A dietitian’s top 10 prepackaged food picks: Trader Joe's
Editor's Note: Yesterday, we launched a new series in which dietitian Katie Cavuto will be scouring local grocery stores for their healthiest prepackaged food options. Today, she shares what landed in her cart at Trader Joe's. But first, you'll want to reference her healthy grocery shopping cheat sheet here.
While many Trader Joe's enthusiasts consider this store a one-stop-wonder, I prefer to make a monthly trip in which I stock up on staples and grab a few of my favorite specialty items. When it comes to non-perishables like grains, nuts and unsweetened dried fruits, you just can't beat the prices, seriously.
Prices for healthy organic staples like quinoa ($4.99/pound), raw almonds ($6.49/pound) and olive oil ($5.99 16.9 ounces) average out to around 50 cents less per unit when compared to most other grocers. Trader Joe's also offers a good variety of healthy prepared foods, which come in handy on busy days. Here are a few stand-out items including my go-to purchases.
Just a Handful of Raw Almonds: Almonds are a well-known, healthy snack. Rich in heart-healthy fats, protein and fiber, almonds are nutrient dense and delicious which makes it easy to over-do it. Thankfully, these perfectly portioned packets effortlessly keep overeating in check. Plus they are portable so you can always have a healthy option on hand.
Price: 6.99/16 oz
Just Beets: Dehydrated fruits and vegetables have become popular over the past several years and these beet "chips" are an awesome example of this trend. Slightly crunchy with an earthy sweetness that is satisfying; this is a healthy and fun way to eat more veggies that the whole family will love. Make sure to try the freeze-dried fruits as well. They are a great crunchy snack that can help curb your sweet tooth.
Ingredients: Dehydrated beets
Price: 2.99/1.3 oz
Gluten-Free Ancient Grain & Super Seed Oatmeal: I often remind my clients to add nuts and seeds to their morning cereals as the healthy fats, protein and fiber boost the nutrient density and satiety of the meal. While that may sound easy, you may not always have the ingredients on hand. That is why I love this complete bag of goodness — it contains everything you need to make a satisfying breakfast. Oh, and there is no sugar added. Amen.
Ingredients: Whole grain gluten free rolled oats, whole grain quinoa flakes, whole grain amaranth flakes, almonds, sunflower seed, pumpkin seed, flaxseed, shelled hemp seed, chia seed.
Price: 3.99/12 oz
Shaved Brussels Sprouts: Let's be honest, the thought of hauling out your food processor to shred some sprouts on a Tuesday night sounds downright annoying. Thankfully these shaved Brussels Sprouts save the day. Whether you are in the mood for a simple sauté or a seriously flavorful salad, these are ready-to-go without any fuss and virtually no extra cost.
Ingredients: Brussels Sprouts
Price: 2.79/10 oz
Organic Riced Cauliflower: Speaking of hauling out the food processor, did I mention that means you have to clean it too. Cauliflower rice is a fun and nourishing riff on the grain that can be used interchangeably. From "fried rice" and curries to "rice" bowls and frittatas, Trader Joe's has your needs covered with both a fresh and frozen option.
Price: 1.99/12 oz
Riced Cauliflower: See above. Note, the fresh option is ever so slightly cheaper per ounce than the frozen organic variety.
Price: 2.49/16 oz
Organic Superfood Pilaf: For those nights when you want a quick meal or side dish, this pre-cooked and frozen grain and vegetable blend will do the trick. It boasts a slew of organic, whole food ingredients as well as extra virgin olive oil, an ingredient hard to come by in packaged foods.
Ingredients: Water, organic tri color quinoa blend (organic white quinoa, organic red quinoa, organic black quinoa), organic sweet potatoes, organic carrots, organic kale, organic onion, organic red bell pepper, organic extra virgin olive oil, organic garlic, sea salt, organic spices.
Melodious Blend: Speaking of simple side dishes, I am all for avoiding the chemicals lurking in cans as well as the cooking times that are associated with most dried beans. Fortuantely, this blend is a healthy timesaver. Eat it as is or add it to soups, stews or chili. You can even defrost it and add some fresh vegetables to create a satisfying cold salad.
Ingredients: Cooked green lentils, cooked red lentils, cooked green garbanzo beans, tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt.
Cruciferous Crunch Collection: I love this salad blend which includes shaved Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green cabbage and red cabbage. Aside from the fact that the prep-work is done for you, this is a great way to reap the benefits of these cancer-fighting cruciferous vegetables without the commitment of purchasing each one. Two heads of cabbage ... who has room in their fridge for that? Use this for salads, slaws and sautés.
Ingredients: Kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, green cabbage, red cabbage.
Roast Chicken Breast: I'll be honest … lunch meats — even organic varieties — gross me out. There is something about pressed and processed meat products that I just can't get on board with. Plus, even the good quality options are high in sodium and often contain controversial additives like carageenan. My rule, eat the real thing. When I don't want to make it myself, this is a great option that contains ingredients I can believe in.
Ingredients: Boneless skinless chicken breast with rib meat, water, sea salt, olive oil, black pepper.
Price: 6.99/16 oz
A few more notable items that land in my cart:
Frozen Wild Sockeye Salmon: Easy to thaw and cook up in a pinch, this nutrient dense alternative to fresh salmon has a palatable price-tag at $11.99/pound which, might I add, beats out most large retailers.
Organic Maple Syrup: A staple sweetener in my house, it is notoriously a splurge for most shoppers. At $7.99/12 oz, the price for Trader Joe's organic maple syrup is, by far, one of the best around.
Chopped Mirepoix: A refrigerated mix of chopped carrots, celery and onions, this blend has saved me a solid 15 minutes of prep for many a soup, stew and sauté.
Cooked Lentils: Steamed and vaccum sealed, the cooked lentils, which are found in the refrigerator section are a time-saving steal. Don't be fooled by the seemingly small package, once opened, rinsed and drained, there are enough lentils for a meal or two depending on the recipe. I have even been known to freeze half for later.
Refrigerated Whole Wheat Pizza Dough: If you haven't caught on, I am all for short-cuts in the kitchen especially if they create the space for playtime with my family. Homemade pizza night is just the kind of fun we love which is why this pre-made dough is perfect. It's delicious, easy to work with and emboldened with whole wheat flour for some extra nutritional punch.
Katie Cavuto MS, RD, is a Philadelphia-based registered dietitian and wellness advocate. Katie appears in regular nutrition and cooking segments on local and national TV. Her writing and recipes have been showcased nationally in O, the Oprah Magazine, Family Circle and more. Katie is the dietitian for the Philadelphia Flyers and Phillies and was awarded Philadelphia Magazine's "Best of Philly" in 2009, 2010, 2012 and 2014. Her first cookbook is being published by the American Diabetes Association in late summer of 2016. For recipes and wellness tips visit her blog nourishbreathethrive.com.