(note: please excuse any typos and grammatical errors. i do my best proofreading after I press "publish")
My Costco shopping list was such a huge hit, that I just had to do another post on my other favorite grocery-store destination: Trader Joe's! Hiiiiiii Trader Joe's! I loooooove you!
Trader Joe's is a grocery store that carries a regular stock of staple products, as well as seasonal favorites (hellooooo pumpkin EVERYTHING in the fall!) under their brand name. What people don't realize is that often it's common commercial producers (like Knudsen's, etc.) making their products for the Trader Joe's label. And thanks to that, you get the product at a very discounted price, making this a great grocery store for students, families on a budget, families not on a budget, and just anyone who enjoys taste, convenience, variety, and inexpensive organic options at a very fair price. *raises hand* ME ME ME ME ME!!!!
The best part of all is that most everything at Trader Joe's comes in packages (we're supposed to avoid that, right?), but this makes it OH-so convenient to someone counting their macros. Trader Joe's = Fat Loss Paradise (as long as you don't load up on the peanut butter cups and chocolate covered almonds.)
And Cowboy Bark.
And Speculoos Butter.
Oh mah gawd, ok, I need to stop.
Ok....let's get started!
Most TJ's are laid out pretty much the same. You've got the cashiers on one side, and the dairy products on the other side. As I make my way past the beautiful fresh flowers, reminding myself that I can't actually maintain a fresh basil and mint garden in my kitchen, I get to the dairy section.
If you can tolerate dairy, then you're in luck. Dairy is one of the easiest ways to get in lots of lean protein from a whole food source. Greek yogurt is one of my favorites.
In addition to eating it on its own or topped with frozen blueberries (so yummy), fat free Greek yogurt is a fantastic substitute for sour cream or other cream in dishes. I put it in my burritos, in my soups, on my baked potatoes, with my eggs, mix it with Sriracha or Ranch Dressing powder for a dip...the options are endless!
Plain Fat Free Greek Yogurt - $2.79
120 cals: 22g P | 0g F | 7g C
Cottage cheese is one of those things that you love or hate. I used to hate it, but now I love it! I make a delicious creamy broccoli soup with it, as well as a veggie dip. It's fantastic with some black pepper or Sriracha and potato chips, or just a dollop of strawberry preserves. I've even just tossed in some kimchee and eaten it like that! If you think you don't like it, give it a second chance with one of these options.
Fat Free Cottage Cheese - $2.99
80 cals: 14g P | 0g F | 4g C
Organic Yogurt Cups - $2.99
These are more for the kiddos than for me. My toddler will eat it right out of the cup, or I can blend it in with his smoothie. Into the cart they go...
Ok, so why buy these when you can just buy a dozen eggs and just boil and peel them yourself and save half the price? Because, you're probably not making the time to do it (I see your food diary!) So, while in theory you SHOULD be just boiling your own eggs, waiting for them to cool, peeling them, and then wrapping them up to store in your fridge for a later day, let's all admit that you're not.
So, if you're looking for ideas for healthy snacks to keep in your office, to quickly grab at the house on your way out the door, etc., give these a shot. You can always dump out the yolks, too, to eliminate the fat.
Cage Free Peeled Hard Boiled Eggs - $2.99
60 cals: 6g P | 4g F | 0g C with yolk
16 cals: 4g P | 0g F | 0g C without yolk
If I forget to get my case of liquid egg whites from Costco, then these are the ones I grab until we can make it back.
Scrambled egg whites are my go-to breakfast. I also add them right into my shakes for an extra boost of protein. "Ewwwww" you say? Trust me, it's actually really good. Plus, they're pasteurized, so it's totally safe. A serving is only 1 TBSP, but I add anywhere from 0.5-1.0 cup full.
Cage Free Liquid Egg Whites - $3.99
25 cals: 5g P | 0g F | 0g C
Cage free eggs are a marketing sham. The chickens are technically not in cages, but they're usually confined to a dark barn with no access to the outside. Still, I suppose that it's a little better - so, yay for cage free.
You're totally going to get these so that you can start boiling and peeling your own eggs, right?
