Before diving into today’s post, I want to thank everyone who’s already completed the Veggie Quest “Getting to Know You” Survey. If you haven’t, everyone who takes the survey and leaves a comment on the original post will be entered into a drawing to win The Great Life Cookbook! However, time is running out—you only have until noon tomorrow, January 15th! Click here to take the survey.
Now, back to today’s post. While I think we can all agree that eating a whole-food, plant-based diet is immensely rewarding, preparing healthy food can be challenging—especially when you’re busy. (Can I see a show of hands for who isn’t busy? That’s what I thought.)
So when a friend of mine asked me to scout out some quick and healthy options at one of her favorite grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, I jumped at the chance—and uncovered some products to make your healthy plant-based diet faster and easier than ever.
If you aren’t familiar with it, Trader Joe’s is a fun, funky, nationwide chain of grocery stores. Although I’m a huge fan, I’ve never taken the time to explore their offerings beyond my few favorites, but I’m glad I did! Because I found a wealth of quick-fix veggies, wholesome snacks, and flavorful (yet low-sodium) fixin’s that can save you time and make eating a plant-based diet easy and delicious. You might even save some cash, as Trader Joe’s sources most of its products in-house. (I even included prices to prove it.)
Better yet, all of my “picks” are completely vegan. They’re also gluten and soy free, with the exception of the frozen artichoke hearts, which contain citric acid (an ingredient that can be questionable on both fronts). I also included ingredient lists for people with other food sensitivities.
So without further ado, here are my top 10 time-saving, whole-food, plant-based products from Trader Joe’s.
10 Products to pick up at Trader Joe’s now
1. Toasted pine nuts
I love the flavor of toasted pine nuts, but hate actually toasting them. It adds precious minutes in the kitchen, and I have a tendency to burn them (as you can see in my Swiss Chard with Golden Raisins and Pine Nuts post). Enter Trader Joe’s toasted pine nuts. With no added oil or salt, these babies are just what the doctor ordered. While they’re not quite as good as freshly toasted pine nuts, I think they’re going to be my new weeknight secret weapon.
Price: $7.99 (8 oz)
Ingredients: Pine nuts
2. Asparagus sauté with mushrooms and onions
Enough with the boring pre-fab stir-fry mixes. This one contains an intriguing combination of fresh asparagus, crimini mushrooms, shiitake mushrooms, and red onions. I haven’t made it yet, but I plan to stir-fry these tasty veggies with fresh ginger in a splash of veggie broth, and maybe even throw in some pineapple. Yum!
Ingredients: Asparagus, crimini mushrooms, red onions, shiitake mushrooms
3. Freeze-dried fruit
Blueberries and oranges and raspberries, oh my! Heck, Trader Joe’s even makes freeze-dried mangoes, strawberries, and bananas. Unsweetened, these crispy little bites add variety to your diet, taste amazing, and are a great way to eat fruit on the go. Are they as perfectly nutritious as whole fruit? Probably not, but it’s a whole lot easier to toss into a lunch bag, and a much better way to satisfy your desire for crunch than, say, Cheetos.
Price: $3.29 (per bag)
Ingredients: Varies by variety. (For the ones I bought, freeze-dried blueberries and freeze-dried jeju Mandarin oranges were the sole ingredients—no sulfates or sugar added!)
4. Pre-washed baby bok choy
Maybe this is just me, but I eat a LOT of baby bok choy. (Okay, it’s probably just me.) Either way, imagine my delight at finding prewashed, ready-to-eat baby bok choy—and at a reasonable price too! If it’s not one of your staples yet, you should definitely give it a go. Baby bok choy is mild, crisp, juicy, and rich in calcium, which makes it a fantastic addition to green juices and smoothies. Or you can steam it whole, then serve it in a flavorful broth. Either way, you won’t have to spend your precious time getting grit out from between the leaves. How cool is that?
