Trader Joe’s Must Haves: The Best Finds!

Well, it’s been a minute since I updated my blog. In reality, it’s been more like 481,800 minutes (which equates to 11 months). Yikes! Starting a new job this year, planning a large celebration and more have unfortunately kept me focused on things other than this blog. I can’t think of a better topic to reemerge from my hiatus, though, than one that involves one of my favorite stores: Trader Joe’s.

My obsession with Trader Joe’s is almost two decades in the making. When I think of Trader Joe’s, I am always taken back to my college years spent in Fairfield, CT. My friends and I would flock to the Trader Joe’s on the Post Road a few times a month and stock up on essentials and the latest unusual finds. Back then, Trader Joe’s was one of only a few alternatives to traditional grocery stores.

When I moved to New York City years later, my regular weekend routine would include walking 17 blocks to the Trader’s Joe’s in Union Square. At the time, it was the only Trader Joe’s in NYC – so the lines were beyond insane and would literally wrap around the entire store. It was not unusual to have to wait 45 minutes or more (gasp!) on the checkout line. Despite the crowds and lengthy checkout wait, shopping there was always an experience. I would often head into the store with the intention of buying 3-4 items, and leave with about 20 or more. At that point, walking the 17 blocks home was not an option; so my bags were often taxied home in the trunk of a yellow cab.

Fast forward several years and another state later, and I am still a Trader Joe’s regular.  The best thing, in my humble opinion, about Trader Joe’s is that they are always changing things up. They update their stock with the seasons and are quick to embrace the latest health trends. As an added bonus, Trader Joe’s always stock their stores with many healthy, gluten-free, dairy-free and other options. Plus, they have some of the best prices around on organic produce.

When it comes to my favorite products at Trader Joe’s, I can easily think of 20 products to feature in this blog post.  But, in the interest of not losing your attention, I will limit my favorite things list to just seven. Well, without further adieu, here are my Favorite Things: The Trader Joe’s Edition:

DBD96077-A201-4849-82E8-D310289DFA181. Organic Coconut Oil Packets To Go – Trader Joe’s sells these amazing coconut oil packets that you can take with you on the go. Every store it seems these days sells coconut oil containers; however, these packets take things to another level of cool.  Instead of practically breaking my spoon attempting to retrieve some coconut oil from the containers, I just grab one of these packets. I use these packets in smoothies, on sweet potatoes and even use it as a make-shift lip balm in the winter months. You can’t beat the convenience! Check out 101 ways to use coconut oil here.

142CA78A-93ED-4A83-9EB2-2841C6E071112. Frozen Cauliflower Pizza Crust  – Oh my goodness! This frozen crust made of cauliflower and corn flour is absolutely amazing. Let’s face it; gluten-free pizza crust is usually pretty dreadful. (In fact, cardboard is probably more flavorful.) But, this pizza crust is delicious. My favorite “pizza” to make using this crust is topped with pesto (see next item) and arugula. On Christmas, I used this crust to make an appetizer with tomato sauce and veggies – which received rave reviews from my family of taste testers.

E991E68D-3E26-4D0F-AA57-BFC25D5DAB303. Vegan Kale, Cashew & Basil Pesto – While I am definitely not a Vegan (see next item for proof), this pesto is mouth-wateringly good. It is next to impossible to find a pesto made without some form of cheese. Finding this pesto, which has a tendency to sell out quickly at Trader Joe’s, has saved me from having to make my own dairy-free pesto.  Try this pesto as a dip with vegetables, with chicken or turkey, as a burger topping or on a cauliflower crust pizza. It can be found in Trader Joe’s hummus section.

1ED5F327-E1B2-4230-B392-E698CE75086B4. Grass-Fed Angus Beef Burgers – Quality beef can be expensive. Trader Joe’s, however, sells these tasty grass-fed burgers for a reasonable price compared to their competitors. I don’t eat beef too often, but when I do, this is my go-to burger.

