Trader Joe's is a popular food-shopping destination for its cheery, helpful checkout people in Hawaiian shirts, the wide array of new foods and the low-cost, private-label products that are often created by well-respected brands. TJ's is a favorite among many shoppers, and not just the budget-conscious ones. With so many products to choose from and piles of pennies to be saved, we shopped the aisles to give you a quick guide to what you should buy—and what you should skip—at Trader Joe's.
Most fresh fruits sold in Trader Joe's produce section bear no difference from those in other big-box grocery stores (Dole berries, Chiquita bananas, etc.), and the quality and price are on par. TJ's fresh fruits are a hit, if simply to save you a second stop.
TIP: If there's one fruit you should always buy here, it's avocado. These pods of buttery goodness were at a low price of $2.99 for a bag of six Teeny Tiny Avocados.
Once the fresh farmers' markets have closed for the season, Trader Joe's is a solid bet for quality vegetables at a low cost. Just be wary of the prewrapped varieties, which can be underwhelming. Instead, stick to the center bins of the produce section. We like the selection of onions, potatoes, carrots and gourds.
These days, it seems that everywhere you turn someone is singing the praises of ancient grains—and we fully support that. Be it buckwheat, farro, amaranth or many others, these little grains pack a nutritious punch. Compared to similar-size packages at competing stores, the selection at Trader Joe's is worth a trip for these alone.
TIP: Our favorite is the Super Seed & Ancient Grain Blend, an 8-ounce bag of sprouted buckwheat, sprouted millet, chia seed, golden flaxseed, red quinoa, shelled hemp seed and amaranth, all for the low price of $4.49. Packed with complete proteins and fiber, these are great in soups or baked goods.
Read More: Whole Grain Cooking Guide
When it comes to yogurt, nutrition and quality vary largely by brand and type. Thankfully, Trader Joe's doesn't sacrifice either.
We prefer Greek yogurt for its thick, creamy texture and higher protein content, but often, when manufacturers remove fat from a dairy product, they add sugar in its place. That's not the case with Trader Joe's nonfat plain Greek yogurt. The TJ's option is on par with Fage Total 0% plain in both nutrition and taste, but it's $3 less (32 ounces for $4.99) per tub.
With a serving size of 1 cup, TJ's nonfat plain Greek yogurt packs in 270 milligrams potassium, 22 grams protein and 20 percent of the Daily Value of calcium for 120 calories and 6 grams of sugar.
Keep Reading: Which is Healthier: Greek Yogurt or Regular Yogurt?
A handful of nuts or dried fruit is an especially healthy afternoon snack, and the offerings at Trader Joe's are among the best.
Prepackaged trail mixes are also great for a quick grab-and-go, but beware of added sugars. Look for items labeled "just," such as the Just Mango Slices ($2.99), for a no-sugar-added, pure fruit snack.
As for nuts, the store offers a variety of raw, roasted and flavored options. We recommend grabbing a bag of the Raw Sliced Almonds ($3.49) to add to oatmeal, top off a bowl of cereal or toss into baked goods.
The TJ's Organic Mixed Berry Blend is our favorite. That's because it's organic; the mix has strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and blackberries, which makes for a nutritiously balanced taste; and each 12-ounce bag is just $2.99, a comparable price to nonorganic frozen mixed berries at some local grocery chains.
TIP: Making a smoothie? Hop a few aisles over and grab the TJ's Coconut Water with Aloe Vera Juice (32-ounce box for $2.99) for extra hydration.
Any Trader Joe's deal list wouldn't be complete without a mention of the famous Two Buck Chuck (now Three Buck Chuck, also known as Charles Shaw). This wine has ranked among TJ's best-selling items since its debut in 2002. A wide assortment of varietals are available for a measly $2.99 ($2.49 if you live on the West Coast) plus tax.
What pairs better with a glass of wine than some artisan cheese? (That was a rhetorical question.) TJ's has a solid offering of myriad cheeses, from the sharpest aged Cheddar to the softest melt-in-your-mouth Brie, all at a reasonable price.
The chain goes beyond the typical flavors, too. Our current favorite is the Cranberry Chèvre Fresh Goat Cheese ($3.99 for an 8-ounce log).
TIP: TJ's offers delicious multigrain crackers ($2.29 per box) and cheap-but-tasty prosciutto ($3.99 for a 4-ounce package) to round out a cheese board.
Keep Reading: How to Build the Perfect Cheese Board
Adding greenery to your living space has a positive impact on your mood and overall health, so next time you're in Trader Joe's, use that excuse to grab a bouquet or small plant for your home or office. From seasonal bouquets to traditional stalwarts, the offerings at Trader Joe's are always fresh, beautiful and a fraction of the cost of those at other local grocers and floral shops.
TIP: Grab a bundle of fresh eucalyptus branches ($2.99) and place them in your bathroom or near a humidifier. Steam activates the plant's beneficial properties and releases the calming, fresh spa-like smell.
Trader Joe's has several tasty frozen meals that are great in a pinch, but with convenience comes some trade-offs: TJ's frozen meals range in cuisines, from popular Indian dishes like butter chicken, to traditional potpies. However, one thing that's consistent nearly across the board is a high sodium count. We're not entirely ruling out the frozen meal aisle, but read the nutrition label, and remember that moderation is key.
TIP: The TJ's Riced Cauliflower Stir-Fry packs in loads of nutritious vegetables (cauliflower, green peas, red peppers, corn and onions) at a fraction of the sodium content of other meals. You can nab a 16-ounce bag for $2.99.
Though the chain offers a wide variety of breads and baked goods, especially seasonal treats like Danish kringles, we prefer to shop our local bakeries instead. Local bakeries guarantee freshness for a similar (if not lower) price. Plus, we love to support local artisans.
Unless you're in a pinch and need something quick (or are looking specifically for the frozen variety), give TJ's meat and seafood selection a pass. As with bread and baked goods, we prefer locally produced, fresh meat and seafood to the prepackaged fare available at Trader Joe's.
There's not much to write home about in the pasta and rice aisles at Trader Joe's. You'll likely find a more interesting variety at your locally owned specialty shops or chain grocers for the same, if not cheaper, prices. Unless you're trying to grab the makings of a quick dinner, skip this selection and save money at another store.
Read More: 6 Tips for How to Cook Pasta Perfectly
Though spice prices are comparable to those at other grocery chains, a lack of variety at TJ's leaves us desiring more. You won't find Italian seasoning, Cajun seasoning or many other specialty mixes, but you'll see the basics—paprika, cinnamon, garlic powder and others.
*Prices are from April 2018.