Trader Joe’s Favorites – What’s Always on My List

I heard the praises of Trader Joe’s long before I set foot in one. First, the blogosphere was proclaiming its wonders. Then one opened in Kansas City, so my mom was getting in on the goodness and reporting back. Finally, it came to Austin.

As a regular Trader Joe’s shopper for several years now, I’ve established my list of regular items. Though we have one relatively close here in Kansas, it does not carry wine. (yay Kansas) So once a month I make the trek to the Kansas City, Missouri location for my standard stock-up.

My usual grocery shopping routine is Aldi weekly, Costco monthly, Trader Joe’s monthly, and another grocery store for occasional holes in between. They all have different items I prefer, so my list at each is tried-and-true favorites.

Here’s what’s always on my list at Trader Joe’s:


Cereal and flour

We go through a lot of cereal at our house, so if the girls are with me I let them pick a fun box in addition to our regulars. My mom also stocks up at cereal at TJ’s because they have Barbara’s brand at the best price (interestingly one of the few non-Trader Joe’s brands on the shelves).

I always get the White Whole Wheat Flour because it’s the best price I can find around here ($2.99).


Seasonal items, salsas, and sauces

The seasonal items are HOT and come in limited quantities, so I stock up when I spot them. Their pumpkin items in fall are my very favorite (mucho boxes of Pumpkin Pancake Mix), but the Peppermint Jo-Jo’s rate highly.

The Organic Tomatillo and Roasted Yellow Chili Salsa is our family favorite. It’s got great flavor and a little heat – but all the girls eat it! The green Hatch Valley Salsa is quite tasty as well. I normally grab a couple jars of each. I also like the size of the jar of Traditional Marinara Sauce.

(not pictured: organic chocolate syrup)


Great to have on hand

These are items I don’t necessarily have on the meal plan, but I know I’m going to use them. Frozen Microwaveable Brown Rice is super convenient. Frozen waffles are always great on standby. And my girls think edamame is so fun. The chicken sausage comes in a ton of flavors and is easy to grill or sauté or put with pasta… tons of possibilities.


Frozen convenience foods

Though I like to make a lot from scratch, I have some favorite frozen convenience items. These are great for a quick meal and much cheaper and healthier than fast food. My kids like all of these, so they’re a nice easy dinner when needed. Violet even requested the Orange Chicken as her birthday meal when I said she could pick anything.


Beverages

Cheap wine. Nuf said. Okay, I’ll say more. The “two-buck Chuck” is famous (Charles Shaw, actually $2.99) and we like a couple varieties. But usually I stick with some good options in the $4-$5 range. And cheap beer – not bad in a can for $3.49 for a six-pack.

Brett likes their selection of coffee, so that’s usually on our list. Many organic and fair trade options.


Not food

Sorry to all my Mary Kay and Rodan+Fields friends, Trader Joe has taken over my skincare. Weird, right? But after trying multiple brands, I’m happier with my skin than I have been in years, and it’s a great price. So I go with what works.

(not pictures: fresh flowers starting at $3.99!!)

What I DON’T usually buy – overlaps of other stores. I don’t usually buy much produce at TJ’s because I can get better sale prices elsewhere, and I don’t think their quality is a significant difference. Same with meat and regular cheese (though they have good fancy cheeses). There have even been a few items that I have bought and not liked such as the french fried onions and chicken stock.

So my cart is a mix of everyday essentials and fun favorites.

What are your favorite Trader Joe’s items? 

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Not Award-Winning Chili

chili-bowl-wordsAnyone else get tired of browsing Pinterest and coming across so many versions of “Award-Winning Chili” and “Best Chili Ever”? Let me make it easy for you. Just make this one. I entered it in a chili competition, and it did not win. But want to know what? People really liked it. Really liked it.

Fall is the perfect time for a hearty bowl of protein and veggies. And beer. Yep, all of that is in here. Top with Fritos and cheese.

Not Award-Winning Chili

  • 2 lbs. ground beef, browned
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 bell peppers, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, diced or pressed
  • 1 large (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 large (30 oz) can pinto beans
  • 2 chipotles in adobo, chopped
  • 1/2 can pumpkin purée
  • 1 can/bottle (12 oz) beer
  • 2 Tbs chili powder
  • 1 Tbs cumin
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1 Tbs kosher salt

Combine in large slow cooker and cook on Low for 8-10 hours.

Sloppy Joes: Four Hacks to Survive (and enjoy!) Dinner

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I avoided making Sloppy Joes for a long time. Because I have kids. I know – they’re supposed to be a kid food, but they’re… well, sloppy. Not a big fan.

