5 Best and Worst Buys at Trader Joe's
Not sure if you're getting a deal or not? Here's what to snatch up -- and what to avoid -- at Trader Joe's.
With offbeat items like coconut chips, soy chorizo, and seaweed snacks, Trader Joe's has grown from a small grocery store in Pasadena, California, to a nationwide chain full of Hawaiian-shirted staff members. But since the majority of the store's products are sold under their own name brand, comparing prices can be difficult, and it's hard to know if you're getting a good deal. Here are some of the best items to buy at your neighborhood TJ's -- and a few to pass up.
Snag These Five Great Trader Joe's Buys
- Frozen Edamame
Jill Weisenberger, a registered dietitian and the author of "The Overworked Person's Guide to Better Nutrition," loves the Trader Joe's brand of frozen edamame. She says, "It's perfect to carry to work because it needs nothing more than heating and eating." Frugal living and food columnist Rachael Monaco agrees and admits to buying five packages at a time when it goes on sale. At only a few dollars a package, whole or shelled edamame make for a protein-rich snack.
Trader Joe's has a large selection of nuts and seeds in various forms -- salted, unsalted, raw, roasted, wasabi-spiced and more. There's something sure to satisfy any picky eater. Weisenberger loves topping salads with sliced almonds. Pumpkin seeds, sunflower seeds, pistachios, almonds, cashews, peanuts and macadamia nuts are just a few of the varieties you'll find. A 16-ounce bag of raw cashew pieces is $4.99 at most locations, for example. Single-serving bags are also available, as well as a selection of trail mixes.
- Fresh Flowers
Most locations have a lovely assortment of freshly cut flowers and potted plants starting at under $5 a bouquet. Florida resident Sarah Spicuzzo says, "They have the freshest flowers, and they are so much cheaper than anywhere else around town!"
- Trader Joe's Brand Pantry Staples
"These are my favorite products to buy because the TJ store brand is comparable to more expensive name brands as dar as taste and quality," Monaco says. "Actually, I'd say better quality than name brand." She especially likes the price and quality of the store brand coconut oil, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar. Weisenberger loves the TJ brand jarred tomato bruschetta. "I mix with whole-grain pasta, tons of veggies, and feta cheese for a quick, easy, nutritious, and delicious meal."
- Steamed Whole Baby Beets
Weisenberger loves the steamed whole baby beets sold in the produce section. The beets are already peeled and cooked, so they are ready to eat. At around $3, she loves them chopped into salads and has even thrown one into a blueberry smoothie. bags are also available, as well as a selection of trail mixes.
Avoid These Five Items
If you're in the mood for sushi, it's better to grab takeout from a restaurant. The quality and freshness will be of a much higher caliber -- a higher price tag is worth it in this case.
- Most Produce
Monaco says, "Their produce prices are bloated, and the quality isn't always great. You'll occasionally catch something on sale -- usually carrots or celery -- and it's a good buy. But generally speaking, you can get the same price for organic produce at your local co-op or local supermarkets."
While TJ's does accept coupons, the majority of the products they carry are store brand. By watching for sales at the supermarket and then combining them with coupons, you can usually score name-brand cereals for a much lower price. This is important for families with a brand-loyal cereal lover.
- Two Buck Chuck
Charles Shaw wine is one of the most well-known items at TJ's. While it's no longer just two dollars (the price has risen to three to five bucks a bottle) the nickname "Two Buck Chuck" has stuck. However, most wine fans say it still isn't worth purchasing no matter how small the price tag because of the quality.
- Cookie Butter
Located next to the peanut butter and other nut butters is a concoction called cookie butter. The original version is a spreadable form of a crunchy Belgian cookie similar to gingerbread in flavor, but they also have a chocolate and vanilla cream sandwich cookie version. Cookie butter is loaded with sugar, and it's easy to overindulge with "just one more spoonful." Skip the temptation and leave it on the shelves.
Looking to make the most of your grocery budget? "Trader Joe's sends out a flyer each month, so make sure you're set up to get the mailer," Monaco says. "Keep an eye on their Facebook page and website for sales alerts in the meantime."
And check out these 5 New Sandwich Ideas from Whole Foods Market and Care.com.
Rachael Moshman, M.Ed. is a mom and food blogger. She loves trying out new products and exploring healthy, kid-friendly options.
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