The samples and coffee, pre-packaged salad mixes, reasonably-priced marinated meats, every kind of snack (in organic) and endless array of dried delicacies – Trader Joe’s is a mecca for many busy shoppers.
Among nutritionists, the conventional wisdom is that whole food cooked at home is the best way to eat nutritiously and affordably.
But not everything at Trader Joe’s is good for you and tempting, effortless treats like this year’s fan favorite, the frozen Mandarin orange chicken, can lead you astray.
There is a happy middle ground between slow food and fast grocery shopping, however, and nutritionists shared their favorite Trader Joe’s products that keep their diets balanced and their shopping trips short.
Gnocchi is an Italian specialty but, made the traditional way, the delicate little dumplings are not exactly a wealth of nutrition.
At their heart, gnocchi are just balls of dough, made from flour, egg, potato, some kind of breadcrumbs or corn meal and often cheese.
On top of the carb- and starch – heavy dumplings, many classic gnocchi recipes are served with rich, creamy sauces.
But, Trader Joe’s carries a variation of the that give you a little more caloric bargaining power and a lot more nutritional substance: cauliflower gnocchi, for $2.69 a bag.
‘Cauliflower is still super hot right now, so my latest obsession is Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi,’ says Abbey Sharp, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, and the author of the Mindful Glow Cookbook.
‘It’s free of wheat, sugar, dairy, and eggs with less calories and carbs than the traditional Italian pillows. And that means there’s more wiggle room for cheese and wine!’
Plus, cauliflower is packed with fiber that helps enhance digestion and encourage weight loss, as well as nutrients like choline that promote memory functioning.
PRE-CHOPPED CARROTS, ONIONS AND CELERY
This mixture is a classic base to flavor everything from risotto to chicken noodle soup to braises for poultry or beef.
But the trouble with this mixture – also called mirepoix – is that it’s a lot to chop, and by the time you’re crying over onions, you might be tempted to call the whole thing off and call for takeout instead.
Trader Joe’s $2.99 mirepoix mix is a quick fix for cutting your cooking time in half.
Not only does this vegetable blend give a rich aromatic flavor to whatever you make, all three ingredients are rich in antioxidants.
Carrots are classically linked to better eye health, but are also thought to help keep cholesterol down. Celery is high in water content but also has potassium, vitamin C and vitamin B6.
Onions are loaded with vitamins minerals and antioxidants, and some research suggests including them in your diet may lower obesity, heart disease and cancer risks.
US dietary guidelines recommend that Americans eat seafood – including shellfish – at least twice a week, but only 10 percent or less do so.
In non-coastal parts of the country, you may worry that fish won’t be fresh or worry about stinking up your refrigerator and house.
But freezing technology has come a long way, and nutritionists say frozen fish is every bit as good – and good for you – as fresh.
‘Fish is highly perishable but there are very simple directions to find online for cooking fish without defrosting it,’ Susan Bowerman, director of nutrition training at the nutrition and weight management company Herbalife told Daily Mail Online in a recent interview.
‘It’s quick and it eliminates the smell factor,’ she said.
Plus fish is a great source of lean protein and fatty acids that help just about every cell in your body keep the proper structure.
TJ SHAVED BRUSSELS SPROUTS
Getting plenty of green in your diet is key to good nutrition, and Brussels sprouts are one of the best ways to do so.
The little leafy plants are low-calorie and high-nutrient, containing plenty of vitamins C and K, fiber and other antioxidants.
It has even been suggested that they may help reduce inflammation, which in turn lowers risks of a variety of diseases, including Alzheimer’s and heart disease.
‘While Brussels sprouts are still trendy, Brussels sprout leaves and shaved Brussels sprouts’ – like Trader Joe’s $2.99 bag – ‘have recently been given more of a spotlight,’ explains Sharpe.
‘For people that aren’t fans of Brussels sprouts, I always suggest enjoying them shaved, tossed in a salad or with pasta,’ says Sharpe.
‘For people that aren’t fans of Brussels sprouts, I always suggest enjoying them shaved, tossed in a salad or with pasta.
‘These shaved Brussels sprouts save me a ton of time chopping and when food products like these exist, you’re more likely to include more veggies in your diet so it’s a win-win.’
STEAMED WHOLE GRAIN LENTILS
Though they are a legume, lentils make a great easy substitute for other grains.
In any color, they’re packed with protein instead of carbohydrates – making them a good option to swap meat out for, too – and are also high in iron and folate.
‘I’m a big lover of plant based proteins and one of my go to is lentils,’ Sharpe says.
‘For days I don’t have time to cook them from scratch, these steamed lentils make a great easy weeknight lunch or dinner add-in.
‘I love lentils because they provide me with a healthy dose of iron, protein and fiber so these are fantastic in soups, tacos, or salads.’
MIXED NUT BUTTER
‘I love this nut butter because it offers the benefits of all of my favorite nuts in one spread,’ Sharpe says.
‘I get a healthy dose of healthy fats and antioxidants from almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnut and pecans, that’s delicious on toast, or swirled into oats.’
Nuts in general are a great source of protein, and each of the varieties roasted and blended into the mixed nut butter contributes its own unique benefits too, ranging from calcium in almonds, omega 3 fats in walnuts and iron and magnesium in cashews.
And Trader Joe’s butter in particular uses only the slightest bit of salt (35mg per serving) and doesn’t have any added sugars, honey or sweeteners – so it is just plain healthy nuts, but with a richer taste that can dress up a celery stick.
FROZEN CARROT AND ZUCCHINI SPIRALS
Sharpe is ‘OBSESSED with these noodles,’ she says.
‘I’m a huge zoodles fan, but I don’t always have the energy or time to spiralize my zucchinis, beets and carrots, so Trader Joe’s has done the work for me making my weeknight meals that much easier.’
‘Zoodles’ have become a popular way to enjoy all the delights of slurping up some pesto-dressed pasta without the empty carbs of real pasta.
‘Carrot and Zucchini spirals are a great low carb, high fiber noodle swap, and a great way to stretch your starch portion without compromising on flavor’ Sharpe says.
SOURCE: Daily Mail, by Natalie Rahhul