Trader Joe’s has the potential to be a healthy food shopper’s paradise or to throw a wrench into the most well intentioned healthy shopping trip. To help you make the best choices possible, today I’m sharing 20 Healthy Do’s and Don’ts of Shopping at Trader Joe’s.
1 | Do buy real food
If you keep one thing in mind when shopping at Trader Joe’s it’s buy real food. I like to use Michael Pollan’s definition from In Defense of Food when it comes to real food: don’t eat anything that you can’t imagine growing or existing in nature, and don’t buy anything that contains an ingredient list longer than 5. Using the 5-item ingredient list automatically rules out quite a few Trader Joe’s items, but it also leaves many available for your healthy shopping.
2 | Don’t assume it’s a health food store
Because Trader Joe’s offers a wide selection of healthy items it’s easy to assume that it’s a health food store. It’s not. They do a great job of offering a wide variety of food, from healthy, minimally processed choices to super-processed junk food. It’s up to you to look and fill your cart with the healthy, real food options.
3 | Do read labels
Along with #1 and #2, this is all you need to do to identify the healthy items. It may take a little longer, but always flip the package over and read the ingredients before adding it to your cart. Always. If the ingredient list is longer than 5; if it contains preservatives, chemicals, and ingredients you can’t pronounce or wouldn’t add to your own cooking; or it contains lots of added sugar, don’t buy it.
FRUITS & VEGGIES
4 | Do grab pre-washed and pre-chopped veggies
Trader Joe’s does an amazing job of providing a ton of pre-washed and pre-chopped veggies, making cooking with produce on a busy weeknight a lot easier. If you hate chopping or feel like you don’t have time be sure fill your cart with veggies that have been pre-prepped for you.
5 | Don’t skip the fruit
The fruit selection is awesome at Trader Joe’s and it’s easy to fill your cart with a rainbow of goodness. Look for bagged apples, oranges and the like so you have enough to snack on all week long.
6 | Don’t pass up the greens
Trader Joe’s has a huge section devoted to pre-washed, bagged greens and it’s a great place to stock up and fill your fridge with green leafy goodness. Look for baby spinach, kale, arugula, and whatever other greens you love. Use them in salads, smoothies, stir-fries, and soups all week long.
7 | Do look for organic “dirty dozen”
When making a decision whether to buy organic or conventional produce, keep in mind the Dirty Dozen, or the 12 fruits and veggies most likely to be sprayed or grown with harmful chemicals. If your budget allows, chose organic for Dirty Dozen fruits and veggies whenever possible.
8 | Do look for frozen grass-fed and humanely raised meat
If you’re a meat-eater, check the freezer case for grass-fed and humanely raised meat. Grab a few packages so you will always have quality meat options at your fingertips.
9 | Don’t grab super-processed frozen dinners
The frozen aisle may be one of the biggest pitfalls when it comes to healthy eating. Most of the frozen entrees are super-processed and contain less than optimal ingredients. Skip them in favor of real, whole options.
10 | Do look for cooked, frozen grains
If you’re looking for weeknight shortcuts but are avoiding processed frozen food, cooked grains are a great option. Cooked brown rice, jasmine rice, and quinoa are great choices. Go for organic when possible as they contain fewer, less processed ingredients.
11 | Do stock your freezer with vegetables, fruits, and berries
Frozen veggies, fruits, and berries are also great to have on hand for smoothies, soups, and stews. My favorites are strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, peas, spinach, and artichoke hearts.
12 | Don’t become tempted by the frozen desserts
Unless it’s your splurge, just walk right by the frozen desserts. If you are tempted be sure to read the ingredients before deciding what makes it into the cart.
13 | Do grab frozen fish and shrimp
Having frozen fish and shrimp in your freezer makes weeknight cooking fast and easy. Look for raw, peeled shrimp for stir-frys and simple pasta dishes. Cod, mahi-mahi, and wild salmon are great baked, broiled, or made into fish tacos.
14 | Do look for dried lentils, quinoa, brown rice and brown rice pasta
Grab a few bags of legumes and whole grains and you can whip up easy sides and salads in just a few minutes. If you’re picking up pasta look for 100% whole wheat or the gluten-free, quinoa or brown rice option.
15 | Do stock up on nuts and seeds
Having nuts and seeds on hand makes healthy snacking and baking easy. Look for nuts and seeds that are unsalted or lightly salted and skip any with added sugar.
16 | Don’t pick up the pre-made sauces
Unfortunately many of Trader Joe’s pre-made sauces and dressings contain preservatives, processed ingredients, and added sugar. When in doubt, read the ingredient list and decide for yourself.
17 | Do stock up on canned whole foods
Canned beans, pumpkin, wild salmon, coconut oil, coconut milk, tomatoes, sun dried tomatoes, olives, and capers are just a few of the healthy canned or jarred items at Trader Joe’s. And because they are shelf-stable you can stock up and have ingredients on hand to put together a quick, healthy dinner any time.
SNACKS, DIPS, SPREADS & TREATS
18 | Do check ingredients on snacks, dips, spreads & treats
Oh, the snacks. And the spreads. And the dips. And the treats. This is where Trader Joe’s really gets you. Trust me, I’m tempted, too (hello Pumpkin Spice Cookie Dough Butter!), but usually all I have to do is flip the package over and read the ingredients and I’m okay with putting it back on the shelf. I generally prefer to save my splurges for the real food.
19 | Do look for minimally processed salsa
Though many of Tj’s dips and snacks are on the processed side, they do offer quite a few jarred and refrigerated salsas that pass the 5-ingredient test. I like to keep a few jars in my pantry to spice up tacos, burrito bowls, and to add to slow cooker recipes.
20 | Do grab the dark chocolate
If you’ve resisted all the treats but still want a little treat, grab a few bars of the Trader Joe’s Organic 72% Cacao Belgian Dark Chocolate Bars. Yes, they contain some refined sugar but they are one of the few dark chocolate bars out there free of dairy and soy, they’re fair trade, and they are so good just a square or two will quell your chocolate craving.
What are your healthy Trader Joe’s do’s and don’ts? Share them with me in the comments!