In a perfect world, I’d do all of my grocery shopping at a leisurely pace at the farmer’s market, make my own yogurt, cheese and butter, can all of my own fruits and vegetables, and have pastured chickens grazing in my backyard providing eggs naturally rich in omega-3s to feed my always polite and perky children.

The Reality

The reality is, some of these things happen some of the time (minus the grazing chickens and perpetually perky children). I fill in with convenience items when needed. Even though “convenience food” is often code for junk food, it’s not always the case. Take Trader Joe’s, for instance, which does a pretty darn good job of offering “quick and easy” that is also rather healthy.

And while I get my Trader’s fix a couple of times a month, some moms I know don’t shop anywhere else, and wax so enthusiastically about the place, you’d think Trader Joe was someone they were dating.

Recently, a friend asked me if I’d share some of my top picks for shopping there. So last week I perused the aisles (while sipping those tiny cups of free coffee from the samples kiosk…love that!) and came up with this Trader Joe’s Fab 15.

Pros and Cons

The upside is these are all fairly wholesome, definitely convenient, pretty affordable, and both kid- and mom-pleasing. Trader Joe’s promises that any food bearing its label has no artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, genetically modified ingredients, MSG, or added trans fats. Love that, too!

The downside? The foods rely a little more heavily on packaging than I like. It would also be nice to see a few more organic items in the mix. Trader Joe’s trade-offs, if you will.

Best of Trader Joe’s

Here are my top 15 picks. I’ve created a printable list below that you can bring with you when you shop.

best of trader joes

Fiberful fruit leathers – A lunchbox snack with six grams of fiber per packet, this is a big improvement over many of the fruit snack offerings in standard supermarket aisles.

best of trader joes

Baby beets – For a quick side dish, these tender, cooked beets are a cinch. I like to slice them, mix with sliced oranges or tangerines, toss with olive oil and vinegar, and top with crumbled feta.

Flax meal – Since flax seeds need to be ground in order to yield the full nutritional benefits, I opt for flax meal rather than whole seeds. I store the flax meal in the freezer and add a scoop or two to baked goods, homemade granola, hot cereal and smoothies for a fiber and omega-3 boost.

  • Edamame – I always have a bag of frozen edamame on hand for a quick lunchbox add-in. For after school snacks I serve them warm sprinkled with coarse salt.

  • Whole wheat pizza dough – I buy pizza dough when I don’t have time to make my own. Trader Joe’s versions (both white and whole wheat) make a pretty fine pie.

  • Mini goat cheese – I was instructed to buy these by my kids who’d envied their friends eating them at the lunch table. The one-ounce packages can sub-in for a lunchbox main along with a stack of whole grain crackers, or make a filling snack.

  • Broccoli slaw – Made with shredded broccoli stalks instead of cabbage, this slaw can be used how you would any other slaw — tossed with dressing, added to veggie dishes, stirred into soups.

  • Roasted seaweed snack – My kids are nuts about this roasted seaweed and it’s good stuff. Seaweed is naturally rich in minerals, low in calories and takes care of the “salty snack” fix.

  • Frozen fruit – I keep a small storehouse of frozen fruit on hand (organic when I can get it) for breakfast and after school smoothies. The kids are partial to pineapple, mango, and raspberries.

  • Greek yogurt with honey – These appeal because they have just two ingredients: yogurt and honey. The honey is in a separate little pouch so you can add as much or as little as you like. Perfect for a meal on the go.

  • Persian cucumbers – These petite cucumbers don’t need to be peeled or seeded so make a quick add-in to salads or school lunches. They’re crunchy and get extra poitns for their “cute” factor.

  • Steamed lentils – I was pretty surprised by how good these are the first time I tried them. The lentils maintain their texture and don’t go to mush, as you might expect. Warm them slightly and add diced raw vegetables, oil and vinegar, salt and pepper, and chopped fresh herbs if you have them. For my own weekday lunches, I’ll toss in a handful to green salads for added protein and sustenance.

  • Flash fried pineapple – This crunchy pineapple is so tasty, it goes in the “treat” category at our house. Considering it has just two ingredients, rather than dozens found in many goodies, that’s not bad. A little container added to the lunchbox is a nice alternative to traditional sweets.

  • Turkey meatballs – I sometimes have a bag of these in my freezer for speedy suppers. I’ll let them defrost in the fridge and then warm them in tomato sauce (homemade if I have it, store bought if I don’t) . I serve the meatballs and sauce in shallow bowls along with crusty Italian bread and a big salad.

  • Spinach pie – I love spanikopita and often make my own. In a pinch, though, Trader Joe’s frozen pie fills the bill. This is our standard fall back when it’s date night with Mr. Mom’s Kitchen Handbook and something needs to get into the oven before we walk (ok, run) out the door.

Need more Trader Joe’s favorites? Head here for “Part Two” of this post.

Best of Trader Joe's