Trader Joe's Must-Haves

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If you ever shop at TJs — as I affectionately refer to it — you probably already have your very own Trader Joe’s must-have list. And that list is about to get longer.

The boutique grocery store is famed for its private label offerings, killer snacks, epic frozen meals and, yes, consistently tiny parking lots. Parking frustrations aside, Trader Joe’s is totally worth a visit if there’s one in your area and you haven’t already been. While you may not want to do all your shopping at TJ’s, you’ll save money — and satisfy your tastebuds! — by picking up certain staples there.

From $0.19 each for free-range bananas (I kid. Bananas don’t run free) to affordable artisanal cheeses worthy of a night in Paris, here are the Trader Joe’s must-haves that satisfy taste and budget.

New to Trader Joe’s?

Here are some good-to-knows: Trader Joe’s hours are typically 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. though some stores open at 9 a.m.; check with the Trader Joe’s location nearest you for their hours.

Sadly, there is no such thing as Trader Joe’s delivery or pickup. (Nope, not even via third parties).

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Frozen Meals

Kung Pao Chicken

Trader Joe’s bag of Kung Pao Chicken contains about two adult servings (maybe more with a rice, sold separately) and arguably tastes as good — or better — than takeout. And, at $4.99, it’s about a quarter of the price of your standard local Chinese restaurant fare.

Chicken Tikka Masala
Indian food is delicious but can be hard to master at home. TJ’s Chicken Tikka Masala ($3.69) nails the spice and flavor of this staple dish, but only takes 60 to 90 seconds in the microwave. P.S. The vegetarian version, Paneer Tikka Masala, is just as tasty, quick, and is a bit cheaper.

Mandarin Orange Chicken
Is anything better than the citrusy, sweetness and spice of this ever-popular Chinese dish? I think not. Which is one of the reasons why, at just $4.99 for three to four servings, it’s in our regular dinner rotation at home.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Produce and Pantry Staples

Bananas
Straying from most other grocery stores — which price their produce by weight — Trader Joe’s sells individual bananas for $0.19 each. Not only is this model convenient, it’s cheap: bananas from other major retailers can easily cost double that (bananas are usually $0.32 a piece or $0.79 a pound at Safeway, for example).

Coffee
If you care about the source and quality of your morning brew but don’t want to pay more than $10 for a bag, Trader Joe’s coffee is another must-have. You can find cheaper coffee anywhere, but TJ’s strikes a perfect balance between quality and price.

Olive Oil
Olive Oil is more than $0.26 per ounce at Walmart, but just $0.23 an ounce — or $3.99 a bottle — at Trader Joe’s. Enough said.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Artisanal Cheeses

Brie
Trader Joe’s French Brie cheese is just $8.99 a pound — aka $0.56 an ounce. A brie of similar quality from another store could easily run you as much as a buck an ounce, or $15.99 for the same size.

Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio
At a competitively priced $14.99 per pound, Parmigiano Reggiano Stravecchio — a sharp, aged cheese imported from Italy that demands its place on a charcuterie board — is most definitely a Trader Joe’s must-have.

Chèvre With Honey
Snag a five-ounce log of Chèvre (aka goat milk cheese) with honey for just $2.99. The combo of creamy tang and sweet is killer. Heck, grab a box of those fig crackers and call it dinner.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Snacks

Specialty Nuts and Trail Mix
From Dry Roasted Maple Almonds to its Breakfast Trek Mix (granola, roasted cranberries, and Greek yogurt chips), Trader Joe’s nuts selection is more creative than the big guys, and always comparable in price.

Hummus (and Other Dips)
Narrowing down Trader Joe’s awesome selection of hummus and other specialty dips is a tall order. If I had to choose just one, I’d go with the Trader Joe’s Three-Layer Hummus. Or the Bacon Cheddar Ranch Dip. See, I already broke my own rule. The point is: Trader Joe’s dips are a must try. And you won’t break the bank doing so — by way of comparison, hummus at Von’s is $0.41/ ounce while TJ’s is $0.37/ounce.