Cage Free Eggs - $2.99
60 cals: 6g P | 4g F | 0g C with yolk
16 cals: 4g P | 0g F | 0g C without yolk
Ok, so that's about it for me and the dairy section. TJ's has a lot of other awesome stuff - like different kinds of yogurt, Kefir, pudding, milk, and other fun stuff, but none of those are going to speed up your weight loss plan, so let's round the corner....
...past the Two Buck Chuck and lychee infused vodka...
...and into the dry goods aisle.
I love this pasta. Not only is it a great gluten free option for those with gluten allergies and intolerances, but it's more nutrient dense and has more fiber than traditional pastas. They do such a great job with gluten free products these days that you can barely tell a difference. Brown rice and quinoa are yummy, anyway.
Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Pasta - $2.99
200 cals: 5g P | 2g F | 43g C
Other finds in the dry goods aisle: rice, dried beans, and traditional pasta.
On to the supplements!
Protein bars are a great tool to have for easy protein access when on the go, when running around with your head off in the house, when the day has ended and you're short on protein, or just when you want something that is sorta chocolatey but also sort of healthy. I usually have one protein bar a day, and keep them fully stocked in my purse, diaper bag, office drawers, and kitchen counters. I'm literally never not within an arm's reach of one!
Think Thin bars are a really good protein bar for the dollar. You get my minimum recommended protein quantity (20g) per bar, no added sugar, and lots of fiber. The downside to these bars - and one of the reason it's a bit cheaper - is that a lot of its protein comes from soy. First, soy is an inferior protein source compared to dairy-sourced proteins. Second, soy is an estrogen mimicker, which has been linked to endocrine disruption and breast cancer. These bars taste pretty good and are a good price-point for the amount of protein that you get, but if you're adverse to soy, then these may not be the best option for you. Oh, and they use a lot of sugar alcohols as the sweetener (it's a non-calorie sweetener), which can be a mild laxative and upset some stomachs. Otherwise, they're a good option. So, if you want to try these, maybe just start with a couple.
Think Thin High Protein Bar - $1.79
240 cals: 20g P | 8g F | 24g C
Quest Bars are a cult favorite among macro counters, because the net carbs are so low (but if you follow my blog, then you know that we should never net out carbs). They come in a ton of flavors and they are made with relatively clean ingredients. There are entire websites dedicated to hacking these bars into cookies and other sweet treat. The downside? They're pretty expensive, and their cost adds up quickly. If you end up getting some to try, be sure to try it after 12 seconds in the microwave - tastes like a yummy dessert!
Quest Protein Bar - $2.39
170 cals: 20g P | 7g F | 22g C
RxBars are pretty awesome. Their ingredients are simple, they contain a lot of protein, and they taste so yummy! Ideally, I'd want a protein bar that has at least 20g of protein, but if you can make them fit, then these are as close to ideal that you will get from a packaged good. I'm working on a copy-cat recipe that has a higher protein to carb ratio - and that doesn't cost $2 a bar (YIKES!), so stay tuned!
RxBar Protein Bar - $1.99
210 cals: 12g P | 9g F | 24g C
When choosing a protein powder, there are some minimum requirements to look for:
How it is sweetened (aspartame/sucralose/Stevia/sucrose, etc)
How much protein do you get per serving
Where is the protein sourced (whey, brown rice, pea, egg white, etc)
Is it organic (if that is important to you)
Are there a bunch of filler ingredients
How reputable are the makers
And what is the cost per gram of protein
Designer Whey is sweetened with sucralose, so if you are sensitive to artificial sweeteners, then be wary of this. With 18g of protein per serving and 12 servings per container, it comes to $0.06 cents per gram of protein.
Designer Whey Protein - $11.99
100 cals: 18g P | 2g F | 6g C
This Met-Rx is marketed as "Protein Plus", but all they did was double the serving size. We'll look at it from a traditional serving size. With 23g per serving and 32 servings per container, it comes to $0.035 cents per gram of protein, nearly half the price of the Designer Whey! However, this is a protein blend of whey and casein, which is just fine for the average user.
Met-Rx Protein Plus - $25.99
100 cals: 23g protein | 1g F | 2g C
There are of course vitamins in the supplements aisle, but I honestly don't know enough about the quality of TJ's vitamins to choose to use them myself. There is so little regulation and information available on supplements, so I just opt to go with a vitamin manufacturer when selecting mine.
