My Top Ten Trader Joe’s Treasures

Posted by on January 4, 2009 | 22 Comments

I have spent quite a bit of time in Canada, it is a wonderful place.  And really, they enjoy all of the luxuries (and then some) that we have in the U.S. … except for one … Trader Joe’s.  It is the only thing I miss when we spend time in the cooler north.  For those who love healthy food, new flavors to sample, and fair prices, it is pure heaven.  However, I have my limits.  Some of their convenience comes at too high of a price, and all is not always tasty at TJ’s.  They certainly have a few flops (ahem, that lifeless chicken ravioli), yet, there are some staples which I return for week after week …

My Top 10 TJ’s Treasures 

  1. Raw, Creamy, Unsalted Almond Butter ($4.99) – I love that the creamy version actually has a “raw” texture, and who can beat this price?  Competitors easily weigh in at triple the amount, and nothing beats the light sweetness of almond butter in the morning.
  2. Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips ($1.99) – These used to be $1.49, then $1.69, and now they are pushing my limits with this further increase.  Yet, for dairy-less chocolate chips (made on shared equipment) these are not only a great price, but they taste awesome.  The are also about 30% bigger than your average chocolate chip for that extra oomph of indulgence (see “chip” comparison below, TJ’s are on the right).
  3. Ginger Chews from The Ginger People ($1.69, includes about 20 sizable chews) – This “adult” candy is an injection of ginger goodness at a great price per sugary flavor punch!  Come on, we all need those daily hits of sugar?!
  4. Trader Giotto’s Multigrain Pasta: Spaghetti w/ Flax ($1.19) – We have cut back our “carb” consumption, so I no longer need to buy jumbo packs of angel hair. However, a pasta meal is still a required weekly splurge in our house … and boy was I in shock when my processed foodie of a husband fell in love with this whole-grain, flaxseed-rich pasta.  Trust me, if it gets him to eat a whole grain pasta, then the extra dimes are worth it, plus, these days, this isn’t a bad price for any wheat product.
  5. Frozen Fruit ($1.99 to $2.29) – I lump this category together as it really depends on my mood and what’s in season when I consider frozen fruit.  In general, their mango chunks, pineapple chunks, and the “trio” (mango, pineapple, papaya w/ passion fruit injection) are always a great price and perfect for whipping up a quick smoothie.
  6. Organic Brown Sugar ($2.99 for 2lbs) – I often have to remind myself why I began religiously purchasing organic brown sugar, since it isn’t yet (but probably soon) a major GMO crop. But regardless of the reason, this brown sugar is far superior to any I have ever tasted, and it comes in a resealable bag.  Unfortunately, those cheapy boxes just don’t work here in the desert where brown sugar turns into a brick within 20 minutes of air contact!
  7. Organic Bagged Carrots ($.79 per 1 lb) – When articles speak of ‘foods you should buy organic,’ carrots rarely make it into the conversation.  That’s because the Environmental Working Group hones us in on the “dirty dozen,” and carrots skate by at #13.  That’s right, they are still high on the pesticide load, and since I consume carrots daily, I figured it best to shoot for organic, and TJ’s come at a good price.
  8. Yogi Ginger Tea – While I am not one for brand loyalty, sometimes it is impossible to avoid addiction to a particular product.  At this point in my life, one of my weaknesses is this tea.  It is potent (can you tell I like ginger?) and always keeps my tummy tamed.  The price tag at my local store always says $2.49, yet it always rings up as $2.29. Either way, this is a fabulous price for this “luxury” brand of teas.
  9. Tahitian Vanilla Extract (I want to say $4.69?) – Pure vanilla extract is always worth the extra couple of bucks in my book … but in some stores, we are talking an extra 5 bucks or more!  At TJ’s the pure vanilla extracts come at a good price, and this one is my personal favorite, yet they have a few to choose from.
  10. Unsalted Peanut Butter ($1.69) – I think that is the price, but I apologize if incorrect! Most of the generic brands at my local stores contain added oils (sometimes hydrogenated) and may even possess some sugar or other ingredients within.  But this is the pure stuff, as you can tell by the extreme separation anxieties it suffers from!