IMG_0289

5. Unsweetened Golden Oolong Iced Tea – Unsweetened iced tea can sometimes be a bit bitter and unappetizing. This tea, made from oolong tea leaves, has a natural bit of sweetness without any added sugar or artificial sweetener. This tea is a staple in my refrigerator.

IMG_03816. Organic Ginger and Turmeric Tea – Speaking of tea, Trader Joe’s has a fabulous assortment of tea bags that often change with the season. My pantry currently has about six or more different varieties of Trader Joe’s tea boxes. At the moment, my favorite is the ginger and turmeric tea. It is surprisingly sweet with a just a hint of spice. And ginger and turmeric are both soothing on the stomach and help combat inflammation. (My honorable mentions for tea are Trader Joe’s Winter Wake Up Tea and the Bed Time Tea. The Bed Time Tea is an effective cure for insomnia!)

DC833244-95FE-4880-A84E-2B18E2562E2C7. Colorful Carrot Coins – I am always looking for new foods to try in my air fryer, which I have had now for just over a year. Trader Joe’s sells a ton of great fresh and frozen vegetable options. These colorful carrot coins are my go-to veggies at the moment. I heat these in the air fryer as a side dish or on the stove as part of a stir fry. These carrot coins are also great on a pizza (see #2 above).

Well, I could go on and on about my love for Trader Joe’s and ramble on about their fabulous products all day. In closing, they also have some pretty excellent bath, face and body products too. (Check out their Coconut Body Butter…it’s considerably cheaper and arguably better than any body butter/lotion around.)

Getting Your Veggies In … Even on Super Bowl Sunday!

vegetables-1736170__340

So, it’s Super Bowl Sunday – an unofficial national holiday practically devoted to Americans gorging our faces with wings, nachos, burgers, chips and beer. At first glance, it’s probably not the most fitting day to run a blog post about adding more vegetables into our daily meals. On second thought, though, I think we can all benefit from sneaking in more vegetables daily – even on days like Super Bowl Sunday. So, here we go!

As many of you are aware, the standard American diet typically falls short of the recommended servings of fiber-rich vegetables. Vegetables not only contain fiber, which is super important for gut health, they are packed with antioxidants, vitamins and minerals that help keep us healthy and ward off disease. Yet, many of us are skipping these healthy vegetables for tastier, empty calorie comfort foods. Let’s face it, we could all use more veggies in our lives.

One of my personal goals for 2017 is to try to eat a healthy serving of vegetables with each and every meal. Yes, even breakfast. Ladies and gentlemen, this has been tough to accomplish every day, especially with a brand new job and a lot going on since the beginning of the New Year. I have been pretty successful in meeting this goal thus far, though.

The good news is that I have found a lot of easy and crafty ways that you too can get your “veggies on” every day. Here are three suggestions to help you add more vegetables on the sly with minimum effort:

1. Make Vegetables the Focus of Your Smoothies

green-juice-769129__340

I’m all for juicing, but sometimes drinking cold pressed juices gives me a bit of a sugar rush. And the juicer is a giant pain in the neck to clean. These are just a few reasons why I usually blend vs. juice. One significant reason as to why I prefer smoothies to juices is because smoothies also contain fiber – which is lacking from most juices.

Smoothies are not always healthy. The biggest mistake that many people make is adding too much fruit to smoothies. I try to make vegetables the star of my smoothies and the fruit has much more of a supporting role.

The fabulous thing about smoothies is that you can really think out of the box when adding vegetables and make up recipes on the spot. I rarely make the same recipe twice. And my smoothie is always dependent on what I have in stock in my fridge or freezer at the time. Here are some vegetables that I regularly add to smoothies:

  • Kale
  • Spinach
  • Arugula
  • Romaine Lettuce
  • Swiss Chard
  • Cucumbers
  • Carrots
  • Beets (usually frozen)
  • Celery
  • Squash (whichever kind is in season)
  • Parsnip
  • Turnip

I usually add a bunch of vegetables from the list above to my blender, along with a 1/2 cup of coconut, almond or cashew milk. For a slight bit of sweetness, I add a small amount of wild frozen blueberries, pineapple or acai. To give my smoothies an added boost, I often add:

  • Fresh or powdered ginger (for a little spice)
  • Organic cacao powder (for a healthy chocolate kick)
  • Green Superfood powder (you can never have too many greens)
  • Cinnamon (for a warm flavor)
  • Fresh aloe (helps with digestion)
  • Collagen powder (helps with the gut, skin, hair and more)

As always, consult with your physician before incorporating any of the supplements above.

