My Trader Joe’s Report

Earlier this week I paid my first-ever visit to Trader Joe’s. I’d heard quite a bit of gushing over Trader Joe’s, and I’d also heard that they’ve got plenty of yummy mostly-already-prepared products. That was excellent for this week, since Cute W was traveling. First, I got lost, because my GPS told me that it would be on my left when it was actually on my right. You would think that I’d be able to locate a large-ish retail establishment on Wolf Road, but that would be based on an expectation that I have a normal or at least not particularly sub-normal sense of direction. Alas, that isn’t the case.

Anyway, I got there. And it was lovely, lovely, lovely with flowers and pretty produce. It felt more like a gift shop than a grocery store. Here’s the thing: I was overwhelmed and therefore unable to think rationally. I’m pretty methodical about my grocery shopping. Like, I’ve made my own list of frequently-purchased brands and visited multiple stores within one week to do price comparisons (which I tend not to report on the blog, because Wal-Mart always wins and then I get a little depressed, even though the guy on Food, Inc. said that I could shop there as long as I promise to buy organic so that I can cause a retail revolution of some sort. I’m paraphrasing. I forget, but it was something like that). Anyway, I didn’t comparison-shop at Trader Joe’s. I just arrived and picked up random items that seemed enticing. Here are a few of them.

First, freeze-dried fruit. I am a sucker for freeze-dried fruit, but it’s expensive. Santa Claus has been putting freeze-dried cherries from Just Tomatoes in my stocking for years–they’re some of my favorite things to eat ever. So I was super-excited to see that Target now carries freeze-dried fruit and just as glad to see the stuff at Trader Joe’s. I bought strawberry, raspberry, and mango. All YUM, thank you very much.

I tried some apple granola cereal that was fine, although not a knock-out.

I loved the Roasted Red Pepper & Artichoke Tapenade, especially on some Stacy’s Pita Crisps.  My children, however, would not even taste it. Infuriating, since J is so obsessed with artichokes that she has a framed drawing of an artichoke hanging in her room and her own fake artichoke toy, and both girls love to eat the little red things stuffed into green olives but refuse to relate those things in any way to roasted red peppers. Argh. Whatever: more for me.

We all thought that the 100% juice Cherry Cider was decent, but inferior to Hannaford’s store-brand 100% cherry juice. The real revelation, for me, was the bag of Sesame Honey Almonds. I love them. Although, when I just went to look at the bag I realized that they don’t just contain honey, but also sugar, for a total of  9 grams of sugar in a quarter-cup serving size. Which is a bit of a bummer. Still, they’re a nice little protein hit (4 grams) and tasty. My kids thought that they were “eh,” which is a little sad for me. I’m always trying to shove nuts and seeds in front of them, and for some reason, they’re not particularly interested. For example, my kids don’t like peanut butter. They’ll tolerate it in small doses, but that’s as well as we do. But I’d keep buying these sesame seed-coated nuts for myself: they’re surprisingly filling.

All of us girls loved the Trader Joe’s frozen Indian food. The Chicken Tikka Masala was a huge hit, and they both liked a chickpea dish, too (it’s not in the photo). Next time Cute W’s out of town, I know I could get them these and be super-popular all evening. After Indian Night, we had Chinese Night another evening. We got some dumplings that the girls fought over, but the Shrimp Bao was not popular (even though it wasn’t too spicy, as I’d feared). I loved the Asian Gyoza Dipping Sauce–my girls never even tried it. We tried the Edamame Nuggets, with tofu, edamame, carrots, and peas, and both girls seemed to like them (M said, “They taste like chicken-y eggs”), but no one ate more than a few, and both turned up their noses when offered them as leftovers.

I also bought the Turkey Corn Dogs. I’ve never understood the whole corn dog thing. It’s funny: I like corn and corn muffins, but Fritos and other corny items literally make me gag. My children, however, are inclined to find anything presented to them on a stick alluring, and they love Corn Dogs. These seemed marginally better for one’s body than the average Corn Dog, but, of course, the healthfulness measure of any Corn Dog has got to be a pretty low bar, right?

So at this point, I’ll have to ask for guidance. It seems like there’s stuff at Trader Joe’s that is unbelievably delicious and inspires fan club-level passion, and other items that. . .  don’t. But you all know that I’m not a shopper, and it’s a bit of a schlep for me. So, my next Trader Joe’s shopping list will include tapenade, those sesame almond things, and stacks and stacks of Chicken Tikka Masala. What else am I missing that we simply must try? And has anyone done comparison shopping and can tell me what’s a good deal here compared to the many other grocery options in the Capital District? Because comparison-shopping groceries makes me feel like raggedy-ass June Cleaver, and I would oh-so-much rather do. . . . well, almost anything else.

21 Comments

  1. Rebecca

    The blueberry scones are really quite good as is the spanakoita (labeled spinach and cheese pie I believe) tzatziki is great, as well as the garlic and herb pizza dough! Last but not least the cream stuffed fresh mozzarella cut up on their whole wheat pizza dough feels like your eating from a gourmet pizza shop – tried lots with minimal disappointment, but we only live two minutes away so… It’s easy to get to try things out!

  2. Claudia

    We love the Alphabet Cookies in my house, as well as the Honey Wheat pretzel rods, the Spinach Complete salad (comes in a bag, with blue cheese, candied walnuts, craisins and an AMAZING raspberry dressing that they do not sell outside of the salad bag), their spaghetti sauces and salsas, many of the refrigerator dips/spreads, sesame sticks, gorgonzola crackers…..