Ingredients: Baby Shanghai bok choy
5. Frozen grilled asparagus
I’m a huge fan of grilled asparagus. But unless it’s July, you won’t see me out there sweating over my Weber. (Okay, I actually make let Jeff do that). Enter Trader Joe’s frozen grilled asparagus. Admittedly, the texture isn’t as good as that of fresh asparagus, but the flavor is lovely. Better yet, it’s ready to go in 3 minutes flat (thank you, microwave). While I’ve always eaten these tasty spears straight or with a squeeze of lemon, I bet they’d be delightful with a simple tahini sauce or oil-free vinaigrette.
Ingredients: Asparagus spears
6. Frozen brown rice (texture: perfect!)
While we’re on the subject of frozen foods, let’s talk about how much I love Trader Joe’s heat-and-eat frozen brown rice! I know, I can hear your thoughts from there: frozen brown rice? Seriously? Yes! Because although I cook and freeze often, there are always those times when my “stash” runs out—usually when I’m busiest. Plus, cooked whole grains don’t freeze terribly well, and Trader Joe’s has mastered the art of getting brown rice to turn out beautifully in 3 minutes: fluffy, chewy, and ever so slightly sticky (divine)! So even though it’s a little pricey, I can’t tell you how many times this rice has saved me from caving and ordering in veggie sushi. Just add some flash-sauteed veggies (see Asparagus Sauté above), and you’ve got a meal.
Great with: Loaded veggie chili
Ingredients: Brown rice
7. Go raw trek mix
This tasty mix of raisins, cashews, walnuts, almonds and filberts (aka hazelnuts) may be one of my new favorites. Not only is it raw and unsalted (only trace canola oil to keep the raisins from sticking together), but it comes in portion-controlled, single-serve packages. In fact, this may be my new go-to salad topper.
Ingredients: Raisins (raisins, canola oil), cashews, walnuts, almonds, filberts
Price (10 packets): $5.49
8. Frozen artichoke hearts
I love artichokes, but fresh ones take forever to steam and canned artichoke hearts are loaded with sodium (not to mention the BPA in can liners). So I was thrilled when I saw these in the freezer section of Trader Joe’s—free of added salt and ready in as little as 2 minutes.
Ingredients: Artichoke hearts, citric acid
9. Low-sodium chipotle salsa
I don’t know about you, but I love a good salsa. Unfortunately, most of them are super salty, and while fresh salsa is great, I’m usually too busy to make it. Enter smoky and delicious Trader Joe’s low-sodium chipotle salsa. With just 40 mg of salt per serving (2% DV), this salsa is perfect on a salad with black beans and corn or spooned over tacos, and has a satisfying kick for you heat-seekers out there.
Try it in 10-minute black bean taco filling
Ingredients: Diced tomatoes, tomato puree (water, tomato paste), cider vinegar, onions, chipotle chile peppers, distilled vinegar, salt, garlic, cilantro, red pepper
10. Washed and chopped organic Tuscan kale
Tuscan kale, also known as dino kale or lacinato kale, is dark green, crisp-chewy, and has a more delicate flavor than “regular” kale. However, like all kale, it’s a pain to wash and chop. You should also buy organic when you can, because conventional kale is one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops as determined by the Environmental Working Group. Luckily Trader Joe’s has all bases covered: its bagged Tuscan kale is organic, washed, chopped, and ready to eat in a salad. (I suggest Quick Kale Salad with Mango and Pineapple-Ginger Dressing.)
Ingredients: Tuscan kale
|Trader Joe’s Tuscan kale: part of a balanced breakfast!|
As you can see from the picture at the top of the post, it was tough to limit my choices to 10. (Multicolor organic carrots! Velvety-smooth pear sauce!) But either way, Trader Joe’s is packed with great whole food, plant-based choices. If I somehow missed your favorite product, though, leave me a comment and let me know. Happy shopping!
Also, don’t forget to check back this Friday for survey results and to find out if you’re the lucky winner of The Great Life Cookbook!
Note: All prices from January 7, 2014
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