After a bit of flirtation with Ralphs and Vons, I have returned to shopping for food at the greatest place: Trader Joe’s.
I used to shop there all the time when I lived in New York City, but then I took a break when I got to LA, because, to be honest, the parking lots were insane and I wanted to try different places, but now that I’m back, TJ’s feels better than ever.
I think I’ve also come to appreciate more all the amazing products to be found in the super market — because it’s definitely not your ordinary supermarket. And you’ll enjoy your Trader Joe’s shopping experience even more if you know how to make the most of it.
Here are some tips for doing just that.
1. Stakeout The Best Time To Go
Like I said above, parking kept me away from my local Trader Joe’s for awhile, because of the crazy parking situation. Then I moved and that TJ’s also had an impossible lot. It seems like every single TJ’s in LA has an insane parking lot, so I’ve learned which of my local TJ’s to go to (I live by two) and exactly when, so I don’t fight or stress over parking.
2. Zero In On The Items With The Best Value
While most of the products in Trader Joe’s are pretty affordable, there are some that happen to give you more bang for your buck. Coffee beans are super affordable and TJ’s will let you grind them up right there. Need to try that new coffee first? The sample section/table always has some java available for tasting. Other top value items include seasonal holiday items (boxed chocolates, cookies, hot cocoa mix for baskets and stocking stuffers) and organic meat.
3. Gluten-Free Options That Won’t Break The Bank
If you’re gluten-free, markets are stocked with more options for you than ever, but you still need to make sure you’re not paying an arm and a leg for for specialty treats. Some stores which shall not be named, ahem, charge a pretty penny, but Trader Joe’s has lots of affordable options for you.
4. You Can Sample Anything — Not Just At The Free Sample Table
You can sample pretty much anything at Trader Joe’s — just ask We Like L.A. chief foodie Christina Minh, who has asked to sample products successfully before and knows others who have been able to do it, too. Lifehacker publicized the tip as well. It’s good to know in case you can’t choose between two delicious and tempting cheeses.
5. But The Free Sample Table Is Rad, Too
I’m not ashamed to admit that I head right to the sample table when I enter my local TJ’s. Yes, it’s free food, but I always find out about stuff I didn’t know they had from there, so it’s a win-win for me and Trader Joe’s. One time I sampled a delicious veggie egg roll with gyoza sauce and I wound up buying them both!
6. Use The Fearless Flyer
Unlike some of the other useless junk mail you may receive, Trader Joe’s Fearless Flyer contains lots of cool tips and deals that you should definitely be aware upon your next trip to the store.
7. Use The Website
Trader Joe’s may lack a social media presence, but its official website is very useful. Can’t think of what to make for your next meal? Check out their comprehensive recipe section that’s broken down by meal and course.
8. Check Out The Many Cookbooks Devoted To TJ’s Recipes
If you think it’s just me, you, and the crazy parking lot that love Trader Joe’s, you would be wrong. The TJ’s fanbase is so devoted that there are lots of cookbooks out there centering around recipes using products from Trader Joe’s. And how many books? Well, I saw a tent filled with them at the LA Times Book Festival a few years ago.
9. Don’t Feel Like Making It Yourself? TJ’s Probably Has It
I’m on the go a lot and I don’t have as much time to cook as I used to, so one of my favorite discoveries at Trader Joe’s include stuff like clarified butter, creative ready-made salads, pre-cooked rice, and steamed lentils, – all of which will cut your cooking time in half.
What are your hacks and/or best practices for shopping at TJ’s? Let us know in the comments below!