I think it’s fair to say that this year hasn’t exactly been perfect for anyone. Wearing a mask and waiting to get into stores that can only allow 20% occupancy has been an adjustment and made even the most mundane parts of our routine suddenly feel so much more nuanced. Yet, it’s funny how a national pandemic obliges you to find joy in something as commonplace as grocery shopping, To be fair, I have always loved grocery shopping, but now more than ever I look forward to planning my trips to the grocery store and don’t even mind waiting in line in the middle of winter to grab my cart and traipse through the aisles of Trader Joe’s.
Nothing brings me more joy than seeing what wonderfully whimsical creations Trader Joe’s churns out throughout the year. And given that my trips to Trader Joe’s are less frequent these days, the anticipation to see what awaits beyond their sliding red doors brings me so much excitement each time I plan a trip there. I realize how silly it must sound, but my philosophy is that if it makes you smile, it’s worth your while.
And how can you not love Trader Joe’s? I think what makes their store so unique is its unmatched ability to offer quality food at affordable prices. I don’t feel nearly as guilty getting a $3 pint of ice cream from Trader Joe’s as I do when I purchase an $8 pint of Jeni’s Ice Cream (although it is SO worth every penny). It also gives me an opportunity to indulge in foods I wouldn’t splurge on at somewhere like Whole Foods or Central Market, and as a result, I have developed quite the adept Trader Joe’s palate.
Among the many great finds I came across this year, these were the products that I consistently purchased and are now products that I buy on the regular. Full disclosure, there were so many other products I would love to try that are probably just as worthy of a spot on this list, but these are the products that I can depend on to make meal prep easier, help me maintain a healthy lifestyle, or if nothing else just make me smile.
- Ready-to-Drink Cold Brew: In an effort to be more conscious of my spending this year, I stopped getting Starbucks every day of the week. I certainly have had it on a few occasions this year but my drink of choice ( vanilla sweet cream cold brew) is $3.73 for a tall and not dairy-free, so I decided to try and replicate my beloved drink using Coffee Mate’s almond-milk creamer and Trader Joe’s cold brew. It has a bold flavor, yet isn’t acidic the way some bottled brews can taste.
- Olive and Herbs Mixed Nuts: Ever since trying this deliciously-crafted mix, I have consistently had a bag stocked in my pantry at all times. An herbaceous, and subtly sweet mix, I go in for handful after handful of these nuts. It makes healthy snacking vastly easier and is my go-to pre-workout snack because it is rich in protein and so flavor-forward!
- Pumpkin Ginger Hold the Cone: All I can say is WOW! These little ice cream cones have become one of my favorite Trader Joe’s products of all times. Pumpkin and ginger are two of my favorite flavors but I wouldn’t have ever thought to pair the two together. However, these ice cream cones are proof that this combination is a match made in heaven.
- Vegan Caesar Dressing: On days I wasn’t working through lunch this semester, I vowed to actually prepare something and not just eat a protein bar for lunch. By far the meal that I ate most often, and one I have not grown tired of is shredded kale, avocado, and tomato tossed in Trader Joe’s Vegan Caesar Dressing. Despite being vegan, white miso and dijon give the dressing a tangy flavor that anchovy would usually add to a caesar dressing.
- Harvest Chili: This vegetarian chili is seriously SO. DARN. GOOD. I had to do a double-take when I read the ingredient list because I was convinced that there had to be meat in this chili. But alas, quinoa, butternut squash, and the perfect blend of spices make this chili so satisfying and hearty. This was a staple in my fridge during fall as it started to get cold outside and it is just what you need in your life for those days that you crave something comforting and warm.
- Spicy Avocado Hummus: I am a habitual snacker and one of my go-to snacks (when I am being healthy) is hummus and carrots. Now, if you know me, you have inevitably heard me talk about how particular I am about my carrots and hummus. I don’t mess with mini carrots and the rainbow carrots from Trader Joe’s are the top-tier carrot in my humble opinion. And when it comes to hummus, the spicy avocado hummus is so creamy and smooth but has a bright flavor and subtle heat that makes it absolutely irresistible.
- Gluten-Free Cinnamon Raisin Bread: This semester, I found myself wanting toast for breakfast virtually every morning, but it is difficult to find a really good gluten-free bread that is a) delicious and b) not insanely overpriced. This cinnamon raisin bread has the texture of brioche but is only 110 calories a slice, and it is the perfect vehicle for the next item on my list of favorites.
- Mixed Nut Butter: I was 100% skeptical I would like this nut butter, mainly because I don’t particularly love Trader Joe’s peanut or almond butter. However, I love that this nut butter has a loose and ultra-creamy consistency as well as a superb flavor from the blend of dry-roasted almonds walnuts, pecans, cashews, Brazil nuts, and hazelnuts. I went through more than one jar this semester and especially loved it atop a slice of toast with a sprinkling of cinnamon!
- Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage: My one qualm with Trader Joe’s is that their meat is not always up to the standard of everything else they sell, but their chicken sausage is a god-send when you are a college student living on a budget and desperate for fast, yet tasty dinner options. The Sweet Italian Style Chicken Sausage is so flavorful and made me a believer in the wonders of a skillet meal. I love to sauté some brussel sprouts or broccoli with it for a simple, yet satisfying dinner.
- Gluten-Free Candy Cane Joe-Joes: I am a firm believer that Jo-Jo’s trump Oreos and these gluten-free Candy Cane Joe-Joe’s reaffirmed my belief. Both the texture and flavor are spot on, and I feel less guilty eating these scrumptious sandwich cookies, knowing that they are gluten-free! If only these weren’t seasonal! But then again, I might develop a dangerous addiction to these cookies if I had access to them year-round.
I can’t wait to see what clever new combinations Trader Joe’s will come out with in 2021, but I imagine they will all be absolutely irresistible!