Shopping at Trader Joe’s is more fun than at my regular grocery store. There’s always something new or quirky that you can’t buy elsewhere.
The chain has plenty of vocal fans, who often recommend items in blogs and on social media. But I disagree with some of their lists of “favorites.”
For example, plenty of people rave about the store’s famed Two-Buck Chuck, an inexpensive wine under the Charles Shaw label that earned its nickname from its $1.99 price in California. It’s still pretty cheap, even outside California, but I’ve just never loved the varieties I’ve tried. I’ll spend a little more for a wine I really enjoy.
But experimenting is half the fun at Trader Joe’s. I try to scoop up at least one new-to-me item on every TJ’s run. If I like it, it earns a spot on my mental list of favorites.
Below are some of the items that magically jump into my cart on each trip.
1. Vegetable Fried Rice
It’s not hard to make fried rice, but if I’m already cooking up a main course, I sometimes don’t want to mess with a homemade side dish. Not when Trader Joe’s Vegetable Fried Rice is so tasty, simple to heat up and cheap to stock in the freezer.
For more meal planning ideas, read “This Habit Saves Me Money and Stress All Week Long.”
2. Cheddar Cheese Rocket crackers
There is a seemingly unlimited variety of cheese crackers available these days. But, once my daughter tried Trader Joe’s Cheddar Cheese Rockets, she’s never looked back.
The little spaceship-shaped crackers have no artificial flavors or preservatives and offer just the right blend of cheesy and salty. There’s always a box or two orbiting around our pantry.
3. Gone Bananas frozen dark chocolate-dipped banana slices
I first stumbled on the wonder that is a frozen banana at the Minnesota State Fair when I was a kid. They sold entire bananas on a stick, dipped in chocolate and frozen.
This is a great combo of ingredients, like a banana split minus the ice cream. But a whole banana is too much for me. The delightful Trader Joe’s version, Gone Bananas, is a banana sliced into 25-calorie chocolate-covered bites and frozen. A delicious indulgence.
4. Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels
I often peek at other shoppers’ purchases at Trader Joe’s to see what they’ve discovered. The one item I spot in almost every cart is the blue-accented 16-ounce bag of peanut-butter-filled pretzels.
The salty crunch of the pretzel shell melds with the creamy PB filling for a divine snack. Put these out at a party, then start a stopwatch. You’ll be stunned at how quickly they vanish.
5. Everything but the Bagel seasoning blend
If you love the savory mix of toppings on an “everything” bagel, try Trader Joe’s Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, a tasty, shakeable mix of sea salt, two kinds of sesame seeds, minced garlic and onion, and poppy seeds.
You can sprinkle it on chicken, pasta, popcorn, pizza or eggs, but my favorite is as a topper on deviled eggs. Party guests always come back for seconds or thirds. (Trader Joe’s knows it has a hit: It now has other products featuring the seasoning, including potato chips and salmon.)
6. Hold the Cone ice cream treats
Sometimes you want just a touch of something sweet without overindulging. Hold the Cone ice cream treats are miniature ice cream cones featuring a small scoop of ice cream dipped in chocolate coating. Try not to eat the whole box of eight at once.
7. Steamed soup dumplings
I love soup dumplings in restaurants, and I didn’t expect Trader Joe’s to be able to duplicate that eating-out experience.
Boy, was I wrong. TJ’s has two varieties of frozen soup dumplings, one with steamed pork and ginger and the other with chicken. After heating them, be gentle as you bite in — the meaty filling is swimming in a tasty soup, and it can gush out like delicious lava. It’s worth the risk.