As a dietitian, it’s my job to make eating well easy and accessible for people. And as a busy working parent, I need fast, nutritious solutions myself! The beloved grocery store Trader Joe’s does this so well, so I decided reach out to nutrition pros across the country who shared with NBC News BETTER their favorite Trader Joe’s shopping secrets. Take a peek into our kitchens and prepare yourself for quick and healthy eating ideas.
I’m all about delegating whatever kitchen tasks I can, so I leave the celery-, carrot-, and onion-dicing to TJs. There is no shame in taking kitchen shortcuts, and this oldie, but goodie is a no-brainer. If you’ve got an Instant Pot and a some mirepoix on hand, you can create a range of weeknight-quick soups and stews to keep you cozy all winter. (If you don’t have an Instant Pot, a dutch oven works well, too.)
Organic Riced Cauliflower (frozen)
I’ve never been much of a “sneak veggies into meals” type of mom, but lately I’ve been pulling the wool over my 14 year-old son’s eyes with this frozen gem. Truthfully, he does well on the veggie front, but he draws the line on shredded carrots in his turkey tacos. (The peas didn’t go over so well, either.) But the riced cauliflower blends right in to tacos, brown rice dishes, and more. And because it’s frozen, it’s readily available whenever I want to add more vitamins, minerals and fiber to our meals. It’s also great as a stand in for rice altogether, though Rachel Meltzer Warren, MS, RDN, Jersey City, NJ-based registered dietitian nutritionist and author of "A Teen's Guide to Gut Health" suggests a 50/50 blend of frozen brown rice (see below) and the frozen riced cauliflower, adding “the mix of cauliflower and rice makes it a bit heartier and more meal-like than a straight cauliflower rice, which I find to be tasty but not very filling.”
Organic Brown Rice (frozen)
Marie Spano, RD, sports nutritionist for the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Falcons goes for this brown rice, as do I. I love saving time in the kitchen (like everyone else!), and I particularly love shortcuts that don’t compromise on taste or great nutrition. Spano puts it this way: “This brown rice takes three minutes in the microwave and is the only brown rice I eat. The taste and texture is much better than any long-cooking brown rice. It stands out in this category.”
Frozen Carrot Spirals
In my opinion, spiralized veggies are an awesome trend! Fun and clever ways to eat more veggies is something I can definitely get behind. Granted, the texture isn’t a perfect match for pasta, which is why Rachel Paul, MS, RD, PhD candidate at Columbia University who’s behind the popular Instagram account @collegenutritionist is a fan of this product. “It’s hard to find veggie ‘noodles’ that can really replace regular pasta, but I’ve found these come the closest! Carrot noodles are pretty hearty, and getting them frozen and pre-zoodled makes it easy to get in your veggies throughout the week,” she says.
Try them in one of these ramen recipes.
Shaved Brussels Sprouts
New York City-based Registered Dietitian, Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD leans on this convenient item to simplify things in the kitchen. “Because it takes a lot of time and energy to shave the Brussels, I prefer to buy them pre-cut and throw them into everything from salads to stir fries to roasted veggie dishes,” she says. Buying pre-prepped veggies pays off because it means you’ll eat veggies more often, thereby giving you a nutritional advantage. In this case, a one-cup serving has more than a day’s worth of vitamin C and helps you get some much-needed fiber.
These ready-to-eat lentils (sold in the produce section) are another exceptional Trader Joe’s find. Cynthia Sass, MPH, RD, author of "Slim Down Now: Shed Pounds and Inches With Pulses - The New Superfood" says, “I pop them in my fridge for a fast go-to plant protein to add to salads, or to mix with a handful of greens as a fiber-rich bed for organic eggs or wild salmon. One half cup provides 8 grams of fiber and 9 grams of protein,” she says. The simple ingredients also win her over. Another bonus: “Lentils are a member of the pulse family, which have been linked to numerous health benefits, including weight loss, protection against type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers and a higher overall nutrient intake.”
Gluten Free Cheese Pizza with a Cauliflower Crust
News flash: Dietitians love pizza, too! Spano turns to this version, which has more veggies thanks to the cauliflower crust (which also contains chickpea flour). Sure, you could pulse your own cauliflower and make a homemade crust, but why bother on busy nights? Spano suggests this frozen pizza, instead. “Cauliflower crust plus tomato sauce plus cheese equals a nutritious meal option that tastes great and is ready in 10 minutes!” she says.