 Chocolate Chip Comparison (for the record):

Honorable TJ Mentions:

  • Bananas ($.19 per nanner) – Another local store just barely beats them out in price, and of course, depending on the season and size, stores that sell them by the pound often win out.  Nonetheless, this good price offers a suitable back-up when our supplies dwindle and the quality is disappointing in other stores.
  • Bagged Salad ($1.99 per 5 ounces) – It isn’t a convenience thing for me, rather, sometimes the lettuce and greens look horrible in my local markets. Dreadfully drowned in water or dried to a browned crisp, I have to turn to the convenience side in order to get edible greens into our diets from time to time.
  • Pacific Almond Milk ($1.69 per quart) – I can often get the unsweetened version, and for a better price at another store, but when the opportunity isn’t there and my stocks are low, I pick a couple up.
  • Tuscano Marinara ($1.69) – Most of the time we make our pasta sauces from scratch, either using fresh in-season tomatoes or simple, inexpensive cans of plain tomato sauce and diced tomatoes.  But, I do try to keep a couple of convenience items on hand for emergencies, and this pasta sauce (which comes in a sizable can) is one of my favorites.  To my husband, it is alright, but I love the naturally sweet and light flavor.
  • Organic Polenta Chubs ($1.99) – Polenta chubs make for a wonderfully quick lunch. I top them with vegetables, a quick tomato sauce, or even last night’s leftovers. Since corn is a big GMO product, I stick to these, but keep them as a splurge … one chub offers about 4 servings.

Do you have any TJ’s favorites? Do tell!


Filed Under: Tips, Ideas, and Deals

Comments (22)


  1. VeggieGirl says:

    Your list is BEYOND perfect, Alisa!! I already purchase many of these items from TJ’s on a regular basis 🙂

  2. VeggieGirl says:

    **P.S. – I really love their unsweetened/unsulphured dried mango slices; and you can’t go wrong with the Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s around the holidays!!

  3. divrchk says:

    This is a great list. How do you tell that the chocolate chips are dairy free? I think my local grocery store semi-sweet chips are dairy free but I’m not sure what I should be looking for on the label. The only allergen listed is soy and is used on shared equipment so I’m thinking they are ok. Thanks again!

  4. alisa says:

    VeggieGirl – I have still managed to skate by those Joe Joe’s but may have to check them out now!

    divrchk – The label should say “contains milk” if it is in the ingredient list, but this can be confusing. Because cross-contamination with milk chocolate is so common in chocolate manufacturing, many companies are putting “contains milk” even if it isn’t in the ingredients. If you aren’t dealing with a severe allergy or concern, just check to be certain that the ingredients do not include milk (milk solids, milkfat, etc.), cream, lactose, or butter (such as butter oil, but cocoa butter is okay – it is dairy-free). If you are dealing with a severe / life-threatening allergy to milk, I would stick to chocolates that are specifically labeled as dairy-free or vegan, and even then, I would contact the manufacturer to be certain they are safe.

    The TJ’s ones are simply made without any milk ingredients, but they are made on shared equipment with milk chocolate. It sounds like the ones you have are also non-dairy!

    I hope that helps!

  5. Meg says:

    I am so jealous! We don’t have any TJ’s in Texas!

  6. What a wonderful Post… and a great list! As a fellow TJ’s fan I’d like to add a few of our frugal favorites from Trader Joes.

    Frozen Vegetables…specifically the French Style Green beans (!.99) as well as the frozen asparagus (also 1.99); frozen Edame (!.99); broccoli and spinach (1.19). The organic prices are slightly more when available, but all are at least a quarter less than supermarket brands.

    Frozen Lemonade is 1.19 a can…always. It used to be 69cents then 79cents…then it made the huge jump to 1.19, still a bargain and tastes very much like the homemade lemonade I used to make from the lemons on our lemon tree at our old house.

    Frozen four cheese pizza for 4.69 each…add a salad and you have a nice light meal for two.

    I have many more favorites, but I’ve already rambled too long! 🙂

    Thanks for the post.

