Trader Joe's might be most famous for treats like cookie butter and mac and cheese that aren't exactly nutritional superstars, but comb the aisles of a TJ's and you'll find plenty of healthy items too. Of course you can't go wrong with nutritious basics like fresh fruits and vegetables, organic milk and chicken, whole wheat pasta, olive oil, canned beans and dried grains, but where Trader Joe's really shines is in the convenience department — they do the washing, chopping and a lot of the cooking for you. Here are 17 of our favorite Trader Joe's foods that make it easy to eat healthy.
A Trader Joe’s nearby may increase the value of your homePlay Video - 0:21
A Trader Joe’s nearby may increase the value of your homePlay Video - 0:21
1. Melodious blend
Trader Joe's has nailed the heat-and-serve frozen sides with blends like this one, which includes green garbanzo beans, red and green lentils, tomatoes and olive oil. Other winners include the Organic Superfood Pilaf with quinoa, sweet potatoes, carrots, kale and red bell pepper, and the Multigrain Blend with Vegetables, which includes various whole grains with peas, carrots and zucchini.
2. Cruciferous crunch collection
On busy weeknights it can be too much of a pain in the neck to wash and cut up fresh veggies, let alone shred them. To the rescue: Trader Joe's Cruciferous Crunch Collection. Found in the refrigerated fresh produce section, this blend of fresh shredded kale, brussels sprouts, broccoli, green cabbage and red cabbage can be eaten raw in salads, but is even better lightly sauteed. Other convenient pre-prepped veggies include a spicy blend with spinach, pak choi (it's like bok choi) and mustard greens; shaved brussels sprouts; a precut blend of broccoli and cauliflower florets; washed and trimmed green beans; and the wildly popular cauliflower rice.
3. Steamed and peeled baby beets
The refrigerated produce section of Trader Joe's has lots of convenient pre-cooked veggies — roasted brussels sprouts, roasted sweet potato wedges — but the ready-to-eat beets deserve special mention because beets are such a hassle to prep (any recipe that that involves wearing rubber gloves is just too fussy most days). There's no added salt or sugar in these beets (the ingredient list has one item: beets) and they can be eaten hot or cold. Try them in an arugula salad with nuts and goat cheese.
4. Refrigerated steamed lentils
A fellow customer was raving so much about these lightly salted pre-cooked lentils, found in the refrigerated aisle not far from the beets, that I actually got out of line to grab them. I'm glad I did. Just open the bag and add them to your salads (they're great with those beets), heat them as a simple side or add them to soup and other dishes to add substance and protein.
5. Gluten-free grainless granola
This blend of dates, dried bananas, walnuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and cashews with cinnamon and vanilla is a great addition to oatmeal and yogurt. In addition to being gluten-free, it has no added sugar (the dates and bananas are plenty sweet). Just keep an eye on portions, because it's calorie dense (300 calories for a half cup serving). There are a few other healthy choices in the cereal aisle, including the no-added-sugar Ancient Grain and Super Seed Oatmeal with oats, quinoa flakes, whole grain amaranth flakes, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds and hemp seed.
6. Organic 73% cacao super dark chocolate
Remember that the higher the cacao percentage, the more beneficial antioxidants chocolate has, so keep it simple in the dessert department with Trader Joe's plain dark chocolate, which comes as a satisfyingly thick chocolate bar.
7. 100% red tart cherry juice
Not only is tart cherry juice delicious, studies suggest that it can help fight aches and pains. Trader Joe's tart cherry juice is pure (not-from-concentrate) juice, with no added sweeteners. The store also sells unsweetened cranberry and pomegranate juices. Try them cut with seltzer for a tasty nonalcoholic spritzer.
8. 10-minute grains
The problem with many ancient grains is that they take so darn long to cook. But Trader Joe's 10-minute farro and barley (found in the dried foods section) are fast enough for weeknight dinners. Try cooking them in low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth for added flavor (add some chopped kale or other greens to cook with the grains and you've got your veggie side covered too). For those who have less than 10 minutes to spare on cooking grains, Trader Joe's also sells fully cooked brown rice and quinoa.
9. Frozen vegetables
Frozen artichoke hearts, organic peeled and cut kabocha squash, haricot vert, grilled asparagus spears, organic corn, roasted bell peppers and onions, grilled cauliflower, mixed grill with eggplant, zucchini and red peppers, and the cheekily named "Melange a Trois" (red, green and yellow bell pepper strips) — it's the variety that makes shopping the frozen vegetable section of Trader Joe's so exciting (yes, this is the sort of thing we get excited about). Stock your freezer and you never need to have a vegetable-less meal again, no matter the season.
10. Frozen fruit
As with the veggies, the exciting thing about the frozen fruit at Trader Joe's is how many different kinds there are. Special mention goes to the organic mixed berry blend, as well as the frozen semi-dried figs, which are amazing defrosted and added to yogurt.
11. Frozen seafood
If you balk at the idea of buying frozen seafood, you should know that much of what's sold at any supermarket seafood counter has been previously frozen — so you might as well buy it frozen and thaw when you're ready for it, not when the seafood monger at the grocery store decides to thaw it. Top healthy frozen seafood bets at Trader Joe's include the wild Alaskan sockeye salmon fillets and wild-caught mahi mahi.
12. Peanut butter with flax and chia seeds
Packed with fiber and protein, peanut butter is already a healthy treat, but this lightly salted, deeply roasted blend gets a boost of healthy fats from flax and chia seeds. Aside from a little extra crunch, the seeds are barely noticeable in the blend, so it's a good way to sneak them in if you're not crazy about their flavor or texture.
13. Just a handful of dry roasted unsalted almonds
Amid the candy-filled trail mixes in the nut and dried fruit section of Trader Joe's, you'll also find a number of simply roasted (and raw) nuts. These portion-controlled 210-calorie packs of unsalted roasted almonds are perfect for keeping in your bag or desk drawer for snacking emergencies. The dry roasting enhances their nutty flavor so you won't miss the salt.
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14. Unsweetened, unsulfured dark sweet cherries
Unlike a lot of dried fruit, Trader Joe's dark sweet cherries have, as the label says, "absolutely nothing added." They're sweet and tart and great for adding to salads, pilafs, or snacking on with those almonds for a simple, DIY trail mix.
15. Canned organic pumpkin
Here's another single-ingredient standout at Trader Joe's: canned pure pumpkin, with no sugar or seasonings added. Mix it into oatmeal, whole-grain pancakes or pasta year-round, not just in Jack-O-Lantern season.
16. Organic popcorn with olive oil
Among the best bagged popcorn in terms of flavor, this one has nice almost buttery flavor (though it contains no butter) and just the right amount of salt.
17. Potted herbs
Trader Joe's has a beautiful selection of potted herbs. Keep one or a few on your countertop so you can add healthy garnishes to pastas, entrees and salads.
RELATED: How to grow an indoor herb garden