2020 has canceled a lot of things, but for me, the one that hit hardest was sacrificing my weekly trip to Trader Joe’s. When lockdown started, I was terrified to leave my apartment and opted for grocery delivery from an inexpensive grocery store. When I started feeling a bit more comfortable with social distancing and going in public for essential errands, I frequented my closest, non-Trader Joe’s grocery store for the basics.
Pre-COVID, perusing aisles at Trader Joe’s was seriously one of my favorite pastimes. If that makes me lame, I don’t care! It was so therapeutic and truly felt like a home away from home on the gloomiest of days. So, when life flip-turned upside down and I had to say “so-long” to my favorite hobby (and my go-to TJ’s staples), I was beside myself.
This week, I hit up my local Trader Joe’s for the first time since quarantine started and, even though we still have a long way to go until “normal life” resumes, this touch of normalcy was just what the doctor ordered. Having my favorite TJ’s staples back in my pantry where they belong brings me so much joy. I’ll admit, I got a bit carried away, but this was to be expected. One trip carrying two 10-pound bags a mile back to my apartment was so worth it. No, I didn’t wake up with sore traps this morning… why do you ask? Here are a few of the staples that I’ve missed so much and made sure to snag on my first trip back to TJ’s:
1. Mandarin Orange Chicken
I cannot say enough great things about this frozen orange chicken. I’m usually not a fan of foods that come from the freezer section but these guys pass the vibe (and crunch) check 10/10. They’re the perfect solution to a busy weeknight (or non-busy days where you just don’t want to bother) and I am elated to have three of them stacked and ready in my freezer for the next time I’m craving takeout.
2. Gone Bananas!
Oh, how I’ve missed these dark chocolate covered banana slices. If you too are the CEO of “needing something sweet” after dinner but want to err on the side of “healthier than most” desserts, these were made for you. There’s no prep involved… just pull them out of the freezer and start snacking. Somehow, they’re immediately perfectly chilled but not too frozen. My teeth are super sensitive so I usually stray away from frozen snacks but I have no issue with these at all!
3. Acai Puree Packets
These frozen acai packets are my absolute favorite. I’m a sucker for a good acai bowl but I don’t have the money nor the bandwidth to walk a mile to get one professionally made (city probs). I usually mix one packet with one banana and some coconut water for the perfect consistency and top with fresh fruits, coconut flakes, chia seeds, and granola. Nom, nom, nom.
4. Sea Salt & Turbinado Sugar Dark Chocolate Almonds
If you know me, you know I always pick up some of these dark chocolate almonds whenever I make a TJ’s run. Once, I went to Trader Joe’s just to replenish my dark chocolate almond stores and gasp!, they were sold out. I shed a singular tear and made myself a promise that I’d never let myself run out ever again. They’re a sweet-and-salty lover’s dream and they’re rich enough that I don’t feel the need to eat the whole thing in one sitting. But, they’re great, so no guarantees on that one.
5. Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese
When I think of fall, this Butternut Squash Mac & Cheese is 100 percent what comes to mind. How is this frozen, microwavable dish so unbelievably good? Seriously, I need answers. Moreso, I need to figure out how I can rent out a freezer in Chicago so I can buy these in bulk (I think 50 should suffice as I would love to indulge twice a week during the off-season). I’m starting a petition to make these available year-round and, if you could sign it, that would mean the world to me.
6. Pumpkin Pie Spice
In my household, every season is pumpkin spice season. This seasoning is oh so necessary for many things but, namely, I love frothing it into my oat milk lattes. It makes me feel so fancy and gives me the warm and fuzzies all year long.
7. GoMacro Bars
GoMacro bars have my heart. For years, I hunted for a guilt-free, high protein bar that doesn’t taste like dark chocolate-infused tar so once I found this organic, vegan, and gluten-free option, I was hooked. Even though these aren’t exclusive to TJ’s, I always pick them up while I’m there.
8. Maple Oat Milk
I was so excited to try this maple-flavored oat milk after our editor Beth’s enthusiastic review and, boy, it did not disappoint. She lovingly described the taste to be like the “milk left over after a bowl of Honey Bunches of Oats” and SHE IS NOT WRONG. I used half unflavored oat milk and half maple oat milk in my latte this morning and, I kid you not, it tasted like a freakin’ pancake. I’ll definitely be adding it to my evergrowing list of TJ’s staples.
9. Pumpkin Butternut Squash Bisque
Forget PSL season, ladies, it’s soup season! Soup is seriously my favorite cozy meal so when I feel the first seasonal chill in the air, I go off on my soup game. I love to pair this Pumpkin Butternut Squash Bisque with a warm, toasty grilled cheese sandwich and another rerun of The Office. It’s perfectly creamy and feels like Trader Joe himself made it fresh, just for me.
