a journalist, his research and writing about food are thorough, spot-on, and extremely thought-provoking. While there’s a lot I could say about this book, which examines various aspects of how food is made, my favorite part comes at the end, when Pollan decides to consume a meal he has sourced entirely himself. This involves hunting his own meat, gardening his own veggies, and even scraping sea salt from ponds on the California coast. It’s an arduous endeavor that may remind you just how precious your food is–and the Herculean efforts it takes to assemble the ingredients on a single plate.

4. What to Eat by Marion Nestle

Need a basic primer on, well, what to eat? What to Eat by NYU professor Marion Nestle is it. Is organic actually healthier? Should you drink soy milk and ditch the dairy? This books serves as a sort of encyclopedia for science-based answers to these common questions.

5. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver:

Not unlike Michael Pollan in The Omnivore’s Dilemma, novelist Barbara Kingsolver had a desire to get closer to her food. In this departure from her usual works of fiction, Kingsolver details her family’s move to a farm in Virginia, where they aim to eat only locally (and mostly from their own produce) for an entire year. It’s a fascinating tale that shows the fruits of her family’s teamwork and weaves in plenty of reporting on the state of affairs in the food industry.

So tell me…what’s YOUR favorite book on food and nutrition?

How to Eat Healthy at a Buffet

This past weekend my husband and I got out of town for a little Valentine’s getaway to Las Vegas. I’ve lived in the desert Southwest nearly my entire life (since 1985!) and visited 31 states, but had never made the short 4-hour drive to cross into Nevada, let alone seen the bright lights of Las Vegas. But I’ve always just been SO curious! What is it about this place that makes it such an iconic destination? Does the reality live up to the hype?

I’m not a gambler (unless you count the round of bingo I played on my honeymoon in Aruba, but I chalk that up to the included $6 hot dog lunch that appealed to my broke 21-year-old self) and I’m definitely not one for glitz and glam. But you just can’t live as close as I do to Sin City and never, ever check it out. So, for this one of our bi-annual kid-free getaways, I convinced my husband: Vegas, baby, Vegas!

During our whirlwind trip of about 48 hours, we saw and did a TON. We took in the majesty of the Bellagio fountains.

We wandered through the endless shops and corridors of the Flamingo, the Venetian, New York, New York, Treasure Island, and the Mirage.


We attended an amazing magic show by Penn and Teller (and got pictures with them!).

And I posed with a naked mermaid figurehead. Because Las Vegas.

But mostly, we did what anyone who’s not into hookers and gambling does when they go to Vegas: we ATE. I’d heard tales of the mythic proportions of casino buffets, so this experience topped my list of dining options. Based on online reviews, we settled on the buffet at the Bellagio for dinner on Saturday night.

It was, in fact, the largest feast I have ever laid eyes upon. And while the food wasn’t all as fabulously gourmet as legends tell, the sheer AMOUNT of it honestly outdid my expectations. King crab legs by the pile, sushi on demand, rows upon rows of mini desserts, and bottomless alcohol (for an extra premium, of course).

As much as I adore food–especially endless mountains of it–like anyone else, I struggle with eating the right amount when faced with the overwhelming free-for-all of a buffet. But I must say, years of practice honing my awareness and tuning in to my body’s cues have taught me a thing or two about how to navigate a buffet in a healthier way. I actually left the Bellagio that evening feeling comfortably full, not overstuffed.

We could all use a refresher from time to time on how to hit the dietary sweet spot of just-enough-and-not-too-much. Here are some of my nutritionist-approved tips for healthier buffet dining.

7 Steps to Eating Healthier at a Buffet

1. Don’t show up starving. Sure, you want to get your money’s worth out of an expensive meal with so many options. But showing up ravenous is a surefire recipe for overdoing it. It’s certainly wise to eat a little lighter throughout the day when you know a large dinner is coming, but on a totally empty stomach, you’re almost guaranteed to gorge–and then regret it.

2. Survey the scene. Before I dig in, I like to make the rounds of the entire buffet scene. This way I can prioritize my must-eat items and fill my plate accordingly. Try taking a reconnaissance lap before you begin.

3. Take one plate–and make it MyPlate. If you grab two plates and a soup bowl the minute you head into the buffet fray, odds are you’re going to fill them. And for most of us, two heaping plates plus a bowl of minestrone is way more food than we actually need from a single meal. Start with a single plate. You can always see how you feel when you finish it.

While you’re loading up, think of your plate as a canvas on which to paint the MyPlate categories of  fruits, vegetables, grains, protein, and dairy. It’s a helpful visual that can keep you from maxing out on a single food group.

4. A little of this, a little of that. It may sound obvious, but with a million choices before you, try thinking of a buffet meal as a sampler platter. A little place for everything, and everything in its little place.

5. Savor. When you sit down to your edible masterpiece, be sure to give your food the attention it deserves. Savoring food by focusing on its taste and texture is a proven way to slow down and moderate your intake. Though you may be distracted by the restaurant environment or the conversation at your table, do what you can to engage your senses to really enjoy what you’re eating.

6. Get up to check in. Plate #1 down! Is it time to head back for your next helping? Maybe. But perhaps when you get up from the table, it could be to take stock of your level of fullness, rather than to revisit the pasta bar. Removing yourself from the table for a momentary check-in provides the pause you may need to get a handle on whether you’re really still hungry.

7. When you’ve taken too much… At buffets, it’s inevitable: We bite off more than we can chew (literally). So what should you do when you’re getting full but there’s still a whole scoop of tortellini or half a cheesecake on your plate? It’s not like you can say, “Sorry, I took too much!” and pour your excess chicken noodle back into the soup bin.

As much as I hate food waste (and I really, really hate food waste) I sometimes have to ask myself: “Would I rather waste this food by throwing it in the trash or waste it by putting into my body?” For me, the answer is clear. If food has to go to waste, it’s not going in the trash compactor of my belly. Let the sad misuse of food left on the plate be a lesson for taking less next time.

With these strategies, I believe healthy buffet dining is actually possible. With any luck, there will be more buffets in your future! So enjoy the one before you in the moment, knowing you can eat just the right amount.