Not only does our nutritionist recommend these to her clients—she eats them herself.

By Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD
February 19, 2020

I have to confess: I wasn’t always a Trader Joe’s fanatic. The cult-like following the chain evokes escaped me—until a brand new store opened in my neighborhood, and I fell in love! I’m now obsessed with spotting new or seasonal TJ’s items (especially healthy ones!), and being in the know on TJ’s initiatives—like their sustainability commitment, which includes removing plastic packaging, and sourcing more renewable and recycled materials.

One pet peeve I have with Trader Joe’s is that many of my clients have a perception that it’s a health food store, or that anything sold at their local TJ’s market must be good for them. I’m not sure where that notion originated, but there are plenty of items in Trader Joe’s I do not recommend to my health-focused clients. That said, there are also lots of nutritionally stellar items, and they’re generally offered at excellent prices.

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Here are 13 favorites I recommend to clients that also make it into my weekly grocery cart. Each is unprocessed or minimally processed, and nutrient-rich, with simple, recognizable ingredients. Some offer smart and simple shortcuts that make everyday healthy eating much more doable and sustainable. I’ve also included easy ways to incorporate the items into balanced meals, snacks, and beverages. And yes, can’t-live-without dark chocolate and organic red wine both made the list. Cheers!

Trader Joe’s brand bagged organic baby spinach

This veggie staple can be whipped into smoothies, serve as the base for salads, added to whole grain bowls, and sautéed as a veggie side or “bed” for the other foods in a meal. A two-cup portion provides just 25 calories but packs 7% of your daily fiber needs, along with vitamins A and C, iron, calcium, and lots of antioxidants. Bonus: there’s no washing or chopping required. $1.99 per two-serving bag

Trader Joe’s brand hi-protein veggie nurgers

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These frozen pea protein-based plant burgers are vegan, and contain no gluten and soy. One patty packs an impressive 26 g of protein, along with 4 g of fiber, and 40% of the daily goal for iron. The ingredients are simple, and I like that the texture is more like a falafel like than a chewy burger. I bake them in the oven and eat as the protein in a plant-based meal, wrap in lettuce along with sliced avocado, or bake, chop, and add to salads. $3.49 per two-serving box

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Trader Joe’s brand non-dairy oat beverage

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The only two ingredients in this shelf stable drink are water and hydrolyzed oats. I recommend this higher carb (22 g per cup) plant milk to my active clients, as an addition to a pre-exercise smoothie, oatmeal, or cereal. Oat milk is a good option for people who can’t or don’t consume dairy, but have allergies or sensitivities to nuts and soy. It can also be used in coffee, and as an ingredient in creamy plant based soups, sauces, and desserts in place of cow’s milk. $2.29 per four-serving container

Trader Joe’s brand creamy salted cashew butter

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This is one of my TJ’s splurge items. I use it as a dip for fresh fruit, blend into smoothies, and combine with raw cocoa powder and other healthy add-ins (like rolled oats, cinnamon, dried fruit, and a touch of maple syrup) to make superfood energy balls. I also use cashew butter in place of peanut butter as the base for a savory nut sauce, combined with fresh grated ginger, garlic, and crushed red pepper. It’s fantastic tossed with steamed veggies, protein, and a small portion of buckwheat soba noodles or spiralized zucchini. $7.99 per 14-serving jar

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Trader Joe’s brand pea protein powder

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The only ingredient in the unsweetened version of this product is organic pea protein isolate. This means the protein portion of yellow peas is extracted, or isolated from the plant, and then dried and powdered. TJ’s also sells a natural vanilla version, lightly sweetened with coconut sugar, which provides just 5 g of added sugar per two-scoop portion (just over a teaspoon). One serving provides a generous 20 g of protein, and pea protein is a good source of leucine—the key amino acid that triggers muscle protein synthesis. I add it to smoothies and overnight oats, and I use it to bolster the protein content of pancakes, energy balls, and blended soups. $11.99 per 15-serving canister unsweetened, $13.99 per same size vanilla

Trader Joe’s brand organic tahini

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The sole ingredient in each jar is organic tahini itself, which is ground-hulled organic sesame seeds. A two tablespoon portion is a source of healthful fat and provides 6 g of plant protein, 2 g of fiber, 8% of the daily iron goal, and 4% for calcium. Tahini also provides copper, manganese, magnesium, zinc, selenium, and thiamin, in addition to antioxidants. The latter have been shown to help support immunity, improve artery health, and lower blood cholesterol. It’s a great alternative for those with nut allergies or sensitivities, and despite its creamy look, tahini is dairy-free. I use tahini as in ingredient in everything from smoothies to hummus, soups, energy balls, and other sweet treats, and I drizzle seasoned tahini over salads and steamed, grilled, or oven roasted veggies. $3.69 per nine-serving jar

