We all know Trader Joe’s houses a bounty of economical delights and a helpful army of Hawaiian-shirted staffers… but, guh, the fustercluck of a crowd, always, during most of the store’s hours. And oy, for many of us, the schlepping. So here’s what’s worth dragging your cart on the subway and getting mauled by urban assault strollers for, and what’s better bought at your corner bodega.
WORTH THE SCHLEP (AND MAULING):
1. Just Mango Slices: $3 is a bargain for dried, unsulfured mango slices that have all the nutrients of real mango and taste like candy. (Really chewy candy.) Considering that a real mango is $4 and is crated thousands of miles to your local TJ’s, this Vitamin A and C-packed bargain is even sweeter. Buy them in bulk— they keep for months just like astronaut food . You won’t find them unsulfured anywhere else.
2. Packaged Brussels’ sprouts: Ok, hear me out: One, your mother will be so pleased. Two: they’re always fresh, and for $2.49, you will pay the same or more at Whole Foods (talk about schlepping, Brooklynites) or any big name grocery. When you’re afraid these little guys will go bad before you get around to cooking them, remember that they freeze and thaw beautifully. They’re full of fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, and if you sauté them with some olive oil, salt and Parmesan cheese, they are DELICIOUS.
3. Indian Fare vegetarian packaged meals: They may come in NASA packaging and they’re not quite as good as your corner takeout, but the are much cheaper at $2.49 each. For meat-phobics, they’re full of protein and iron, and they keep forever without any preservatives, so they’re perfect for the marathon TJ’s trip when you’re buying in bulk. They microwave in minutes!
4. Mini-Mint Ice Cream Mouthfuls: I’ve never seen this special dessert treat anywhere else, and they remind me of McDonald’s once-a-year Shamrock Shake. It’s mint-chocolate chip ice cream INSIDE an Oreo crust. At $3.49 for 12 mouthfuls, it’s arguably the best dessert in the entire store, for the same price as a Shamrock Shake.
5. Condiments! TJ’s ketchup and mustard are just $1.99, so stock up. You could grab some at CVS, but you’d pay $3.29. That’s just silly. Included in the condiments: the Spicy Smoky Peach Salsa. It’s just spicy, sweet and tart, and you won’t get it anywhere else. You will want to eat it with a spoon.
6. Reduced Guilt Mac & Cheese: It’s just $2 and I swear it doesn’t taste like the sauce you make by mixing cheese dust and milk. That box of Auntie Annie’s powder and rabbit-shaped version is $4, so really, this is a no-brainer .
BETTER AT THE BODEGA (OR NEARBY GROCER)
1. Hemp Granola. At $2.89 and six servings per box, this seems like a good deal, but these six nutrient-deficient servings actually provide only about two bowls’ worth. Also, it tastes like dry mouth. You get way more with a box of Kashi or Quaker Oats for a dollar more at any grocery store.
2. Donut O’s: At $2.49, add on an extra 50 cents and buy Entenmann’s from Duane Reade, or wait until they go on manager’s special at the end of the day at the grocery store and pay 75 cents. They taste better and they keep longer. You’re already eating processed donuts, man! Who cares about preservatives? Just go full-throttle.
3. Frozen Gorditas are $3.49: Let’s say you’re walking past a TJ’s after a happy hour. You are starving. The lines are minimal. You stumble past the frozen foods section and look at all the delicious, heats-in-minutes frozen foods. The four tiny frozen Gorditas are $3.49, and you will eat them all in one sitting. Just pay $1.29 for one stunning fried concoction full of taco “meat filling” at the Taco Bell (the nearest Taco Bell, btw, is inside the nearest hospital). You will literally save dozens of calories and two dollars.
4. Herbs: You could buy the $1.39 plastic pack of dry herbs, but you live in Brooklyn, there are probably fresh herbs at the green grocer on your corner for about the same price.
5. Bagels: The company’s overall lack of preservatives is unfortunate for the bagel lover. Preservatives are essential to proper bagel consumption (Trust me, I used to work in a kosher bagel shop). If you want bagels to last longer than a day, you need a little preservation. If you don’t, they turn into hockey pucks. Speaking of kosher… if you really crave a good bagel, schlep to your local bagel joint and buy them ready to eat. Don’t buy ‘em at TJ’s, or in advance.