  3. Melissa

    They have frozen artichokes, which I love – a nice change from having to buy jarred ones that are marinated.
    Love their frozen mac n cheese (but not necessarily healthy!).
    They have candies that are free of food dyes – for example, jelly beans, gummy bears, etc.
    Organic carrot juice – very tasty!
    Organic tortilla chips – my kids love them, and it is a welcome alternative to Tostitos.
    Microwavable rice – my kids love rice but it can take forever to cook from scratch, and leftover rice gets hard/dry, so the microwave version is very convenient.
    Some other favorites — chimichurri rice, cookie butter, stroopwafels (waffle cookies with a maple syrup center), Lucques olives, roasted seaweed snacks.
    I buy a lot of foods out of convenience there, stuff for school lunches and quick meals or meal starters. There are blogs and even recipe books dedicated to Trader Joes!

  4. Heather

    I think I was in Trader Joe’s delirium when I went the first time & went completely insane!
    I second all the Indian food & pot stickers. I also love all the almond butter (maybe a bigger hit than peanut butter??).
    The frozen turkey meatballs were great, and the chicken “drumettes” (nuggets), were definitely the least repulsive ones I’ve found besides Applegate Farms ones which are just waaaay too expensive.
    The cheese puff/pirate bootie like stuff & all other snack stuff I’ve gotten, EXCEPT the falafel chips. I was not a fan of those.
    And at the holidays they have all sorts of fun holiday flavored stuff (my fave being the Peppermint Jo-Jos-their Oreo cookies).
    For the most part I’ve found all those things to be cheaper there than other comparable all natural products. I would agree about the juices though-have not been impressed by prices or selection of the TJ juices.
    Happy Shopping!!!

  5. Kristin

    I went my first time today. I loved the produce selection. I did not like the small aisles and how pushy people were. It’s difficult to navigate and any time I stopped to look at anything, I felt like I was holding up a million people. And when I tried to look at the strawberries, I felt like a gazelle being stalked by a bunch of tigers.

  6. Meg

    Joe-Joe’s….try the Joe-Joe’s……coffee is also good and good price. The almond croissants and the blueberry scones were a big hit in our house! I bought a few other things to try ( I had never been before either!)

  7. vicki

    Good prices and large selection of cheeses. All the produce. Frozen super sweet corn kernels. Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies. Kettle corn cookies. Great selection of nuts and dried fruit. Fun flavors of bran muffins. So many good dips, sauces and dressings. Tea tree shampoo and body wash. Apple straws (in chip bag). Mini wheat crackers. Honey mint chocolate (like peppermint patties but so much better).

  8. christine g.

    Ummm peanut butter filled pretzels. Apple straws. The beer selection looked good and pretty inexpensive but didn’t actually try any yet.

  9. Emily

    I am a junkie – we used to go to one in MA every chance we got. I could go on about my favorites but the best advice is just keep trying stuff. It’s worth it. I find I love more than I don’t love. The cheese is all very good. And they have an amazing frozen Pad Thai but it isn’t healthy. I don’t compare prices much but it always seems so reasonable compared with other natural/organic food to me…

  10. Maggie

    Turkey meatballs, frozen dover sole and chicken chili lime burgers are my current faborites. Kids love the Yogurt O’s cereal. Wasabi Wow trail mix is also excellent and the coffee is yum.

  11. Big Sister

    Unfortunately, we have no Trader Joe’s near us so I can’t contribute on that score. But as to encouraging more seed consumption, I just tried Sunflower Seed Butter from the local health food store. OH. Holy. Cow. So GOOD! Of course, I didn’t realized I’d grab the kind that actually had some sugar in it instead of just seeds — but I am going back for more (trying for a sugarless version) once I lick this jar clean.

  12. @G, awesome! Of COURSE there would be a blog entirely devoted to trying Trader Joe’s stuff. Yay!
    @Big Sister, I’ll have to try it–I’ve been in “butter” exploration mode–just had some almond butter this morning.

  13. Matt

    Well, not to be a grump about this, but as a California TJ’s veteran, I will first say I was never quite of the TJ tribe, as much as I liked shopping for a few things there. Without wine in NY, I’m not likely to make too many special trips. TJ’s is all about prepared foods, really, and we’ve consciously headed in the other direction of whole ingredients. Given the parking nightmares, I’m not likely to be in the main body of acolytes for the Wolf Rd. store, which looked smaller than most TJs on the coast, if that’s possible.

    That said, we always did like their frozen dumplings, which were cheap and great comfort food.

  14. @Matt, I was super-bummed to realize that there’d be no wine at this one. It’s one of the things I’d heard about. But when I went, during the weekend, there were several free parking spaces–ah, the work-from-home advantage!

  15. Melissa

    A parking lot tip- if you are looking at the front of TJ’s – you can go to the far right end of the lot, and exit to the Colonie Center Mall loop (right behind the bank in the Panera shopping center), which brings you out to the traffic light. I don’t dare try making a left on Wolf Road in crazy traffic and a car full of kids.

  16. JM

    Love, love most everything about TJs. I’ve gone once or twice a week after the initial rush died down. Love the small store that I can get in and out of in a jiffy and pick-up the stuff I need. What we don’t like so far is the froz organic veges: broccoli was full of ice, kids and hubby complained of ‘weird taste” and green beans were too tough. Found the prices cheaper than large grocery stores.

  17. amy

    all of the frozen indian..vingaloo, butter chicken, frozen naan and the garam masala veggie patties. restaurant quality. oh, just tried the low fat cilantro salad dressing in the refridge section near produce. very good

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