Alright, around the corner again.
THIS salsa!!! It's a basic verde salsa, and although I'm pretty sure it tastes great with chips, I've never used it for anything other than to cook chicken breasts. What??? Yes, check this blog post out from one of my besties. This recipe is SOOO easy, and the salsa adds so few calories that I don't even track it. And the end result is a chicken that is so versatile...we use it in salads, tacos, quesadillas, soups, BBQ sandwiches, and a million other ways.
Salsa Verde - $1.99
Meh, these macros don't even count
These "bars" have identity disorder. Are they a protein bar? Or are they jerky? I think of them more as a jerky since they're pretty salty and they're literally dried meat. It's jerky! This is a great option for anyone who is looking for a convenient and portable protein option that may not be able to eat dairy or if they need really low carbs. But, it IS $2.50 a bar...it's meat, so it's gonna be pricey.
Epic Protein Bar - $2.49
100 cals: 15g P | 4g F | 1g C
I prefer more traditional jerkeys. TJ's has some good options, too! Beef, bison, turkey, and even pork. They're all a bit on the sweeter side, so they're going to have slightly more carbs than Epic Bars, but they're still a really great portable protein option. I always bring jerky with me when traveling anywhere.
Beef Jerky - $5.99
70 cals: 11g P | 1g F | 5g C
One of my favorite lunchtime meals is a salad made entirely from TJ ingredients, including the chicken strips you'll find later in this post. My favorite thing to add to this salad (and other salads) are the honey roasted almonds. Almost are really calorie dense, so it doesn't take a lot of them to consume a lot of calories. But these are so flavorful that such a small amount goes a long way. I can usually use half of a serving for a jumbo salad and get a ton of sweet, nutty flavor in every bite!! (If you use this, make sure to weigh your portion sizes!!!)
Sliced Honey Roasted Almonds - $3.99
40 cals: 1g P | 4g F | 2g C
Find yourself addicted to diet sodas? Science has shown that artificial sugars don't hurt your weight loss efforts, but still, I think your gut flora will thank you for staying away from harsh sodas. Try these sparking water beverages instead! 0 calories, 0 sweeteners!!
I'm skipping all the caloric and diet beverages. Water, water, water, water. That's my message.
Ok, next! If you're anything like me, sometimes you just crave a lot of crunch. This cereal is pretty bland - I won't lie - but it does have a touch of sweetness to it, so it's great tossed in with Greek yogurt or just eaten out of a bowl (my favorite way to eat it) while watching a movie. It's PACKED with fiber and protein, so it's a great snack option if you've got the munchies for something crunchy. Make sure you weigh/measure this, too. These are one of those snow ball foods that you can overeat if you're not paying attention.
Kashi Go Lean Original - $2.99
180 cals: 12g P | 2g F | 40g C
Flaxseeds are a great source of fiber and of Omega-3s, a very healthy fat. For lactating moms, these are great to add to oatmeal, lactation cookies, pancakes, or smoothies. They also make a great egg substitute for vegans or those with egg allergies. Flaxseed is better absorbed with it is ground, so unless you have a spice or coffee grinder, this meal version is a great way to buy flax.
Organic Flaxseed Meal - $2.79
90 cals: 3g P | 6g F | 5g C
Oatmeal, oatmeal, oatmeal. I feel like I can't get away from oatmeal. Lactating? Oatmeal. Healthy carbs for a diet? Oatmeal? Diaper rash? Oatmeal. If you are tired of oatmeal, but are looking for a complex carb option for your breakfast, then this is great. It's got healthy grains, Omega-rich seeds, nuts, and is also gluten free. It will be heavier on the fat calories because of the seeds and nuts, but worth a trade for the nutrient-dense ingredients- it's a bit higher in protein than most oatmeals and slightly lower in carbs.
Ancient Grain & Super Seed Oatmeal - $3.99
200 cals: 9g P | 9g F | 24g C
Spices!! All the spices!!! Your calorie free answer to making boring dishes taste better and different. I eat so much chicken, turkey, and the same ol' vegetables all the time that it's nice having a variety of spices to change up the flavor. TJ's wins with prices for their quality spices!