2. Consider Purchasing an Air Fryer for Quick, Healthy Vegetable Frying

th

If you don’t yet own an air fryer, you don’t know what you are missing.

This past Christmas, I was pleasantly surprised when I received an air fryer as a gift from my sister Katie. At first, I thought it might be a fun new appliance that I would tinker with only on occasion. It turns out, though, that I use my air fryer several times a week these days.

Like the name suggests, an air fryer uses air as opposed to oil to fry/cook foods. So, what results is healthy, flavorful fried vegetables. (You can use a smidgen of oil if you prefer in the air fryer, although none is required for most foods.) You can actually cook meats, fish and other foods in the air fryer as well – although I haven’t been that daring yet to test the air fryer with these kind of foods.

I have cooked a number of vegetables (kale, butternut squash cubes, carrots, etc.) and starchy foods (shredded potatoes, sweet potato chunks, etc.) in the air fryer. Most vegetables and potatoes take less than 15 minutes to cook in the air fryer. And the air fryer tray is super easy to clean and maintain.

I typically will put a large portion of vegetables in the air fryer in the evening, eat some with dinner and reserve the rest for lunches I prepare for the next few days. I pair the veggies/potatoes with some form of protein for healthy, nutrient-packed daily lunches.

The best news is that you can snag an air fryer for less than $100. The model I use, pictured, is available at Amazon for $81. Trust me, it will change the way you cook.

3. Substitute Carb-Heavy Sides with Vegetables

When you eat out at restaurants, entrees are most commonly served with sides such as white rice, mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, pasta, fries and other heavy foods. These options are definitely comfort foods that you almost expect to see on your plates when eating out. Many folks think of sides in the same way when cooking meals at home. But these carb-heavy sides can make an otherwise healthy meal significantly less healthy very quickly.

On a positive note, many restaurants are offering healthier, less heavy side options that focus more on vegetables and herb ingredients rather than empty carbs. At home, you too can incorporate more tasty vegetable sides into your daily menus. One such substitute is cauliflower rice. Below is a tasty cauliflower rice recipe that incorporates turkey bacon and herbs that will make you forget about white rice (I’m serious).

Savory Cauliflower Rice with Turkey Bacon, Herbs and Balsamic Vinegar

img_1506

If orange is the new black, than cauliflower rice is the new kale. Cauliflower rice seems to be everywhere these days – even on the menus of fancy restaurants. For the longest time, you could only find riced cauliflower in stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joes. Nowadays, even Walmart carries frozen cauliflower rice. And it is very affordable in all stores.

Back on Christmas day, I wanted to make a new, healthy vegetable side recipe to accompany the usual Christmas sides. So, I devised the recipe below. It is a very flexible recipe so you can use the herbs and seasonings that you have on hand at home.

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups cauliflower rice (fresh or frozen)
  • 2 strips of uncured turkey bacon
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil (or avocado oil)
  • 2.5 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1/4 cup water (if fresh cauliflower rice is used)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon Cajun seasoning
  • Fresh herbs (In the past, I have used a couple of fresh basil leaves or some fresh rosemary. Use what you have on hand.)
  • Sea salt and pepper to taste
  1. Over medium heat, add saucepan with 1 tablespoon oil to stove.
  2. Stir in two cups of cauliflower rice (if using frozen cauliflower rice, add a tablespoon of water; if using fresh cauliflower rice, add 1/4 cup of water).
  3. Add balsamic vinegar to sauce pan. Add thyme, parsley, Cajun seasoning and rosemary. Add fresh herbs and salt and pepper. Stir regularly
  4. On a separate pan, cook two strips of turkey bacon until crisp. Add pieces of bacon to the cauliflower rice.
  5. Continue to cook over medium heat for 12-15 minutes and stir often – until cauliflower rice is tender.
  6. Add additional seasoning to your taste preferences

Enjoy and Happy Super Bowl!

