Why dietitians love Trader Joe’s
Thanks to Trader Joe’s careful curation, the chain only has an assortment of around 2,000 products at a time. That’s compared to a staggering 28,112 products at the average American supermarket, per the Food Industry Association. A trip to Trader Joe’s is like hitting the “easy button” on grocery shopping.
Rather than being crippled by choosing between 50 different jams at a regular grocery store, Trader Joe’s might offer 12—with a few of those rotating in and out seasonally, or new items introduced to mix things up. So it’s no wonder that there are almost 20 staple foods that nutritionists always buy at Trader Joe’s.
An entire team is in charge of product scouting and testing, which the brand often reports about on their Inside Trader Joe’s podcast. That behind-the-scenes research allows Trader Joe’s to launch new, exclusive products every week to keep their thoughtfully stocked shelves interesting—and your menu exciting.
“I am a Trader Joe’s-lover because of the abundance of shortcuts, like quick ready-to-cook vegetables, frozen foods, pantry staples, and snacks,” says registered dietitian Laura Burak, owner of Laura Burak Nutrition in Roslyn, New York. “These make life easier when it comes to meal prep and eating an overall healthier diet.” Plus, the prices are reasonable, especially for the quality.
“Once you get the hang of the store layout and your favorite staples, you can easily get in and out of there quickly too,” she says. Burak stocks up on staples, including nuts, dairy products, and fresh and frozen produce on every trip, but she also enjoys adding some fresh ideas to her cart.
We asked Burak and registered dietitian Mary Stewart, the founder of Cultivate Nutrition in Dallas, and Ashley Reaver, an Oakland, California-based registered dietitian and the creator of the Lower Cholesterol Longer Life Method, to tell us their favorites. Here are the top six healthy and new Trader Joe’s products they love.
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Frozen Food: Kale Gnocchi
Invest $2.69 for 2 1/2 servings of these leafy green-boosted potato dumplings, the Trader Joe’s follow-up to the fan-favorite 2018 release, Cauliflower Gnocchi.
“The first ingredient in this kale gnocchi is actually kale. This simple, nutrient-dense recipe provides 5 grams of fiber, which is 18 percent of the recommended daily value intake, and 7 grams of protein in each serving,” Stewart says. Just add your favorite pasta sauce and, “get ready to be transported to Italy with this meal!”
Note, if you’re following a very low-carb meal plan such as the keto diet, each 190-calorie, 1-cup serving has 32 grams of carbohydrates.
“They shouldn’t be considered a ‘low-carb’ option,” Reaver explains, and also suggests keeping the salt content in mind (480 milligrams, about one-fifth of the recommended daily total for an adult) when balancing out the rest of your day’s meals and snacks.
Save them for an occasional treat, and try them air-fried for the best flavor and texture, Reaver says.
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Pasta: Organic Chickpea and Red Lentil Risoni
Made with two gluten-free ingredients (organic chickpea flour and organic red lentil flour), this short-cut, orzo-like pasta can act as a side as-is, as a satisfying soup addition, or as the foundation for a casserole. Or try a serving from the $2.99, 10.58-ounce box in place of rice, Reaver recommends.
One easy way to make pasta healthier is to use higher-protein pasta. “I am loving the increase in bean-based pasta and rice products lately! This is an awesome substitute for regular rice because it packs a serious fiber and protein punch,” Reaver says. “For those that eat limited animal proteins or are trying to reduce their animal protein, this risoni is a great way to ensure you still have adequate protein in a meal since one serving has 10 grams of protein.” (Here’s how much protein you need per day.)
Legume-based pastas are an excellent alternative to regular pastas or starches because legumes (which include both lentils and chickpeas) are heart-healthy, support weight management, and help feed the friendly gut bacteria, Stewart adds. Each quarter-cup serving of dry risoni has 170 calories.
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Dip: Creamy Cauliflower Jalapeno Dip
If you like jalapeno poppers or spinach artichoke dip, then a scoop from this $3.49 tub of just-spicy-enough dip is sure to satisfy.
“This Creamy Cauliflower Jalapeno Dip is my new obsession,” Burak says. “It looks and tastes so indulgent, but at only 40 calories a serving—due to cauliflower being its first ingredient—this dip will make eating your veggies easy.”
Even if you somehow eat half the container, Burak explains, “it’s no big deal,” since that will add only 200 calories to your daily tally. (Here are 16 more healthy snacks nutritionists eat.)
“Pair this with an array of raw or roasted veggies, and you have yourself the perfect healthy appetizer to serve at the next dinner party or at-home snack night. The ingredients in this dip are simple: cauliflower, variety of cheeses and seasoning,” Stewart says.
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Beverage: Organic Acerola Puree
Acerola cherries are “an untapped functional superfruit,” according to 2018 research published in the Journal of Food Science and Technology. That’s because they are one of the strongest natural sources of ascorbic acid, a type of vitamin C, and are also jam-packed with that may reduce the risk for several chronic diseases.
They’re also the star of this easy frozen fruit item with one simple ingredient: organic acerola puree. Sold in boxes of four 30-calorie packets for $3.49, “Use this antioxidant powerhouse in a smoothie or homemade jam,” Stewart suggests.
Unlike many smoothie packets that come loaded with added sugars, “which can undo some of the benefits,” Reaver says, “this product is complete without sugar, just pure acerola with over 1,000 percent of your daily vitamin C. It’s the perfect addition to a smoothie to make sure your immune system is in tip-top shape. It has a very subtle flavor that tastes great when blended with frozen berries.”
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Pantry Staple Snack: Organic Freeze-Dried Berry Medley
Unlike dried fruit often supplemented with added sugar, “this is just fruit. Period,” Stewart explains.
In this case, it’s freeze-dried organic blueberries, strawberries, and raspberries. Just be aware of the fullness factor: Since the water is gone and the volume is smaller than regular berries, it might be tempting to eat more, Stewart says.
Luckily, the 9 grams of fiber per 120-calorie bag should help. “Holy fiber! Berries are naturally a great source of dietary fiber, which is important for healthy cholesterol levels, regularity, and weight management, and it may reduce the incidence of some cancers like colon and endometrial cancers,” Reaver says.
“One downside of fresh berries is that they quickly expire in the refrigerator. These freeze-dried berries are shelf-stable and can last for a long time.” (Here are the expired foods that are probably in your fridge.)
Store a single-serving $3.99 bag in your desk or pantry to add to cereal, oatmeal, or yogurt when you’re short on fresh fruit, Reaver says.
Best New Healthy Trader Joe’s Sandwich Item: Cauliflower Thins
Tired of a plain slice of toast topped with avocado or a flour tortilla for a lunch wrap? Mix things up with one of these gluten-free sandwich thins, that sell for four per $3.99 box. (Two 50-calorie-each thins make constitute one serving.) Cauliflower, eggs, Parmesan cheese, and yeast make up the short ingredient list.
“If you’re aiming to increase your vegetable quota, this is a great alternative to traditional bread or tortillas,” Stewart says. “With 9 grams of protein per serving and 15 percent of your recommended daily value intake for calcium, they are a great complement to any meal or snack.”
Try the thins as a bun for a burger, the base of an open-faced egg sandwich, or follow Reaver’s lead and load them up with beans and veggies for a balanced meal any time of day that delivers a solid dose of nutrients.
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