By Christina Stiehl, Noom Content Writer
I hate cooking. Okay, as the Plain White T’s say, “Hate is a strong word.” So let’s just say I really really really don’t like cooking. I’m not that great at it, I tend to eat the same foods over and over again, and if a recipe is going to take me longer than 30 minutes, forget about it.
Obviously, not wanting to cook is at odds with two of my big goals for this year: eating healthier and saving money. Since I don’t want to rely on takeout, which can get pretty expensive in New York City (not to mention high in vegetable oils, sodium, and calories), I have succumbed to the fact that I need to prepare the majority of my own food.
Fortunately, I do enjoy grocery shopping. (Ironic for someone who doesn’t like cooking, right?) Trader Joe’s is my happy place, and my favorite part of Saturday morning errands is going to Trader Joe’s. I usually go with a set list, but often find myself swayed by all the fun snacks and convenient foods.
It’s through my frequent trips to my favorite grocery store that I’ve found some amazing and delicious shortcuts to making my own meals. Trader Joe’s has so many products (much of them in the frozen section) that I always have on hand to make emergency meals, especially on days where I don’t feel like cooking.
Check out my favorite options below, and use them to get creative in the kitchen! The best part? Many of Trader Joe’s foods are available in the Noom food database, so logging them is a cinch.
- Frozen brown rice: I love how versatile brown rice is: make a veggie-packed grain bowl, a burrito bowl, or enjoy it as a side to your favorite protein. I do not love trying to make my own rice on the stove top; I get impatient waiting for water to boil, and I always end up with something crunchy and inedible. The frozen brown rice at Trader Joe’s comes in packs of three, and each packet has about 2 cups worth of rice. Just cut a 1/4-inch slit in the bag and heat it in the microwave (seam side up) until it’s steamed to perfection. Find it in the frozen section.
- Frozen cooked shrimp: Another win in the Trader Joe’s frozen section is the selection of frozen fish and shellfish. One of my go-tos is grabbing a 1-pound bag of large peeled, deveined, and tail-off shrimp cooked shrimp. I keep it in the freezer as one of my backup meals when I want to make something quick and packed with protein. Although the shrimps cook down to a much smaller size, they are easy to sauté on the stove top and add to salads, stir fries, and pasta. Find it in the frozen section near all the other frozen fish.
- Frozen Asian vegetables: A note that the full name of this product is: “Asian Vegetables with Beijing Style Soy Sauce” and it’s found in the frozen section along with the other frozen Asian-inspired dishes. However, I usually toss out the sauce it comes with and make my own stir fry with Trader Joe’s Soyaki sauce (it’s tastier and lower in sodium). I typically make these veggies along with the frozen shrimp in the Soyaki sauce for an easy meal over the heated brown rice.
- Frozen Mélange à Trois Bell Peppers: Yes, I know chopping up fresh bell peppers doesn’t take up that much time, and fresh bell peppers are overall tastier than frozen ones. But the Mélange à Trois Bell Peppers at Trader Joe’s are strips of yellow, green, and red bell peppers, and they are perfect in a pinch. I love heating these up and adding them to stir fries, pasta, or omelets and frittatas. Find it in the freezer section near the other frozen veggies.
- Premium Salmon Burgers (frozen): My last recommendation from the freezer aisle: the Premium Salmon Burgers. These come frozen and raw, but don’t take much time to heat up. I prefer to cook mine for 10 to 12 minutes at 400 degrees in the air fryer (if you don’t have an air fryer, please stop what you’re doing and go buy one). You can also make these on the stove top or in the oven. But with grilling season upon us, they would also be great on the grill and served with a bun and some lettuce, mayo, and tomato. I like cutting up these salmon burgers and adding them to salads or grain bowls. Find them in the freezer section near the other frozen non-beef burger patties.
- Pesto Alla Genovese Basil Pesto: There’s something so flavorful about pesto, and I almost always prefer a pesto sauce to a red sauce for pastas. This Pesto Alla Genovese Basil Pesto from Trader Joe’s is so versatile; you can add it to pasta (I love it paired with Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower gnocchi), as a spread for sandwiches, or to roasted veggies. The jar is small, but a little goes a long way. Find it in the pasta and sauce aisle.
- Marinated artichokes: Where have these marinated artichokes been all my life? These are a more recent discovery, but have been a game-changer for my salads and Greek grain bowls. They are marinated in sunflower oil, vinegar, garlic, and spices, and the flavor gives it a nice zing that stands out in your meals. The artichoke hearts come quartered in the jar so they are easy to add to your dishes as-is. Trader Joe’s also sells these in little snack pouches for on-the-go snacking, which I will definitely buy next time. Find it near the other jarred and pickled veggies.
- Bagged salad kits: Trader Joe’s takes the work out of assembling a salad with their bagged salad kits. I love trying different varieties, which consist of a mix of lettuce, veggies, and herbs and spices. Plus, each bag usually comes with its own dressing. Just add some extra ingredients if you’d like (like nuts, seeds, or cheese), and your protein of choice. I’m particularly into the Lemony Arugula Basil and Buffalo Ranch Chopped Salad kits. Find them in the refrigerated produce section near the bagged lettuce.
- Shredded carrots: Another produce hack I’m grateful to Trader Joe’s for. I enjoy adding carrots to my recipes, but I do not enjoy cutting them up. The shredded carrots make it easy to add to salads, wraps, and stir fries. Find in the refrigerated produce section near the other carrots.
- Pre-cooked grilled chicken breast: When I discovered the pre-cooked grilled chicken breast pieces at Trader Joe’s a few years ago, my life was changed forever. Cut out the time it takes to cook chicken breast, and add these straight to salads, pastas, and other dishes. You can heat and serve, or enjoy cold. The chicken is fully cooked and lasts in your fridge for a while, so it’s perfect to have on hand for more emergency meals. Find it in the refrigerated section with the premade salads and sandwiches (near where the hummus, guacamole, and other dips are).
- Refrigerated salad dressings: Yes, like any grocery store, Trader Joe’s sells plenty of salad dressings. But the real hidden gems are the refrigerated dressings. They are a little fresher than the bottled versions on the shelf, and are packed with bold flavors that perk up any salad or recipe. My favorite is the Green Goddess salad dressing that’s only 20 calories per serving (but tastes like a lot more). I’m also partial to the Spicy Cashew Butter dressing, which is a flavorful option at just 40 calories per serving.
- Canned beans: Okay, this one also isn’t revolutionary to Trader Joe’s. I’m sure you’re thinking, “Christina, all grocery stores have canned beans.” Yes, yes they do. However, Trader Joe’s versions are cheap (some less than a dollar a can), and they have tons of options. I usually stick to old-fashioned canned Garbanzo beans and black beans and add them cold to salads straight from the jar. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll heat black beans over the stovetop to eat with tacos or burrito bowls.
I love exploring Trader Joe’s, but I know sometimes it can get overwhelming—the decision fatigue is real. Hopefully this list helps you narrow down your next grocery trip, or gets you inspired to check out some of their other healthy offerings. Making your own healthy meals at home doesn’t need to be boring, and it definitely doesn’t need to take a ton of time or effort. Trust me: If I can learn to assemble meals for myself, anyone can.