Jul 23, 2009

Quick Product Reviews: Trader Joe's Edition

I love Trader Joe's. It became my primary grocery store during the 2003 grocery store strike, when I was reluctant to cross the picket lines at the mainstream markets. They don't have sales, and most of the items in the store are their own brand (though they do carry some name brands, like Laughing Cow, and they will take manufacturer's coupons on those). One of the things TJ's is known for is their exceptional prices on wine, but what I love most is their low every day price and wide availability of organic produce, and organic/hormone and antibiotic-free dairy and meat. They frequently have a better selection of organic produce than Whole Foods (although WF always has a better selection of meat). Here are some of the Trader Joe's products I buy regularly:

Lobster Ravioli - You'll find these in the refrigerated pasta section and they're our family's favorite of the prepared pastas there. I serve these with a quick pink sauce.

Beef hot dogs - These are high in fat but they're nitrate-free, so these are my first-choice franks. (I tried serving the nitrate-free turkey hot dogs but Alex, who loves the beef dogs, rejected them.)

Organic, sulfite-free Thompson raisins - Since foreign grapes are on the list of produce that retains a high amount of pesticides, I figure it's best to go with organic raisins. I particularly like these because they don't contain any sulfites (I have a hard time breathing when I consume some).

Party-size frozen meatballs - These little meatballs are about one inch in diameter, making them perfect for little hands. They're a little on the greasy side, but that gives them a lot of flavor and Tyler loves them with ketchup.

Parmesan reggiano cheese - TJ's sells these in vacuum packed wedges. This cheese is of such high quality that I'm not allowed to serve the pre-grated Parmesan cheese anymore. It really doesn't take long to grate the cheese on a microplane, and the fluffy snowflake-like bits are well worth it.

Handmade whole wheat tortillas - These are a little thicker than Mission brand tortillas, but I prefer them because they have fewer ingredients. They do have a fairly short expiration date, so poke around on the shelf to find the freshest packages. (They freeze pretty well.)

Organic cheese sandwich crackers - Surprisingly, these are pretty comparable, nutritionally, to Wheat Thins. The boys love them.

Cereal bars - The boys like strawberry, blueberry and apple. They eat about half of the fig bars before handing them back to me. I like these bars because Tyler doesn't react to them. (He gets a bit of a rash from Kashi cereal bars.)

Chocolate Decadence cereal - The name sounds absurd but it's pretty accurate. I love this cereal, but I didn't see it on the shelf this past weekend. Hopefully they haven't stopped selling it. (TJ's is known to stop production on some products rather quickly – I hope that's not what happened here!)

Ultimate Vanilla Wafers - One of these cookies serves as an occasional "dessert" for the boys, and they're very tasty. I particularly like that they don't contain hydrogenated oil (unlike Nilla brand cookies, last time I checked).

Note: If you don't have a Trader Joe's near you, you have my condolences. I would suggest contacting them and urging them to open a store in your neighborhood – your neighbors will thank you!

Kitchen essential: I love my microplane grater.

Previously: More quick product reviews


Gina @ MoneywiseMoms said...

My two staples at TJ's are the jarred pesto (yummy and good on everything) and the jarred roasted red peppers. I use the red peppers on turkey sandwiches instead of tomatoes, in several recipes, and chopped in pasta salads.

Clean ClutterFree Simple said...

I love their olive oil spray.

Unknown said...

We love their peanut butter, roasted garlic marinara sauce, radiatore vegetable noodles, chocolate chips, refrigerated pizza dough balls, sour cream and onion 'buried treasure' (like Pirates Booty) just to name a few of the things we keep stocked in our house from TJs all the time.

Mommy Shoes said...

I was actually first in line and got quoted in the paper when TJs finally came to our area. My favorites include their roasted garlic hummus, mini pitas, chocolate Joe-Joes and at Christmas time, I stock up on peppermint Joe-Joes and put them in the freezer to last me longer.

Anonymous said...

From what you've posted, I gather you live in "the valley." Have you tried the new Henry's Market on Ventura and Topanga?


MetaMommy said...

They have some great madeleine cookies available in vanilla or plain. A bit sweet, but great with coffee. That said, MetaBoy would happily eat the bag of 6 in one sitting if I let him.

I also love their greek style yogurt. The mango one is great, but there are several flavors. It's rich and creamy, but not as sweet as so many other yogurts.

Also, the chicken sausages are pretty good. There are several kinds, but my favorite is the fontina sausage. Careful with the cilantro one as it's a bit spicy.

Mama Bird said...

I don't know how I survived before TJ's opened in my city last year! Love it! Our staples from there are the turkey meatballs, pizza dough and sauce, coffee (we try a new one all the time), sunflower butter, low sugar/organic strawberry and blueberry jams, and love their organic macaroni & cheese.

Every once in a while I get the mini chicken tacos. YUM.

I also get frozen meals and burritos for my hubby for lunch. They are so well priced!

Jamie said...

I have serious TJ's envy!!!! I've never even been to a TJ!!!! We finally got Aldi's here (owned by the same company) and I was hoping that we'd get at least a few of the TJ's treasures in those stores, but no such luck.

Val said...

I love Trader Joe's too. I posted about it a couple of month ago.
I have more recently developed an addiction to the raw almond butter...I could care less about peanut butter now! Also, for those with wheat allergies, their corn tortillas are pretty good and really just have corn as an ingredient (water too, probably). They tear easily when using as a wrap, but I like to cut them and bake them for chips!

Jennifer Y. said...

Thanks for this post! I live close to TJ's, but rarely go. It's a little tight with a toddler on the weekends, if you know what I mean. Thanks for the recommendations--I'll have to swing by again.

Kim said...

My favorite product is their potato pancakes. They're much better than the brand carried in my regular store and less expensive, too. My second favorite item is the frozen Italian meatballs. These are more expensive but very tasty.

Chief Family Officer said...

Wow! Thanks for all of the ideas everyone! As an aside, I too love their nut butters but no longer buy them b/c Tyler's allergic - however, I totally agree that they're a great product!

Christy said...

CFO, thanks for this post. I have been looking for a better alternative to generic store brand cereal bars, as it seems we eat tons and tons of those. Hubs and I went to TJ's last weekend and we were very impressed with what we saw. I bought the cereal bars in each flavor and they are definitely more substantial than the brand that we were used to buying. And they were definitely price comparable, if not cheaper.

I know. I should have been shopping there all along, but it's hard to break my habits.