Canned chicken? I mean, why not? We eat canned fish, don't we? This chicken doesn't taste quite the same as fresh-cooked chicken, but it is perfect in a chicken salad sandwich. I always have a couple of these stocked in the pantry in case I get stuck in a rut or don't have anything on hand to easily make for a meal. Go for the version packed in water. Also...if you're paying attention, you'll start to notice that there are so many food options that are better than protein bars and powder. Something like this would travel really well!
Premium Chunk White Chicken
70 cals: 12g P | 2g F | 0g C
Need something for your chicken salad sandwich? Organic mayo! This one is going to loaded in fat, so use sparingly.
Not in the mood for a chicken salad sandwich? How about tuna? Not all tuna is created equal. We only buy pole and line caught tuna because (1) it's a sustainable way of fishing, (2) it's truly dolphin safe...and sea turtle and whale and sea creature safe, and (3) the fish tend to be slightly smaller, so less infested with mercury.
The downside to TJ tuna is that it is either packed in water or in another oil source - it's not packed in it's own oils and juices. Why does this matter? Well, in addition to protein, one of the biggest benefits of fish are the Omega-rich oils. You know those fish oil supplements that I recommend that you buy? Well, now you know where it comes from. It's stripped from fish which is then packed in omega-less oil or water and then sold to you...again. Still, a great price for good tuna with tons of protein.
Chunk Light Skipjack Tuna - $1.49
60 cals: 14g P | 1g F | 0g C
I'm going to breeze through the rest of these, since there are fit and convenient items, but they're not really protein packed. So get them for nutrition, convenience, and flavor!
BBQ sauce? Yep! I had to include this, because this is what I use on my pulled verde salsa chicken! It's so flavorful, that I can use just 1 TBSP to mix in with my pulled chicken breast, and I have a delicious pulled BBQ chicken sandwich. OMG, top it with some pickles, onions, and YUM!!!
Organic quinoa, lentils, and rice.
Quinoa is a perfect protein - one of the only non-meat foods that is! It is great as a rice substitute. I throw it on salads, throw in raisins and onions while boiling it, or just eat it plain like I would rice!
Lentils offer so much fiber, some protein, and are a slow digesting carb.
Organic sprouted rice is SO good! It's sprouted, so it offers so many more nutrients. Plus, it's organic, because rice is one of the most pesticide-laden foods out there. Sprouted grains have a different texture and mouth feel...I personally love the grittyness and crunch of them!
Beans! I love that TJ's offers so many organic bean options. Beans can be hard on the stomach if they're not soaked properly, so cooking them at home can be a little tough, especially if you don't have time to plan in advance. Canned beans are already soaked, and so they are the better option for our family. My son loves beans, plus they're really high in fiber, protein, are a slow digesting carb, and are super versatile.
Almond butter is a great fat source. It offers a lot of fiber, too. Two important things to note: (1) nut butters should never be considered a protein source, and (2) it's always best to weigh your nut butters when trying to lose weight. Nuts are very calorie dense and a little rounding error will translate into a lot of calories!
Almond meal is often used as a flour alternative for people with gluten intolerances or those following a Paleo food plan. Just be careful, because just because something is a completely whole, natural, or "clean" food, it doesn't mean it won't make you gain fat if you don't track it!
Ditto what I said about the almond flour for this coconut flour. People with nut allergies aren't allergic to coconut (usually), so this is a great gluten-free, Paleo-friendly flour option for people with nut allergies.
Nutritional yeast is a great source of B-vitamins for vegetarians and vegans who would normally get it from meat sources. It has a cheesey flavor and has a lot of uses in various recipes. It also is a perfect substitute for Brewer's yeast, one of the critical ingredients in lactation cookies!
These frozen grilled chicken strips are great to keep in the freezer and eat for a quick snack, throw on a salad, or put in tacos.
Frozen Just Grilled Chicken Strips - $4.99
90 cals: 16g P | 2g F | 1g C
This breaded chicken is my FAVORITE! I don't know how they do it, but even when you microwave it, it finishes crispy. I love these all by themselves as a snack or chopped up in the salad that I mentioned I eat with the honey coated almonds. This is so good and surprisingly not bad for you! And they're SO CHEAP!!!
Frozen Breaded Chicken Breast Tenderloins - $2.99
110 cals: 10g P | 4g F | 10g C
These chili lime chicken burgers are convenient, taste great, and pack a lot of protein! They're delicious on their own or on a bun.
