Trader Joe’s 101

(NOTE: I do not work at Trader Joe’s, nor do I hold any stock in their company because they don’t sell it. I’m just a really big fan. Please do not take this as an advertisement for their store, but as a lesson in how to shop well for less. – K. A. M.)

Few places in this world make me as happy as Trader Joe’s. For those of you who don’t know about this fabulous place, it’s technically a grocery store but not the type you’re used to. Rather than being a huge supermarket that becomes almost overwhelming in choices and brands, Trader Joe’s is a nice user-friendly, foodie-friendly store that no proper cook should ignore. For me it’s my little food mecca: affordable, beautiful, chock full of all sorts of things you can’t find at the big food giants, most of it geared towards health-conscious folks. Sure, you’ll find things like ice cream and potato chips, but you’ll find that their “junk food” is surprisingly not that awful for you. About the only thing I find lacking at Trader Joe’s would be their produce department: there is not a very large selection and most of their produce is already pre-packaged – great for things like baby spinach and other salad mixes, but not so much for other vegetables and fruits that you might like to choose yourself. I’ll admit I’m a bit of a produce snob, so I do prefer to pick it myself. If you don’t care as much and like to save time, then TJ’s produce would work well for you.

I could probably write an entire book about this place. But this is a blog, so what I’ll do instead is post different blogs on each department’s best features in the coming months. Trader Joe’s carries some fine wines & cheeses; a wonderful array of nuts, dried fruits, and other natural snacks; great deals on fresh, organic cruelty-free meats, fish, and poultry; quite a variety of pasta and other cooking and dipping sauces (stuff that makes even the most cooking-challenged person appear like a gourmet chef); a variety of vitamins and other health & beauty aids; and a rather nice selection of conventional and unconventional bread and grain products. They also cater to the typical American who is rushed for time, by offering excellent pre-made salads (the Fiesta Chicken & Vegetable or the Roasted Beet & Gorgonzola are always winners) and other pre-packaged lunches & meals in their refrigerated section. And Trader Joe’s frozen food section alone is worth a trip and the eternal fight for a parking space.

Now, there is a common misconception that Trader Joe’s is a very expensive place to shop. I’m afraid folks that think this might be confusing it with Whole Foods and other natural grocers whose prices are quite a bit higher (no offense to these establishments at all; I adore Whole Foods, it just takes up my whole paycheck to shop there). It’s true that one does pay a price for wanting to eat well, but as a very poor girl who does do so, I can guarantee you that you will save quite a bit of money if you are able to do most of your shopping at TJ’s. In the next few weeks, I will do some comparison shopping at both Trader Joe’s and Safeway so that you can see the difference in prices. I would be willing to bet that you can save about 40% on the exact same shopping list, so stay tuned for that. For now, here’s an example of one of my recent jaunts to Trader Joe’s, with a bunch of “splurge” items that I probably didn’t need. It’ll give you an idea of what I mean about this place:

Very yummy stuff and I spent around $45 after tax. Not bad, eh? I don’t even want to know how much this list would have cost me at a regular grocery store, not to mention the fact that they wouldn’t sell a lot of this stuff anyway.

Stay tuned for the next Trader Joe’s 101!

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