But when Amy at New Nostalgia posted her Sloppy Joe recipe, I had to give it a shot. She’s a trustworthy source and uses quality ingredients – no cans of mystery sauce here! And this tasty recipe was a winner with my family. Five out of five eat this up. But here are a couple “hacks” I’ve developed to make this a winner on the logistical side, as well.

1 – Lentils

The recipe calls for 1.5 lbs ground beef, but I have 1 lb. portions from the 1/4 cow we got last year. So to fill in the extra half pound, I use lentils. This is also a budget-helping tip for stretching any ground beef recipe because lentils are far cheaper than meat (also high in protein, fiber, and iron).

I put half a cup green lentils in one cup water and bring to a boil, then cover and simmer around 20 minutes. After cooking my 1 lb. ground beef, I just add the lentils and keep following the recipe. And the kids haven’t even noticed yet!

2 – Hot Dog Buns

This was an accidental discovery. I’d forgotten to buy hamburger buns and only had hot dog buns on hand. Turns out, they’re perfect for little hands! Hot dog buns are easier to hold than round hamburger buns, plus they have one side closed which means fewer directions for the meat to fall out.


3 – No Shirt

This only applies to those at the table under age two. Tomato-based sauces are my laundry enemy. Just forget the bib, they’ll just get ripped off and the sauce gets everywhere anyway. Bare skin is easier to wipe down at the end, and even better if you just meal plan Sloppy Joes for bath night.

4 – Leftovers

I like to remix leftovers – and this recipe makes plenty for leftovers. So I didn’t toss that sloppy goodness back in a bun for Night Two. Meet the Cheesy Joe Tots.

This was as easy as making tater tots, covering them in the Sloppy Joe mix, and then topping with cheese. Yum!

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So don’t be afraid of Sloppy Joes any more. With these four hacks, you’re on your way to a happy and healthy family dinner. Life is a little sloppy, bring it on.

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Freezer Meal Exchange – How it Works, Plus Recipe for Egg Casserole


It’s so nice to have a freezer full of easy meals. They’re great for a busy week and keeps us away from the drive-thru on a regular basis. I’ve done several strategies for freezer stocking: on my own, freezer meal prep nights at a grocery store, and recently freezer meal exchanges with friends.

The principle is that each person makes multiple batches of the same meal. So instead of prepping five different meals, you do five of the same for more efficiency. Then you get together and trade.

Freezer meal exchanges are a great option for people with allergies or certain dietary choices. I have several friends who are paleo, so they organized a group who was willing to follow those restrictions (basically grain-free, dairy-free, and no potatoes or beans). So this is the Paleo Egg Casserole I made to trade.

It is A LOT of prep work. There were five of us in the group, and I decided to make two smaller casseroles for each family instead of 9×13 pans. So 10 casseroles!

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Pretty! Right after this shot, I was rethinking this plan as I was beating four dozen eggs. But it really wasn’t that bad.

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I came home from the exchange with chicken and kale stew, chicken piccata, mini chicken pot pies, and chicken and sweet potato burgers. Yum!

PALEO EGG CASSEROLE WITH SAUSAGE AND VEGGIES

  • 1/2 cup almond milk
  • 8 eggs, beaten
  • 1 lb. sausage, cooked
  • 3 cups cooked veggies (I used sweet potatoes, red peppers, and broccoli)
  • salt and pepper

Spread sausage and veggies evenly in the bottom of a 9×13 pan or two smaller pans. Beat eggs, almond milk, and salt and pepper and pour over the top. Bake in a preheated oven at 350 for 35-45 minutes for a large pan or 25-30 minutes for two smaller pans.

**If you are not paleo, just make with regular milk, and add cheese if you want. This is what I’ll do in the future since this was a big hit with our whole family! They love “breakfast for dinner,” and this was an easy and tasty way to get some veggies in.

What I Buy at Aldi (almost) Every Week

I’ve become an Aldi fan. It saved our budget – want proof? I compiled comparable items at HyVee and Walmart, and the results were WOW. But first, the backstory.

Our food budget has gone through some upheaval in the last couple years. First, we moved to Kansas City and were shocked at the food prices. Our eating habits hadn’t changed, but our food costs were consistently running about 20% higher than in Texas. Part of this is the fact that there is no food tax on Texas, the rest is just higher prices in general.

I consider myself a savvy food shopper, so I wasn’t happy about this situation. I don’t clip coupons, but I meal plan, utilize leftovers, shop the sales, and meal plan (big deal!).

So what’s a girl to do? Food budget situation not good.

