Best of Trader Joe’s- What to Buy and What to Skip

Best of Trader Joes- best products, best deals, what to skip

Trader Joe’s is a natural-foods type grocery store, kind of a cross between Whole Foods and Aldis.  In fact, Aldis and TJ’s were owned by the same parent company since 1979 until the death of Aldi’s founders).  Like Aldis, Trader Joes have a very small footprint and just a few aisles- the Trader Joe’s in The Woodlands only has 4 aisles!

Trader Joe’s Houston stores are being built all over the metro area.  The new Trader Joe’s at Alabama opens tomorrow, Sept. 21.  Here are my best Trader Joe’s tips (prices found fall 2012 at The Woodlands store).

Trader Joes Best Prices

olive oil a great buy at Trader Joes

Olive oil- $5.49 per liter = .16 per oz.  My “stock up” price used to be 17 cents/oz, but this is “Trader Giottos” regular price.

Wild rice- $4.99/lb.  You will never find a better price than this. I make my own wild rice blend by mixing 1 part wild rice with 3 parts brown rice.  Fantastic if you cook it in chicken stock instead of plain water!

cheap almonds best buys at trader joes

Almonds, nuts – $4.69 for 16 oz. dry roasted, unsalted nuts and $4.99 for a pound of raw almonds.  Also Trader Joe’s sells Almond Meal for baking, $3.99/lb.

Organic Yogurt- $2.99/qt.  They have plain, vanilla, or Vanana (vanilla banana). Nom nom nom!

eggs great deal trader joes

Eggs- JUMBO eggs, $1.69/dozen which is about the current local price of regular Large Grade A eggs.  Just realize you are getting grocery store eggs, even though they are from TJ’s.  The “No Hormones/All Natural” on the carton doesn’t actually mean anything.

3 buck chuck wine at trader joes

Wine – Trader Joe’s 3-Buck Chuck is famous for being a tasty, affordable bottle of wine.

pizza dough at Trader Joes affordable family pizza night

Pizza Dough – get premade pizza dough, made from unbleached flour.  At $1.29 for dough to make a 12″ pizza, Make Your Own night just got fast, easy, and cheap.  Their “whole wheat” is not 100% whole grain, but still healthier than commercial pizzas.  Now you can have your own $5 pizzas without trying to choke down Little Caesar’s.

Huge basil plant super cheap TJs

Basil- HUGE basil plants for $2.99, the price you’d pay for a little plastic package from other stores.  Plus, (theoreticaly) you can keep it alive and get harvest after harvest off of one plant.  I put it in my cart and it smelled so good I was craving Caprese salad by the end of our shopping trip.

Trader Joes Best Products

gourmet cheese good price great selection at trader joes

Cheese- wonderful variety of specialty cheeses and cheaper than other groceries and Whole Foods.  This trip, I picked up some Wasabi Gouda for Hubs at $8.99/lb.  Lots of varieties of feta, too, including sheeps milk feta.

French Village Creamline Yogurt-  Fan-freaking-tastic with honey and fruit.  Awesomely creamy.

Trader Joes Speculoos cookie butter

Cookie butter-  If anyone ever asks “What to buy at Trader Joe’s”, cookie butter is always at the top of the list. It’s smooth and creamy like peanut butter, but made from gingersnaps. I can’t wait to try it on Pumpkin Waffles

Cocoa – anything chocolate at Trader Joe’s is pretty much awesome.  Don’t let your waistline see the chocolate covered potato chips.  Also their chocolate is sourced from non-slave plantations and is free trade.

fleur de sal caramels at TJs

Fleur-de-Sal caramels- individually wrapped so you can take them anywhere.  Because you’ll never want to leave home without them!

Pinon Coffee TJs

New Mexico Pinon Coffee- $6.99 for a FULL 16 oz can.  If you are from the Southwest, the distinctive pinon notes will be a hot cup of nostalgia in the morning.

where to find steel cut oats trader joes

Steel Cut Oats- Trader Joe’s version are practically instant, cooking up in 8 minutes.  Steel cut texture and flavor without having to wait.

natural cheese tortilla chips dye free Dorito type chips TJs

Nacho Cheese Chips, dye free.  Taste like the chip that rhymes with Schm-oritos, but healthier.  Still junk food, just dye free slightly-less-bad-for you junk food.  And at $1.99/10 oz bag, they’re cheaper too!

healthy bread Trader Joes preservative free

Bread- TJ’s bread is preservative free, and they have sprouted wheat, Ezekiel bread, and Udi’s gluten free at great prices.

frozen natural convenience foods no GMO processed Trader Joes

Frozen entrees and appetizers- if you need convenience food, you can find high quality frozen entrees with few questionable ingredients.