  7. MsPulp says:

    Just thank your lucky stars that you don’t live in the sticks where we still don’t have a Whole Foods…and never will, much less a TJ’s.
    Everyone just keeps raving about this mecca and I have yet to set foot in one despite being a vegetarian for 23 years. Can you imagine!!
    Ahhh, I still living viacriously through those of you who are so priveleged..

  8. Vegetation says:

    I’m so terribly sad we don’t have a trader joe’s in Australia, or anything much remotely like it 🙁 I’m superbly jealous! All those things sound delicious!

  9. Ricki says:

    I’ve only been to on TJ’s when I visited cousins in Boston–and LOVED it. But I do have to say, the President’s Choice Decadent chocolate chips over here (dairy free) at $1.99 for a large bag, are a fabulous deal, too, and my favorites (though just “regular” size) 😉

  10. Maggie says:

    My favorites are the sesame-coated almonds and the dried lychees.

  11. alisa says:

    Oh no, I didn’t mean to torture so many of you! I certainly know how it feels to be Trader Joe-less.

    Tracey – Thanks for the suggestions, I will linger longer in that frozen food aisle

    Ricki – I will make sure to pick up a pack of those President’s Choice chips next time I am up north! I will have to do a comparison.

    Maggie – I hadn’t spotted either of those, thanks for the recommendation.

  12. celine says:

    I love me some joe.
    about your tahini q: unhulled tahini is more bitter than the hulled version. I used to buy Joyva for example, and thought I hated tahini until I started buying either the Once Again brand, and more recently, Oxygen The Prince. now I’m obviously a fan, since I use the stuff in any way I can. except as a soap. ha…

  13. janelle says:

    You know I love TJ’s and really got a kick out of your list. Great idea to list your faves. I agree, some things are a flop and sometimes my staples disappear as TJs continues to evolve what is on its shelf (which I actually respect and appreciate).

    I buy the frozen fruit for smoothies all the time; and the carrots and was thinking we could build a desert colored igloo out of all the brown sugar bricks in your area:))).


  14. Lori says:

    TJ’s Cherry Chocolate Chip Soy Ice Cream can’t be beat!

  15. Ellen says:

    Great list! I’m a TJ’s regular. I have a pretty steady list of things that I buy at TJ’s and try to keep them in stock, as I use them quite frequently. I like their refrigerated soymilk, their organic ricemilk (in a cardboard asceptic package), their extra-firm tofu (it’s excellent for stir-frying), and their mint tea, for starters.



  16. alisa says:

    janelle – ooh, that igloo would probably fit right in with the surroundings! I still struggle with how to use up hardened brown sugar that is beyond microwavable.

    Ellen – I almost forgot about their rice milk! The larger size is a great deal and the plain one has no added sugar if I recall!

    Lori – I love chocolate and cherry ice cream, thanks for the suggestion!

  17. Nupur says:

    I am a big fan of everything on your list, except the almond butter which I should try soon.

    Other things I love: their selection of nuts and dried fruits (I use them to make my own granola, and as healthy snacks), whole wheat tortillas, chocolate almond milk, jarred roasted peppers, salsas.

  18. Whoa, I’m quite jealous of some of that stuff. Can’t imagine affordable almond milk, here it’s at least double that price (Yogi is also almost twice as expensive here). And we’ve only had _any_ frozen fruit (excluding berries) in this country for about two years, and I think there’s exactly one variety…

  19. Gnewvegan says:

    I would have to say my fav is the chocolate chips also. The bad thing is If I buy it for a recipe I better make the recipe pronto or else little by little the bag disappears into my stomach. :)I love that some of their stores have a vegan section. I was in one of their stores once and saw a sign with a big V and I was like a little kid in a candy store. Come to think of it they do have packaged vegan chocolate chip cookies which are delicous. I can not remember the name.

  20. Jean says:

    You must try Trader Joes’s roasted corn in frozen foods.

    My one gripe on TJ’s is you get addicted to something and then they discontinue it.

  21. Hilary says:

    Hi Alisa,
    Yum! Love your list.

  22. […] my Top Ten Trader Joe’s post (If you don’t have a TJ’s near you, skip ahead in the post, there is more for you […]

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