Then my friends started talking about Aldi. I’d thought Aldi was full of cheap junk food, but turns out there is a lot of healthy, affordable food to be found on those tiny narrow aisles. So here is a look at what I buy on a regular basis. These items are in my cart almost every week.

You can see that most of these are healthy, real food items. Not processed box dinners or junk food. But a couple treats. ;) These are my staples.

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  • Tortillas
  • Applesauce pouches
  • Cherry pie filling – I don’t buy this frequently, but I included it because it is dye-free and does not contain high fructose corn syrup. This is rare to find, and never at this price point.
  • Granola bars
  • Ketchup – organic because it doesn’t contain high fructose corn syrup
  • Applesauce jar

aldi2

  • Milk
  • Blue corn chips – Brett’s favorite
  • String cheese
  • Eggs
  • Frozen broccoli – a lot of store brand (and name brand) broccoli seems to have a high stem content. My kids don’t eat stems. Lots of florets here.
  • Grapes

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  • Caesar salad kit – My kids eat salad!
  • Cinnamon rolls – I don’t buy these frequently, but I included them because they are seriously better than even Pillsbury. No kidding.
  • White cheddar “Cheezits”
  • Storage/freezer bags
  • Avocados – they’re .39 on sale and only .69 regular price.
  • Black beans
  • Petite diced tomatoes
  • Gum

So just to check if I was actually saving money, not some kind of magic Aldi placebo, I pulled up comparable items at HyVee and Walmart (via the online ordering system), choosing store brand items when available for the lowest possible prices. I used regular prices for the Aldi total but included sale prices for the others (as of 7/10/16). Here are the results for the 20 items shown above:

Aldi: $34.35

HyVee: $52.85

Walmart: $45.50

So it is actually cheaper. By a decent margin!

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300!

This is my 300th post. If you’d told me 5 years ago that I’d be typing my 300th post on an iPhone app while sitting outside watching my three children play at our home in suburban Kansas City (far from Olive Street), I probably would have fallen over.

There have some big gaps between posts, mostly because of these small people who take my sleep and my brain power. But without them, I wouldn’t have much to write about. ;)

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But over the years, I’ve …

Walking around Breckenridge

I’ve documented family moments like…

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Looking on past posts, I see recipes I forgot about and now can’t wait to make again, like…

Chillin' at the hotel

And I’ve tackled some serious topics that really seemed to resonate with readers…

Milestones are fun to recognize the distance, and it’s been motivating for me to move forward. I’ve been reminded of what a fun legacy this is. I love looking back at the posts of adventures when Hannah was little. This is my scrapbook and my journal. And I also get to share deeper thoughts with friends and family and sometimes a few more. ;)

Thanks to y’all for sticking with me!

Taquito Time: The Basics

Want a go-to meal you can throw together in 30 minutes with whatever you have lying around the kitchen? Endless variations and the kids will eat it? I found it.

The Taquito.

If you’re picturing something greasy from the freezer section, think again. This version has way better ingredients and is baked instead of fried.

You’ll find taquitos on our menu plan several times a month for these very reasons. Today, I want to share the basic method, and you’ll be able to take that in any direction based on what you feel like and whatever’s in your fridge. You think you’re not a good cook? You can handle this! And it gets better? Yep, only one bowl and one spoon to wash.

First, the ingredients. This is simple.

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These are versatile ingredients that I always have on hand. I make big batches of shredded chicken in the slow cooker and freeze them in 2 cup portions. So I just thaw a bag-ful, and we’re ready for taquitos!

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Mix the ingredients. You could move on to the next step right here – chicken, cheese, cream cheese – tasty and done! Or you could scan an eyeball around your fridge and find some random things that might need a destination.

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I found a cob of grilled corn, some cilantro, and a green onion. So those guys go in, too. Just say no to food waste!

After mixing, spread in tortillas, wrap up, and put seam-side down on a sprayed baking sheet.

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When they’re all assembled and placed, lightly spray the tops with the cooking spray. I guess this is optional, but it helps them get a little crispy.

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Put them in an oven at 425 for 12-15 minutes. Depends on how brown and crispy you like them. Then top (or dip) and enjoy! These are a family favorite over here, and I’ll be featuring some yummy variations.

Here’s the simple rundown:

Basic Taquitos

  • 8-12 tortillas
  • 4 oz cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup shredded cheese
  • 2 cups cooked chicken

Mix and spread into tortillas. Roll up and place seam-side down on a sprayed baking sheet. Lightly spray tops. Bake at 425 for 12-15 minutes.

taquitos