Healthy frozen entrees are a great backup plan when life gets in the way of cooking or preparing wholesome meals. Like a good friend, they’re there for you when you need them. Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, likes this vegetarian offering. “With chickpeas as its base, it offers satiating protein and fiber to help keep me fuller for longer.” Gorin likes her dish with quick-cook brown rice, and she also adds in some diced tomatoes. Adding fresh veggies to frozen entrees is another good idea. You’ll get more flavor, freshness and some extra nutrition in your meal.
Mixed Nut Butter
This is another nutritionist crowd-pleaser. Gisela Bouvier, RDN, LDN considers it “heaven on earth.” The blend — a mix of almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts and pecans — has a touch of sea salt and no added sweeteners, according to another fan, Alissa Rumsey MS, RD, CSCS, a New York City-based dietitian and the founder of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition and Wellness. “It can be eaten with almost anything,” says Bouvier, though she prefers hers spread over toast. In addition to toast, Rumsey pairs the delicious blend with apples and bananas, and drizzles it over oatmeal. With great flavor and healthy, plant-based fats, it’s a satisfying spread to stock at home.
Everything but the Bagel Seasoning
My relationship with this blend of white and black sesame seeds, sea salt, dried garlic and onions and poppy seeds can be summed up in one word: Obsessed! This seasoning popped up on several dietitians’ lists. Whether on top of eggs or avocado toast, as a seasoning for chicken, roasted potatoes or a hummus topping, it makes everything better. And while I like a good bagel every now and then, I mostly keep things light by sprinkling this seasoning on top of a flatbread whole grain cracker with a schmear of cream cheese and a slice of lox. It matches the flavor and satisfaction of a bagel without the extra carbs and calories.
Mushroom & Company Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend
Trader Joe’s strikes again with another multipurpose seasoning blend that deserves a spot in your pantry. The blend contains a mix of dried onions, dried mustard, dried mushroom powder, crushed red and black pepper, thyme, and salt, but it’s the mushrooms that provide the umami flavor. Umami is often described as a savory or brothy flavor, and dried shrooms, in particular, are a top natural source of this flavor enhancer. Sprinkle it over soup, use it to season chicken or lean beef, or take eggs and avocado toast to new heights using this seasoning blend. I’m pretty sure it will become a new go-to in your spice cabinet.
Freeze Dried Blueberries
Trader Joe’s has an amazing selection of freeze-dried fruits, which are great for snacking or tossing into whole grain cereals and trail mixes. The freeze dried blueberries stand out to Patricia Bannan, MS, RDN, author of "Eat Right When Time is Tight." “They’re a sweet treat that deliver the same nutrients as fresh or frozen blueberries for about 80 calories a cup,” she says.
Oven-Baked Cheese Bites
Like most people, dietitians aren’t immune to snacking or impulse buys. Rizzo confessed to both upon grabbing a bag of these bites one day. Now, they’re on her can’t-live-without-list! “This salty crunchy snack is made from 100% cheese, which means that half the package has 15 grams of protein and half your daily value of calcium. Plus, that same half-package serving only has 170 calories! I’m so hooked on these for a delicious and protein-packed afternoon snack,” she says.
Organic Popcorn with Olive Oil
“Many popcorns are cooked in corn oil or other plant oils higher in omega-6 fatty acids, which have been linked to pro-inflammation,” says Sass. Not this one! “It’s made with non-GMO corn, and contains just three simple ingredients: organic popcorn, organic extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt,” she says. With whole grains, heart healthy anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fat, and a reasonable amount of sodium, it’s her pick for a salty, crunchy snack.
Organic Ginger Turmeric Herbal Tea
I find tea so cozy and satisfying so I’m excited to try this one, offered up by Jackie Newgent, RDN, culinary nutritionist, private cooking coach, and author of "The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook." This herbal, non-caffeinated, tea has some winning ingredients, including ginger, turmeric, and black pepper. Both ginger and turmeric have shown promise for their anti-inflammatory properties, and black pepper boosts turmeric’s absorption by 2000%. Newgent’s high praise doesn’t end with the potential therapeutic benefits of this tea; she also raves about its revitalizing flavor and aroma.
Mini 70% Cacao Dark Chocolate Bars
Last, but certainly not least, is my choice for satisfying a sweet tooth. Dark chocolate is an especially good way to satisfy cravings for sweets because it’s rich in health-promoting substances called flavanols. In dark chocolate, these compounds work their magic by relaxing blood vessels, which improves blood flow, lowers blood pressure and protects the heart and brain. Dark chocolate has also been shown to promote satiety and limit overall cravings for sweets, making it an ideal choice for those (like me) who enjoy dessert. This perfectly-portioned treat has just 100 super-satisfying calories per bar, which keeps you from getting too much of a good thing.
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