Peanut-Butter Filled Pretzels
Trader Joe’s Peanut Butter Filled Pretzels are dangerously binge-worthy (I know from firsthand experience), and cost less than $0.16 per ounce — or $2.49 for a 16-ounce bag. The same size canister would run you $0.25 an ounce from Walmart.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Booze

Cheap AF Wine
If you’ve heard the name “Two-buck Chuck,” you know what I’m talking about. But if you’re over the age of 30 and want to avoid that kind of hangover, there are whole aisles filled with wines with price tags that don’t breach the four-digit mark (< $9.99).

Liquor
Not all Trader Joe’s locations sell liquor. But if you live by one that does and have a bent for lighter spirits, I suggest the Trader Joe’s Versatile Spirit Vodka. It’s made in California and runs just $9.99 for a 750-milliliter bottle. If you’re one for darker liquor, the Rebel Yell Bourbon is the same size and price as the vodka, which works out to about $0.39 per ounce versus $1.28 per ounce for Bulleit.

Craft Beer
Trader Joe’s produces its own line of craft brews, which is great if you’re a beer lover on a budget. TJ privately labels many premium local microbrews, as well as other national names, keeping the price of six-packs low and consistent. In taste there is no argument, but for what it’s worth, the Trader Joe’s Stockyard Oatmeal Stout, Providential Golden Ale, and Audaciter are three styles with exceptional reviews via Beer Advocate.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Have Vegan/Vegetarian Products

Meatless Meatballs
I’ve tried a few meatless meatballs in my day and, let me tell you, there are not all made the same. TJs meatless meatballs are by far the best I’ve ever had, and an excellent addition to pasta for lunch or dinnertime. They’re flavorful, easy and fast to cook, and don’t have the cardboard taste that some other meat substitutes have. At just $2.99 for about 30(!) meatballs, you might just be replacing regular ol’ meatballs with these bad boys.

Oat Milk
Oat milk is the handlebar mustache of 2020. Which is to say, it’s everywhere, and it’s hip. And at some point you might just want to embrace it. Which is great, because a 64-ounce carton of Trader Joe’s Non-Dairy Oat Beverage is just $3.99 ($0.06/ounce), versus $4.69 or more for the same size container at most other supermarkets. If they even sell it.

Cauliflower Gnocchi
Technically this could’ve fallen under the Trader Joe’s must-haves in the frozen category, but I thought I’d leave you a little easter egg near the end. TJs cauliflower gnocchi has been written about by everyone from the Food Network to Cooking Light and Women’s Health magazines. So yeah, it’s good. And just $2.69 for a 12-ounce bag.

 

Trader Joe’s Must-Haves: Bonus Edition

Flowers and Succulents
Walk into any TJs and you’ll first be christened by a gorgeous display of brightly colored flowers and succulents. Tiny, adorable live succulents start at $0.99; a dozen roses are just $6.99; and assorted, fresh bouquets go for $9.99. In short, Trader Joe’s must-have selection of flowers and succulents is unique, vibrant, and the prices are always right.

Trader Joe’s Hydrating Eye Cream
These days, it seems like eye creams range from $5 to something like a bazillion dollars. That’s why I had to do a double-take when I saw the $5.99 price tag on TJs’ Supreme Hydrating Eye Cream! The 0.53-ounce tube is made with plant extracts, collagen, and will leave your under eyes feeling silky smooth.

Shea Butter and Coconut Oil Hair Mask
If you have curly, kinky, coarse, or otherwise parched hair, Trader Joe’s Shea Butter & Coconut Oil Hair Mask is like a magical portal into soft hair land. Most similar products run at least $1.65 per ounce, while the TJs version, at just $3.99 for about five ounces, is about $0.78 per ounce.

Greeting Cards
Greeting cards are a Trader Joe’s must-have. Why? Because they’re designed by artists and sell for just $0.99 a pop. Sleep easy at night knowing you’ll never pay $5.99 for a greeting card again.

How to Save at Trader Joe's

If you've been in a Trader Joe's, then you've probably noticed a few things — they're all pretty small (even the parking lots!), are packed with private label goodies, and they don't run sales. Ever. But that doesn't mean you can't save money when shopping at TJ's. Here's how to save at Trader Joe's.