10. Harvest Chili
OK, I’d love to argue that this Harvest Chili is just as good as my mother’s, but I’d be lying. In TJ’s defense, this chili is still incredible… my mom is just a boss and her chili is not to be reckoned with. I’d get the recipe from her but 1) I’m lazy and 2) I live alone and want just enough chili for myself (not that I can’t eat as much as a family of five, I just probably shouldn’t). This chili has the perfect hint of fall with butternut squash and pumpkin puree and I can’t wait to crack into it on the next football Sunday.
11. Green Goddess and Carrot Ginger Miso Salad Dressings
Disclaimer: I hate salad. I have never been ravenously hungry and simultaneously stated, “wow, I could really go for some leaves!” I’ve also never said, “oh my Lanta, that hit the spot,” after eating a bowl of greens. I’m sorry if this offends any of the salad stans out there, but it’s just not for me. I will admit that my disdain for salad doesn’t necessarily stop me from eating salad because it’s imperative that I add some greens to my haphazard diet of McDonald’s chicken nuggets, pancake bread (see below), and pizza. Dare I say it… these salad dressings actually trick me into liking salads! The Green Goddess dressing is perfectly creamy and fresh and the Carrot Ginger Miso dressing makes me feel like I’m at a Japanese steakhouse.
12. Cauliflower Gnocchi
If you know, you know. I love potato gnocchi but I turn to this cauliflower alternative when I’m trying to be more calorie conscious and to get more veggies into my diet. I cook this gnocchi one of three ways. Most of the time, I’ll pan-fry them in olive oil, top with Rao’s garlic roasted red sauce or vodka sauce, and sprinkle parmesan Reggiano generously on top (where are my Italian gals at?). Sometimes, I’ll roast them with veggies and sausage. Other times, I’ll air-fry them, treat them like tater tots, and dip them in ketchup, spicy mayo, or honey mustard as a side dish.
13. Pumpkin Spice Batons
I attacked these rolled wafers with unparalleled enthusiasm, but my middle finger’s nail was no match for the unnecessarily strong packaging and broke in the process. I’m not going to lie, I was pretty pissed off. There’s nothing worse than having one nail shorter than all of the others and, ultimately, having your nailbed so exposed. Alas, I heard good reviews so I continued forward with my trial. Thankfully, I can say that my minor injury was the hassle. The discomfort of a broken nail is temporary but the memory of the delicate crunch and perfectly sweet-but-not-too-sweet flavor is forever. I bought these with the intention to make my morning coffee even fancier but, honestly, I could eat these straight out of the tin, no problem.
14. Roasted Garlic Hummus
This one is not super flashy and I know this type of hummus is not exclusive to Trader Joe’s but I love it so very much. My passion for hummus has grown so much over the years and has evolved from dipping my veggies to spreading on sourdough toast/naan bread to solely eating by the spoonful. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable, I am who I am. It’s just too good.
15. Everything But The Bagel Seasoning
I have this theory that you can put EBTB seasoning on pretty much everything. Avo toast? EBTB. Eggs? EBTB. Veggies? EBTB. Everything bagel with cream cheese? MORE EBTB. I am so unbelievably dependent on this stuff that I treat it as a travel essential and took it on my recent trip to the Smokey’s. PSA: it is TSA-approved.
16. Trek Mix
Grab-and-go snacking has never been tastier. Be warned, this stuff is so addicting that I purposefully buy the individually packaged option for portion control. This trail mix is my idea of a good time and is simply delicious.
17. Balsamic Glaze
I reach for this balsamic glaze any time that I get the chance so I go through this stuff fast. I use it to top my avocado toast, hummus on naan, and Caprese salads (another crucial topping to trick me into being healthy). One time, I left this in my work refrigerator over a weekend and it was one of the darkest points of my existence.
18. No Joke Ginger Juice Shot
Down the hatch! Do I enjoy ginger shots? Not necessarily. But do I love the health benefits and love the burn? You bet, sis. This ginger shot is made with coconut water, ginger, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper which makes it the perfect pick-me-up during my post-lunch midday slump. Don’t be fooled by its size… this bad boy packs a punch.
19. Cauliflower Thins
OK, don’t get me wrong. I am a bread connoisseur. If I could live solely off of toast, I would. But because I eat so much of it, I like to surprise my gut and throw in a lower-carb, higher-protein alternative every now and again. These cauliflower thins are perfect for making sandwiches, wraps, and mini pizzas. They definitely need dressing up but are a perfect (occasional) second to regular bread.
20. Pancake Bread
I saved the absolute best for last. This pancake bread has my heart. If I could eat this for breakfast, lunch, and dinner without guilt, I would be a happy camper. Sometimes, when I am having my weekly existential crisis, I remember that I am lucky enough to live in a universe where pancake bread exists and my anxiety returns to baseline. I can’t rave about this stuff enough. It’s moist, dense, and tastes like heaven on Earth.