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Top 10 Trader Joe’s items for people who don’t have time to cook

In order to survive a professional career and be domestic, I have become a “Trader Joe’s chef”. Which means, I buy stuff at Trader Joe’s that I can throw together in rando combinations and somehow make it delish. It’s a skill I developed after years of shopping at the Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood (the West End, in Washington, DC) on Friday nights when I was single. I’d leave work around 7 or 8pm (#consulting life) and take advantage of the fact that the Trader Joe’s would be empty so that I could do my shopping and explore the aisles with no lines. Week after week spent poring over ingredients and chatting with the staff who knew me on a first name basis resulted in building up a repertoie of Trader Joe’s meals to put on my menu.

I have a confession to make: I didn’t just go to Trader Joe’s to take advantage of the empty aisles. I had read somewhere that the chances of meeting serious boyfriend/husband material would greatly increase if I went to the grocery store (as opposed to say, Tinder) on Friday nights, because any guy shopping there is likely single and decent because he’s not out at the bars.

And then one night, I was walking in and he was walking out. Now, we’re married and he helps me publish this blog.

Back to my top 10 items. My rankings are based on the “fit professional” lens – i.e., what’s easy, and what is also tasty and healthy. Which Trader Joe’s makes easy – that’s why they rock! (and are not paying me to say that).

Next week, I will be doing a Whole Foods top 10 list. These are the main grocery stores that are within walking distance from me here in DC, but if you want any lists from other stores I am happy to go to whatever store I can get to in DC or VA,! 

1. Jackfruit cakes

you see my recipes call for this quite a bit; that is because jackfruit cakes are a great source of carbs, fiber, fat and protein. This is one of those items that will literally make me cry if they ever get discontinued. They are also low in calories and so versatile. Two of the jackfruit cakes have just 150 calories. You can put them in the airfryer to make them extra crispy, but they also do just fine in the oven for 10 minutes after defrosting. They don’t really taste like crab but do have that yummy meaty yet crunchy texture of a crab cake. Tip: top them off a creamy hot sauce like this sriracha horseradish sauce and you will be in heaven! 

2. Cauliflower rice/ gnocchi

I love both of these because they are so versatile. TJ’s cauliflower rice is a staple for half the dishes I make. It’s probably because I don’t really have time to cook but I don’t want to order takeout. I can make about 10 different recipes with cauliflower rice alone. For only 60 calorie for the whole bag, it only takes about 1-2 cups to make for a filling meal when paired with a protein. With the right ingredients, spices, and sauces, you can make it an Italian-style risotto, a Thai or Indian curry, or a stiry-fry. For even more of an Italian flavor, try the cauliflower gnocchi, which is make with cassava flour and only clocks in at 140 calories per cup. 

3. Zoodles (spiraled zucchini)

While not necessarily unique to TJ’s, I get these every time. They either have the fresh kind, or if they are out in the produce section check the freezer section for the zucchini spirals. Again, it’s lazy low carb spaghetti for dummies. I can have a meal ready in 5 minutes by sticking zoodles in a big pan with some mushrooms, onions, and a protein. Check out my zucchini bolognese for an example. It’s also an excellent base for a “zoodle soup” that stays really well in the fridge for days. I usually make a big pot and then keep it as an option for lunch when I want something warm.

4. Roasted red pepper and eggplant dip:

You can literally add this mediterranean dip to anything. It is an excellent topping for scrambled eggs,pasta/bean sauce, salad topper,  spread for sandwiches, dip for veggies, and you don’t need to feel guilty at spooning it out to eat on its own. If you want something more “egg-planty”, try the roasted eggplant garlic spread with sweet red pepper.(the amazon links are just for illustration – they do not cost that much at TJ’s!!)

5. Matcha green tea packets

As you know I am a huge fan of matcha green tea pudding with collagen and matcha green tea lattes, so this is where I buy my packets. This is finely ground and comes in an individual serving size. It only has 5 calories a packet and no added sugar. I also am a fan because it does not have that grassy taste, which is why I prefer the matcha version of green tea as opposed to the bag version. If you are a coffee person, TJ’s instant ground espresso is great for when you forgot to pre-prep the coffee or just need a quick boost during the day. They also have matcha green tea unsweetened available in an already liquid formula.

6. Trader Joe’s dark chocolate 

Dark chocolate in moderate quantities is an excellent source of antioxidants and can even aid in weight loss. I would say the top two favorites are the dark chocolate peanut butter cups and the 85 percent dark chocolate bars. There are unlimited options when it comes to dark chocolate and dark chocolate bars at TJ’s so check out some more here.Note dark chocolate is one of those foods where portion control is key, otherwise you can rack up the sugar and calories pretty quickly.

7. Trader Joe’s Norweigan Crispbread

Primarily made with nuts and seeds, this is both a great low-carb and a gluten-free option. At 130 calories a cracker that may seem like a lot but one cracker with a spoonful of nut butter or a layer of turkey / cheese can definitely be a good option for a quick breakfast if you are short on time.

8. Trader Joe’s Jicama Wraps

Just so you don’t feel like a fool when you ask a store employee where to find these, here’s how you pronounce them: “Hi-cah-mah”. I know after a while for low-carb options we are cauliflowered out, so these have a nice fresh take on the low-carb wrap, as the website says are great for tacos.

9. Trader Joe’s bottled refrigerated Salad dressings

These come in three flavors, including Almond Butter Turmeric (my fave), carrot ginger and green goddess, all with very reasonably low calories, if you want a faster alternative to my DIY 30-calorie salad dressings.

10. Trader Joe’s Broccoli Slaw

If you are after a crunchy salad without the croutons, this salad is for you. Lots of healthy ingredients and no actual mayo. TJ’s also has a broccoli slaw and kale salad worth mentioning , which leads to me closing this article with the fact that their to-go salads are worth mentioning, because they provide “insurance” for those times when you just don’t have time to make a salad the morning of or night before or you want a salad instead of whatever you had originally planned on having. Throw in 3 or so of these in your cart to have on hand for those “emergencies”.

And that’s my top 10 list. If you were strictly counting it’s probably more like 15 but I had to at least aim for 10 because I could go on FOREVER when it comes to TJ’s and I am certainly happy to produce another 10 list  – all you have to do is ask.

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