 

Say What? Affordable Organic and Healthy Food Options at Aldi

image

It seems like Aldi is kind of hip now. Last weekend, one of the largest newspapers in NYC, the New York Daily News, featured an article called, “8 reasons why you should shop at Aldi.”

While I hadn’t shopped at an Aldi store in a few months, the article convinced me that I needed to hop in my car and head back there ASAP. In fact, I literally drove to my nearest Aldi within a few hours of reading the article. And I’m glad that I did! Upon perusing the Aldi aisles, my eyes almost popped out of their sockets when I saw all of the new organic and healthy food options – at beyond amazing prices. To say I was pleasantly surprised is an understatement.

The Aldi Experience

For those of you who are not familiar with Aldi, it is a “no-frills” German supermarket chain that seems to be popping up everywhere. In fact, at least 10 stores are now open within 10 miles of my home. Go back a few years, and maybe there were only two stores in my area. You can even find an Aldi in Manhattan! Beyond my immediate area, Aldi stores seem to be expanding in most U.S. states and throughout Europe.

The author of the Daily News article says it best when he described Aldi as the “Jan Brady of supermarkets.” When you first enter an Aldi store, you kind of have to get used to the “no-frills” concept of the chain. You are not going to see the beautiful produce displays and neatly stocked shelves of supermarkets like Whole Foods, Fairway or Trader Joes. In fact, most items are haphazardly placed in cardboard boxes or containers at Aldi.

Aldi has some interesting quirks. Shoppers must insert a quarter to gain use of an Aldi shopping cart. (You get the quarter back upon returning the shopping cart, though.) Also, the store charges for all plastic shopping bags. This policy, though, encourages shoppers to bring their own reusable shopping bags (which I remember to bring with me most of the time).

Aldi stores also carry mostly unique brands. They offer several brand lines that you can only find at Aldi stores, such as Simply Nature (natural and organic products), Fit & Active (food and beverages for healthy lifestyles), liveGfree (gluten-free line), Friendly Farms (dairy and dairy alternatives), Never Any! (meat without antibiotics, hormones or by-products), Little Salad Bar (vegetables/salad items) and more. Aldi stores also carry a limited and rotating stock of name brand items found at traditional supermarkets.

While kind of odd for a supermarket, these unique policies, unstructured looking aisles and limited brand options help Aldi keep overhead low. For example, they don’t need to hire as many employees for stocking shelves and no employees are needed for parking lot cart retrieval. The money they save on overhead translates into better prices for us consumers!

The “New” Aldi

Aldi had somewhat of an undeserved bad rap a few years ago. Back then, Aldi’s brand game wasn’t as strong and their shelves featured less healthy options. However, most notably there seemed to be somewhat of a stigma associated with shopping at Aldi a few year back. I remember shopping at an Aldi store in 2012 and overhearing a conversation between two neighbors who ran into each other unexpectedly at the store. Both ladies were acting somewhat embarrassed to be “caught” shopping at Aldi and were overtly making excuses as to why they weren’t shopping at the “regular” supermarket instead. Their exchange was almost humorous.

Back then, Aldi stores were not very crowded. Fast forward a few years later and Aldi stores are now super popular. Parking lots are jam-packed and the aisles are crammed with frugal-minded shoppers. Shopping at Aldi definitely seems more mainstream today.

Aldi’s low prices (especially when standard supermarket prices continue to rise) along with the expansion of healthy and organic food options continue to attract new shoppers and keep returning customers like me satisfied. As we all know, it’s very expensive to eat mostly organic and healthy foods – so Aldi’s incredibly low prices make healthy eating more accessible for everyone.

