By Sarah Nichols, Contributing Writer
Trader Joe’s has a special place in my heart. When my husband and I were first married, we loved doing our grocery shopping at Trader Joe’s because of the quick, tasty frozen meals they had. We would peruse the aisles hand-in-hand, stocking up on their orange chicken, tamales, and chicken kabobs. It was our weekly date night. We enjoyed the limited selection of items because it just made life easier for us.
Then we slowly transitioned to a real food lifestyle, and eventually ended up cutting out a lot of the food that we had enjoyed eating there. Life went on and our grocery shopping needs changed. We had two little boys, and on a youth pastor’s salary, our budget had no wiggle room. I found it really hard and discouraging to eat a real food diet on such a tight budget.
I quickly learned how to compare prices, shop smarter, and stretch a dollar. Imagine my surprise when our real food journey led us right back to Trader Joe’s. Now we still mostly do our grocery shopping as a family and Trader Joe’s is one of our regular stops.
There are many real food items that are always a great deal at Trader Joe’s:
- Nuts (a huge selection to choose from)
- Cheese (a huge selection of cheeses including a lot of specialty cheese and goat cheeses)
- Kerrygold butter (cheaper than conventional stores, but Costco has the best deal overall)
- Olive oil/coconut oil
- Gluten free pasta noodles
- Organic corn chips
- Organic applesauce (no sugar added)
- Organic whole milk unflavored yogurt
- Organic fair trade coffee
- Grass fed ground beef (for us, it’s cheaper than our local farmer’s market)
- Uncured bacon ends and pieces (it’s not pretty like regular bacon because it’s the chopped up left over pieces, but it’s cheap and hey, it’s still bacon!)
- Organic dried fruits
- Traditionally fermented sauerkraut (no vinegar in this one, just pure probiotics!)
- Applegate organic grass-fed hot dogs
- Organic produce (especially the apples and lettuce)
- Real sourdough bread (No yeast, it just uses a sourdough starter – however it is made with fortified flour. Also, you have to read the ingredients, they have other sourdough breads that aren’t made with a starter and that contain yucky ingredients. Read why our family prefers real sourdough bread here.)
- Flowers – not a real food item, but so cheap that I couldn’t leave them out. Trader Joe’s always has a fun assortment of flower arrangements that won’t break the bank.
We also have a couple of occasional splurge items that we like to get at Trader Joe’s:
- Honey mint chocolates (sugar-free) – only three ingredients: honey, chocolate liquor, oil of peppermint
- 3 cheese organic pizza (frozen) – for less than $5, this is a great emergency meal to have on hand.
- Juice – a rare treat, but always delicious!
- Soft-baked snickerdoodles – a yummy treat that is free of the top 8 allergens.
As with any store, you always want to read ingredients. While Trader Joe’s does offer a lot of great items for real foodies, they also have a plethora of items that contain ingredients that we try to avoid. One big reason we love Trader Joe’s, though, is their stance on GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Any Trader Joe’s branded item is guaranteed to be free of GMOs (except the non-organic meat). You can read more about their policy here. They also have a huge selection of food that is gluten free and allergen-friendly.
Tips for Saving Money on Real Food at Trader Joe’s
- Trader Joe’s does not have sales because their prices are already discounted. Not many people know this, but Trader Joe’s does accept manufacturer’s coupons for non-store brand items that they sell. (Think Larabars, Food For Life, Applegate, etc.)
- Not everything at Trader Joes is cheaper; you have to do your due diligence to shop around and compare prices. For example, Trader Joe’s sells their bananas for 19 cents each. When I sat down and figured out the price per pound, my local Kroger’s ended up having the better deal on bananas.
- On the flip side, a lot of other produce at Trader Joe’s priced “each” instead of per pound (like squash and cauliflower), can save you money. On those items, if you search around for the biggest pieces, you can get the cheapest price per pound!
- It’s not saving money if it’s not something you usually buy. I have to tell myself this often. Trader Joe’s has so many tempting treats that it would be easy to go way over budget if I gave into every whim. We do splurge every once in a while, but we definitely don’t (can’t) make a habit of it.
If you don’t have a Trader Joe’s in your area, Aldi is another great store to buy health food at a low price! Fore more posts on frugal spending on real food, click here!