Trader Joes for Kids

Dye free candy, including gummy bears, gummy penguins, lollipops, and more.  $1.99/8 oz, much cheaper than “Sunny Bears” from the health food bulk bins.  Joe-Joes, the Trader Joe’s chocolate sandwich cookie, has no GMOs.

kid carts at Trader Joes

Kid sized shopping carts Plenty of them are available so your child can push their own cart even if there are lots of other kids shopping, too.

find turtle at Trader Joes get a prize

Spot Timmy the Turtle!  If kids find the Timmy the Turtle plush hiding in the store,  they can pick out a prize from the Treasure Chest at the checkout.  Tip: Look up, he’s often above the aisles where shoppers can’t mess with him or move him.

Treasure Chest- similar to the “chest” you’ll find in classrooms or the dentist, at Trader Joe’s it contains dye free lollipops and many non-food items, which I love.  Today Emma picked out a ring.

Trader Joes Fails

Trader Joe’s doesn’t get everything right.  They have a small selection and products can be discontinued without warning.  Here are items to avoid at Trader Joes.

Baking supplies- If you want to bake a cake from scratch, you better shop somewhere else.

Produce – we got some artichokes from them that were just terrible, and often their product is prepackaged in plastic wrap so you can’t inspect it or pick your own.  Also they don’t have great prices.

Maple Syrup- Costco has the best price on maple syrup, hands down.  TJ’s price currently is $16.99/32 oz.

Rice – the regular brown and white rice prices are about twice as much as Kroger and HEB’s prices.

Meat- yes, they have “fancy meat” – grass fed, air chilled, antibiotic free. But it’s a lot cheaper at Whole Foods or HEBs prices for similar type meat.  Example: uncured gourmet pork sausages are $3.99 / 12 oz. at Trader Joe’s, and are trucked in.  Whole Foods often has comparable pork sausages for $3.99/16 oz, and they are made in store.  The prices on ground beef were laughably high, compared to Costco’s organic ground beef prices.

Trader Joe’s Tips

Grab a frozen water bottle to keep your stuff cold.  (No, I don’t know why the smaller size costs 35% more.)

No hassle return policy.

Great place to buy flowers.

What is your favorite thing to buy at Trader Joes? 

Linking up!
Food Renegade 

I love comments. Tell me what you think!

  • RR Redstone June 2, 2014, 1:41 pm

    I love TJ’s sliced yogurt cheese
    I don’t live or work near a TJs, I go their especially for it.

  • bill August 2, 2014, 10:26 pm

    I like their:
    …Cheeses (although Market of Choice beats them 3 ways from Sunday)
    …Small curd cottage cheese (best cottage cheese in Eugene, Or.)
    …Pork Sui Mai
    …3-Buck Chuck (hic)
    …No questions asked return policy
    …Cheese Enchiladas (even tho it’s a bother to make them edible)
    …California Estate Extra Virgin Olive Oil (although I’d never cook with it)

    I don’t like the:
    …fixation on cilantro (an herb that fully 50% of the people hate)
    …fixation on preservative free (especially with breads & muffins – you can watch them mold while you’re driving home)
    …Chicken Sui Mai (how can the pork be good and the chicken be lousy?)
    …location (in the middle of a high traffic area with a bazillion other stores)
    …no questions asked return policy (you’re smart if you can figure this one out)
    …way overly verbose, holier than thou, pat ourselves on the back fliers

  • sherri garner September 6, 2014, 10:44 am

    Emmentaler and Wild Mushroom Tart is just wonderful. I am a HUGE fan of TJS,grew up with them, waited years till the came to Western NY. Never go home without Peanut Butter, Honey,Cheeses of alll varieties. Can’t beat the cheese prices, or quaity.
    Brad, you can’t go wrong with any of them.

    I buy my dog food ther, high quality and my fussy dogs will eat it.

  • Destiny Moon September 21, 2014, 7:29 am

    The tamales are delicious!

  • Debbie Young November 10, 2014, 5:49 pm

    I can not believe the cost of the candy. More specific the big bar at TJ’s. It is $4.99 for more than a pound. Imagine the cost of a candy bar that is better than anything else you could buy. Now I know where I will buy chocolate to make my Christmas cookies. What a surprise with that chocolate. Thank you; Debbie


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Desperately thrifty mom of 10, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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