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!

  • Elisabeth September 30, 2013, 9:36 am

    We usually buy frozen mangos, bagged apples (we like the “small” fruit – more servings per bag, since I don’t know how to eat half of an apple!), cocoa powder, spices, grapefruit (seasonally), coconut milk, sunflower butter, pita bread, organic whole plain yogurt, candied ginger, brown rice pasta, coconut oil and grapeseed oil … the list changes now and then, but we tend to buy the same assortment of things each time we go there.

  • Claire October 1, 2013, 8:51 pm

    Our first Trader Joes is opening next Tuesday the 8th. I have been warned by a friend to wait a week to go cause they will be mobbed. I can’t wait to buy cereal there. Plus all sorts of things. Thank you for the tips!!!!!!

  • Lynda October 19, 2013, 7:15 am

    I love virtually every frozen entree I have purchased…no chemical additives that you can’t pronounce. Udon soup, thai noodle and tomato red pepper soup…all stocked in the soup section. I travel over an hour to stock up on these items,Hubs loves them also!

  • Joanna October 19, 2013, 3:45 pm

    During the fall, all things pumpkin! Their pumpkin bars (like a nutra-grain bar) is SO delicious warmed up for 10 seconds in the microwave. I also get wine, bagged lettuces (best price for organic in our area), cereals, chips (sea salt/black pepper, huge bag for $2.99), coconut milk, pomegranate limeade, and sooo much more! They used to carry a frozen seasoned leg of lamb around the Passover season that I cooked in the crockpot frozen and it was to die for…but alas, they discontinued it. I’ve emailed them about it, and other things too, and I always get a personal response back. Great customer service!! :)

  • Miranda October 28, 2013, 9:23 pm

    I love Trader Joes, but I bought a bag of pre-washed spinach from there and it had a LIVE moth in it. ALIVE, walking around in the bag! I brought it back and the cashier freaked and gave me a refund… that was enough to never buy bagged produce from there again.

  • Milehimama October 28, 2013, 10:12 pm

    oh my gosh that is funny. Well, at least you know it was fresh? And free of pesticides?

  • barbara garrett November 14, 2013, 9:28 pm

    I wish trader joe’s had on on line store. I love their products, but do not live close enough to any of their stores to shop their. I have heard this comment from other people also.

  • SanDee December 22, 2013, 1:25 pm

    Following the Primal diet, I buy nitrate-free applewood smoked bacon for $3.99 a package (great flavor) and a vacuum package of bacon ends to use for cooking, almond butter, coconut oil (returned the jar I got at Costco after hearing bad things about IT), white pomegranate tea (“greener” than green tea), of course, the raw almonds and salted macadamias, the “2 buck Chuck” wine (which is 3 bucks plus if you aren’t in California). Recently bought their filet mignon roast which is the best beef I’ve ever tasted (we slice it and grill it on our indoor gas grill). Usually shop there at least once a week and spend about $125.00 (there are just 2 of us, kids are grown). Only had a problem with a package or two of soggy mushrooms ONCE at the Silver Spring, MD store, but all other produce has always been excellent in the DC area and California. I like that it’s prepackaged, it saves time for me. TJs are so popular that the parking lots are often a zoo. The one in Santa Monica has a full time traffic patrolman to direct shoppers to available spaces as he sees them. Been shopping TJ’s since the late 1980s. Have never shopped at an Aldi’s but a new one is opening this month in our area so will try it out too.

  • la January 6, 2014, 9:37 pm

    granola (and similar cereals)!!!! we buy 10 boxes or so when we go… inexpensive and delicious!

  • Jen January 13, 2014, 6:40 pm

    I agree about almost of your points above, but also including Coconut Oil and disagreeing with the ground beef. At $2.69 a pound, this is cheaper than ground beef at Costco and every other local grocery store. I love that is conveniently packaged into 1 pound packages too, making cooking easy.

    I also haven’t had a problem with produce, but disliked the taste of their spinach. The bacon is amazing and their Omega-3 eggs are the cheapest I have seen around. I also like to stock up on LARA bars at $1.29 each when they are usually 5-75 cents more everywhere else.

  • Stacy January 17, 2014, 4:52 am

    Be sure to still read labels. I was so excited when I came across red licorice only to find out it had red 40 in it.

  • carol coston April 3, 2014, 1:41 pm

    love to buy flowers

  • Andrea April 16, 2014, 6:13 am

    Apples and bananas – usually the best price I can find over Kroger.
    Whole chickens – okay, so it’s not the best price in town, but minimal handling makes their birds seriously tasty for roast chicken night. Plus, once I have picked clean and broken up the carcass, the chicken stock is nothing short of AMAZING! We use the chicken stock for risotto, rice, soups, casseroles, and many other things. The high quality of the stock truly makes up for the tiny higher price than the flavorless chickens at other major store chains.


About Milehimama

Desperately thrifty mom of 9, sharing my frugal tips, easy shortcuts, recipes, and thoughts on natural living and real food.

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