Trader Joe’s brand traditional style fat-free refried beans

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I’m not a supporter of fat-free foods or a low-fat diet, but I appreciate that TJ’s makes these delicious, hearty beans without lard or even vegetable oil. The only ingredients are cooked beans, water, and salt, but they’re incredibly tasty, and I love that there are some whole chunks of beans mixed in with the puree. A half-cup portion provides 8 g of plant protein and a filing 5 g of fiber, along with 10% of the daily goal for potassium and iron, and 4% for calcium. I add these to taco salads, along with a generous base of fresh spinach, grilled veggies (like peppers and onions), salsa fresca, and avocado or guacamole. It’s one of my favorite meals, and leaves me feeling simultaneously full, satisfied, and energized. $0.99 per 3.5 serving can

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Trader Joe’s brand organic brown rice

The single ingredient in this frozen product is cooked organic brown rice. It’s quite delicious on its own, but I love to use it in veggie stir-frys and Buddha bowls, or thaw and add to salads or olive oil vinaigrette–marinated veggie side dishes, or even sweet treats, like a plant-based brown rice pudding. As a carb-heavy food (43 g per cup with 3 g from fiber), I advise some of my petite, older, or less active clients to use just a half cup rather a full cup in meals. But, I don’t recommend cutting out whole grains like brown rice completely. This food group has been linked to a lower risk of chronic diseases, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, certain cancers, and obesity, and brown rice is one of the many naturally gluten-free options. This ready-to-eat product is an easy no cook way to help fill the whole grain gap. $3.79 per six-serving box

Trader Joe’s brand teeny tiny avocados

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I’m such an avo fanatic, friends and family members regularly buy me avocado-related gifts—from socks to reusable bags, ornaments, even jewelry. I love it, but I love the real thing even more, because this good-fat food is loaded with vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants. Avocados have also been shown to boost satiety, help reduce waist measurements, protect heart health, and up the absorption of important fat-soluble vitamins and antioxidants. And of course, they’re delicious and satisfying. What’s unique about these TJ’s avos is their size. They’re so tiny, you can eat the whole thing. In fact, the store markets them as a “no more letting unused avo-halves brown in the fridge” solution. I love avocado in a mango or tropical smoothie, chocolate avocado pudding, or as an addition to nearly any savory dish. $2.99 per bag, which contains 6 avocados

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Trader Joe’s brand organic popcorn with extra virgin olive oil

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The three simple ingredients in this whole grain snack are organic popcorn, organic extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt. A three-and-a-half-cup portion provides just 17 g of carb with 4 as fiber, 3 g of protein, and 7 g of healthy fat. It’s a great option for movie night or when you need to satisfy a crunch craving. $1.99 per five-serving bag

Trader Joe’s brand organic frozen whole green beans

TJ’s frozen green beans are hands-down the tastiest I’ve ever tried. The only ingredient is organic green beans, and when sautéed in EVOO, added to a stir-fry, or steamed and drizzled with seasoned tahini, vegan pesto, or olive tapenade, they taste like they’re fresh from the farmer’s market. I have also thawed some in the refrigerator to add to Nicoise-style salads. A ¾ cup portion (although I use more) provides 25 calories, 3 g of fiber, and 10% of the daily vitamin C target, along with some bonus vitamin A, calcium, and iron.

$2.29 per five-serving bag

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Trader Joe’s brand fair trade organic 72% cacao Belgian dark chocolate bar

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I’m pretty picky about dark chocolate, but this bar lives up to its marketing as intense and full bodied, and the ingredients are minimal: just organic cocoa mass, organic cane sugar, and organic cocoa butter—that’s it. Three squares (trust me, it feels like a generous amount, since it’s so rich) provides 170 calories, 13 g of carb with 4 g as fiber, 3 g of protein, and 13 g of heart healthy fat, along with 30% of the daily iron goal, and 6% for potassium. Dark chocolate is also a top source of magnesium, a mineral linked to mood elevation, calmness, and sleep. I recommend enjoying a bit of dark chocolate daily, and savoring it as part of a “you time” ritual. You can also melt it as a dip for fresh fruit, or chop and add to oats, energy balls, pancakes, and sweet treats. $1.99 per 3.5 serving bar

Roule Rouge organic red blend wine

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This list wouldn’t be complete without a little vino! And I’m pretty darn impressed that TJs offers an incredibly affordable USDA certified organic California red blend called Roule Rouge. A few steps up from the TJ’s brand “two buck chuck,” this bottle is a deliciously satisfying steal. Pair it with a healthy dinner, Mediterranean-style, or your dark chocolate, as an antioxidant rich treat. $4.99 per bottle

Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, is Health's contributing nutrition editor, a New York Times best-selling author, and a private practice performance nutritionist who has consulted for five professional sports teams.

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