And there are so many great finds available at Aldi now! I am excited to share some of the organic and healthy items purchased at my recent Aldi shopping run:

Organic Arugula

image

Arugula, which is hands down my favorite kind of salad green vegetable, is only $2.49 at my Aldi store. And it’s organic! Most supermarkets seem to offer organic arugula (with the exception of rare sales) at a price point of $3.99 or greater. My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Spinach

image

Spinach is my go-to green veggie for juicing and smoothies. Organic baby spinach at Aldi is only $2.49 (compared to over $3.99 at standard supermarkets). My savings: at least $1.50

Organic Frozen Blueberries

image

Blueberries are packed with antioxidants. Frozen organic blueberries are a regular staple item in my freezer. While packages at standard supermarkets could cost you around $4.99, Aldi sells frozen organic blueberries for only $2.79. My savings: around $2.20.

Organic, Antibiotic Free Chicken Breast

image

This one is a total steal. It is hard to find affordable organic chicken at grocery stores. While some chicken will be marketed as antibiotic-free, the chicken will often not be organic. Aldi sells organic, antibiotic-free chicken breasts for an incredibly low price. The large chicken breast that I purchased (enough for two full servings) was only $5.33. I have been unable to find anything similar in standard supermarkets for under $10. My savings: approximately $5.

Organic Baby Carrots

image

Baby carrots are fabulous in the juicer, in smoothies and are the perfect afternoon or anytime snack. Aldi sells a 16 ounce bag of organic carrots for $1.89. Compare this to $2.49 at a nearby standard supermarket, and I saved 60 cents by shopping at Aldi. Below is a juice that I made with these carrots:

image

Pure Coconut Water

image

Stores like Whole Foods sell pure coconut water for about $3.99 a pop. (Pure coconut waters need to be refrigerated and aren’t as widely available compared to the shelf stable coconut waters.) Trader Joes offers a great deal for pure coconut water for $2.99 a bottle; however, Aldi offers even a better deal at $2.29 per bottle! That is a saving of at least 70 cents per bottle. Needless to say, I stocked up on these coconut waters during my last Aldi shopping trip.

Unsweetened Almond Milk

image

I love almond milk. The unsweetened almond milk varieties are a must for my smoothies and protein shakes. I can’t believe that unsweetened almond milk is only $2.29 at Aldi! The brand I typically buy at other supermarkets is at least $3.29. My savings: $1 or more. Note: They also sell coconut milk at Aldi, but I didn’t see any unsweetened varieties available.

Other Sweet Deals at Aldi

  • Slivered Almonds $2.99 – These almonds are usually very expensive at standard supermarkets. I am talking at least $5.99 at other stores. I use these almonds in many recipes including my carrot slaw and Asian salad recipes.
  • Bag of Lemons $3.29 – I use lemons often in hot water and to dress my salads. Lemons can be pricey at regular supermarkets. This Aldi bag featured a whole lot of lemons at a great price!
  • (Whole) Pineapple $1.99 – Wow! The cheapest price I have found outside of Aldi for a whole pineapple is $2.99.
  • 24 Pack of Spring Water $2.49 – I love the taste of Aldi spring water and the water comes in BPA free plastic containers. As an added bonus, the water bottles are made of recycled plastic.

A Word of Caution

While I have focused on the healthy food and beverage items that I have purchased, keep in mind that Aldi also carries a lot of junk and heavily processed foods also at great prices. Just like any supermarket, these not-so-healthy foods are definitely abundant at Aldi. I encourage all shoppers to carefully read labels of products before purchasing them. I tend to stick to certain Aldi brands, such as Simply Nature, Friendly Farms (for unsweetened almond milk only), Little Salad Bar, etc. to ensure that I am selecting only healthy and/or organic items.

Keeping Aldi in Mind for Future Shopping Sprees

While I can’t rely on Aldi for everything on my shopping list, it is a fantastic spot to save money on the healthy items above and more. I’m definitely going to try to shop there more often! Aldi is also a great store to shop at for large parties or holiday meals – which can often set you back hundreds of dollars at other stores. You can definitely save a bank load of money on key staples and ingredients at Aldi compared to traditional supermarkets.

image

Some of the fabulous organic and healthy food finds that I picked up at Aldi.