Trader Joe’s Shopping Guide

I use Whole Foods market and Trader Joe’s as my main two stores.  If you don’t have a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s (they’re only in your area, seek out another health food store where you can buy organic, or at least natural products.  If you’ve never been to a health food store, this might help prime you for the experience. Let’s take a trip through Trader Joe’s…

First thing in the door, grab a basket. Don’t even think of grabbing one of those little basket cart things. Human beings are designed to lift and carry things, and I don’t care how hard or often you work out. Beneficial exercise happens in more places than just the gym. Remember, our genes expect a certain amount of physical activity. Anyway, rant aside, let’s forage for some food.

First stop is the meats. There are a lot of good deals here. Most of the meats here are fair game, but just beware of many of TJ’s pre-spiced or marinated meats. Check the ingredient list first, which will often be quite lengthy. Ideally, avoid wheat, soy, sugars, corn (dextrin, dextrose, etc.), and stuff you can’t pronounce. There are many good choices, though. Occasionally, you can even find grass-fed beef. Some of the chicken sausages are awesome. When it comes to bacon, ham, or sausages be sure to get the uncured versions, or nitrate-free.

Next in line are the veggies. TJ’s pre-packaged, washed veggies are outstanding time savers. Chard of Many Colors, Southern Greens, pre-chopped onions, stir fry greens – you name it – all are huge time savers. Get them. There are some packages of squash and sweet potatoes that can become good post training meals. Also, check the fruits. Try to limit your fruit choices to things local and in season. Yes, this means less fruit in the winter months.

Next, you’ll come to the bagels and breads. Run quickly from this section, as poor recovery and eventual diabetes lurk here…..

Going down the frozen foods aisle can yield some more time saving options. At the end of the aisle are eggs; look for the omega-3 eggs. Frozen veggies you’ll want to keep on hand for when you’re really pressed for time (great for quick slow cooker meals). Frozen berries are also good, and there are great choices in the frozen seafood section. Just like in the meat section, be sure to check the ingredient list on any pre-seasoned fish.

Next, we go up the center aisle – packaged food.

Nut butters can be a great option for getting in enough fat for a hard training athlete. You’ll find cashew butter (actually, this a little iffy, it does have some added oil), cashew/macadamia butter, almond butter, and sunflower seed butter that are all good and inexpensive. Go for these nut butters rather than peanut butter, since peanuts aren’t nuts – they’re legumes – and therefore not Paleo.

The unsweetened applesauce, tomato and marinara sauces (look for low sugar options), olive oil, vinegars, spices, and various simmer sauces are all good. As always, get in the habit of checking the ingredient list of sauces and the like. Some here are ok and others are not.  Again, only ingredients that you recognize, not too much sugar (especially high fructose corn syrup), and no artificial sugars or colors.

There are great deals here on canned fish. The wild Alaskan salmon, wild smoked salmon, sardines, and “chunk light tuna with no salt added” are all favorites of mine. Nearby, canned artichoke hearts, hearts of palm, and olives, can be found. Add any combination of these three to dress up your salads.

A great new product is the broth concentrate: chicken, beef, and now vegetable. Though slightly processed, they have acceptable ingredients, and add lots of flavor to quick meals.

Beware of the coconut milk. Nothing is wrong with the quality.  It’s just that TJ’s only sells the “lite” coconut milk – which is simply watered down coconut milk. Buy regular coconut milk elsewhere, then thin it with water yourself if you feel the need. If you buy the lite – here or elsewhere – you are paying full price for half the product.  Watch out for preservatives in canned coconut milk, too.  The ingredients should just be coconut, water and guar gum.

Nuts at TJ’s are always a good deal. The pre-ground almond meal is a great grain substitute that you can use in many recipes. Dried fruits can also be useful; check the ingredient list, though. You might get a surprise dose of sulfites if you’re not careful.

You’ll usually be done by this point. Some other things that you might occasionally buy here: wine, some supplements and coffee. Remember that just because a store features quality, organic products does NOT mean that 1. everything in the store is organic, and 2. that all of the food within the store is automatically healthy. Organic junk food is still junk food!  A product can start out using natural ingredients, but can easily be processed into something very unhealthy. A couple rules of thumb are that you should be spending most of your time in the produce and meat sections, and you should be able to conjure a picture in your mind of every ingredient on the labels of prepackaged foods.  Good luck and happy shopping!