My husband and I had a night out to ourselves recently. Looking forward to it all day, I cleaned up, may have donned some lipstick, even put on a (clean!) skirt, and after sneaking a little kiss, pulled up to … Trader Joe’s. Now, before you make any judgement calls on the state of our romantic life or how exciting we are as individuals in general, let me clarify: getting to peruse aisles in quiet, meandering the rows while holding hands, taking more than five seconds to pick out dinner ingredients – this is luxury in our world. However, Trader Joe’s’ brightly colored aisles and friendly greetings appeal not only to our Friday night date nights, but as our choice for weekly shopping trips mainly due to their convenient, affordable meal options for busy families. In fact, it’s actually come to our rescue (for more than just a great date night idea) on many occasions! Here are just a few of my go to examples …
Need a quick dinner? Trader Joe’s to the rescue! Their BREADED CHICKEN TENDERLOINS from the frozen case are one of their all-around best buys. $7.49 for almost 2 pounds of fully cooked chicken – that’s 12 servings of deliciously homemade-tasting boneless breaded chicken filets that wax lean at 110 calories, only 3.5 grams of fat AND are low in sodium (and you know, it’s really tough to find low-sodium prepared food that’s healthy). It’s also reasonably priced and tastes great! You might consider adding this to your next pasta dish with some of their delicious TOMATO BASIL MARINARA poured over it (which also makes a great spaghetti, pasta or pizza sauce); for an additional twist, sprinkle on some parm or serve by itself with a side of Trader Joe’s tater tots or French fries.
Need a fancier meal choice that tastes great? Try their MANDARIN ORANGE CHICKEN, also in the frozen case, and feed a family of four a healthy, yummy, prepared meal quickly for just $4.99. If you’re among the lucky and are blessed with what I seem to find are rare children (the kind who adore color variety in their diet and love to consume all things veggie), then add a bag of TJ’s frozen stir fry vegetables for extra goodness and top with their SWEET CHILI SAUCE (cheap! Just $1.29 a bottle …) – excellent to use as a dipping sauce for anything Asian, or as a stir fry sauce, as well. Pour the MANDARIN ORANGE CHICKEN sauce over the top, or if you’re a spice-loving sort, step it up a few notches to TJ’s KUNG POW CHICKEN or the SPICY BEEF & BROCCOLI located in the same area of the frozen case. To make these meals super-duper easy, be sure to purchase a box of of their famous pre-cooked FROZEN RICE. Just more than $3 for 3 individual bags in each box (at least 6 hefty servings total) of cooked organic or regular brown, jasmine or white rice that is fluffy, delicious and leave NO DISHES behind! Just snip the corner off the bag, pop it in the microwave for 3 minutes and Voila! The rice is also great to use when tossing in a can or two of TJ’s ORGANIC or regular canned BLACK BEANS, CORN CHILE SALSA and then topped with some cheddar cheese. Serve for dinner with some good dipping chips! My personal favorite are the QUINOA AND BLACK BEAN INFUSED TORTILLA CHIPS, filled with hearty and crunchy goodness.
Playdate running long, leaving you in a lunch predicament? Don’t miss TJ’s FISH NUGGETS. My home tends to be the meeting place for massive playdates and for this reason, I can’t make a Trader Joe’s run without stocking up on multiple boxes of these nuggets to serve for a last-minute lunch for our friends. They’re so easy to pop in the oven for crowds of starving children; mommies tend to steal them, as well! They bake to be crunchy on the outside while preserving the inner yumminess … simply delish.
Need an impressive, seemingly homemade desert? Try APPLE BLOSSOMS – just $1.99 for two individually wrapped apple dumplings you can heat up in the oven or microwave, but that taste just like Grannie’s. Even better? Unwrap them on the pan, bake them in the oven before guests, and the whole house smells like you’ve been slaving away all day as the super-impressive, put-together hostess you are. They even look homemade!
Haven’t gotten enough calories today and just HAVE to have something sweet? The COOKIE BUTTER (I like the original the best, but it also comes in a chocolate swirl and tiny chunky variety) MUST be tried on the CINNAMON GRAHAMS. It’s also yummy melted and poured over ice cream, served on apples or on a spoon – but their graham crackers are superb, and the delectability of my recommended combination is tough to describe.
A few more notes from my favorite grocery store …
– The prices at Trader Joe’s are incredibly cheap if comparing apples to apples (literally): examples of other high-quality healthy foods with places like Whole Foods or Hen House that sell organic or otherwise natural products of comparative value. Their basics – milk, eggs, etc. – compare in price to a Walmart Neighborhood Market or your less expensive grocery chains.
– Trader Joe’s does NOT waste the edible products that they choose not to sell (i.e. a bruised apple, a few too many broken chips in a bag, chicken or beef near the “sell by” date or bread that’s just not fresh enough to align with their amazing reputation). Many establishments in the food industry today routinely throw away unwrapped, completely valuable food every day rather than trouble themselves with the time-consuming donation process. Though there are countless individuals and families who could greatly benefit from what others shamefully throw away, they just will not invest the extra expense or employee time it may take to prepare food for donation. Trader Joe’s, on the other hand, gives away what must add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars’ worth of of food every day to the needy through an organized donation system at each of their stores across the country. Serving their communities in this way benefits those in need.
Wonder how I’ve made all of these amazing discoveries? Simple: just subscribe to their online mailing AND emails. They’ll send you occasional, but very valuable ideas of their products, prices and ideas of how best to utilize them for treating all your favorite people. This is where I find a great deal of my inspiration for trying new products and fresh meal ideas (a nearly weekly occurrence around my house). Friends even joke that gatherings at our house are “sponsored” by Trader Joe’s; with the number of times Trader Joe’s has come to our rescue, it’s probably not far from the truth.