Chili Lime Chicken Burger - $3.49
150 cals: 19g P | 6g F | 3g C
PAY ATTENTION BECAUSE THIS IS ONE OF OUR FAVORITE THINGS EVER! These soy ginger cod fillets are SO GOOD, and so easy to make. I can literally throw a thawed pack in a pot and throw in some chopped veggies, and then minutes later, I've got an instant dinner. I usually serve it with a side of rice. My husband and I usually have one entire pack to ourselves (2 servings)!! Unfortunately, they are marinaded in soy, so it's not gluten free :(, for all my gluten free clients.
Wild Caught Soy Ginger Cod - $6.99
140 cals: 17g P | 5g F | 6g C
Seafood is super high in protein, low in fat, and even lower in carbs. Whenever we eat out, I opt for seafood, because it's going to give me a lot of protein and be relatively healthy as long as I go with a grilled option. So why doesn't everyone just eat seafood all day every day if they want to lose weight? Because it's expensive, duh! But luckily TJ's has some really inexpensive options.
This seafood blend cooks fast (2-3 minutes!) and goes great with pasta.
Seafood Blend - $7.99
80 cals: 16g P | 0g F | 3g C
This Cioppino comes in single serving bags and cooks ultra fast. I turn to these for a quick lunch or for a dinner when my husband isn't home. We eat it alone, but you can throw in some pasta, too! I think there are like 2-3 per pack.
Seafood Cioppino - $5.99
170 cals: 22g P | 6g F | 8g C
So much seafood!!!
Making bullet proof coffee? Want a healthier butter option? It's not grass-fed, but you can't always be perfect, can you my sweet TJ?
Butter is still butter, no matter how "clean" it is, so watch for those fats.
Frozen veggies for daaaays!
So many variety of nuts. I like that they offer a lot of single serving nut combos. Especially because you can look at one teeny tiny pack and go "WTF?!?!?! This has 250 calories in it??!!? WHYYYYYY?!??!!?"
Fat free cheese! Can you believe it??? I always have some of this in our fridge. I sprinkle it on my scrambled eggs, over salads, in chicken or tuna sandwiches, and wherever else you like feta! 7g of protein!!!!
Fat Free Feta Crumbles - $2.99
35 cals: 7g P | 0g F | 1g C
Fat Free Ricotta is another good one. I use this in pasta sauces and my lasagna recipe to bring a lot of flavor without the calories or fat. No one can tell the difference - I swear!
Fat Free Ricotta Cheese - $3.69
45 cals: 6g P | 0g F | 4g C
Organic Light String Cheese - $5.49
Great for the kids and great to roll in some deli meat, like the stuff below.
This is great on sandwiches, wrapped around cheese, or just eaten on its own. I opt for the nitrate-free and the low sodium options.
Reduced Sodium Turkey Breast - $4.99
60 cals: 13g P | 1g F | 1g C
Salsa Fresca or Pico de Gallo has almost no calories when used a condiment. I put a few tablespoons on my scrambled eggs in the morning and don't even bother to count it since the calories are so low.
Bacon - because every meat-friendly diet needs to include bacon. Opt for the nitrate-free versions.
Lots of natural, free range, and/or grass fed options available
These rice bags are so convenient. It cooks to done in 3 minutes and some options are organic. It doesn't taste instant, at all.
The non-frozen version of the Just Chicken strips. Don't have time to cook and cut up a bunch of chicken? Grab one of these instead and weigh them out into little baggies straight from the container. These are also a great item to keep in the work fridge. I chop them up for egg scrambles, in salads, to snack on dipped in mustard, or to add to a quesadilla. Super easy!
Just Chicken - $5.49
110 cals: 25g P | 2g F | 0g C
You can eat a TON of spinach and it barely has any calories. I think one of these whole bags has maybe 30 calories. Spinach cooks down really small, so in addition to using it as a salad, you can add an entire bag to the Soy Ginger Cod and it shrinks down perfectly. It also blends up nicely in protein shakes!
Same goes goes these.
I love arugula. It literally spices up the flavor of any salad.
Here are some more inexpensive organic produce options.
Oh, hi! Still with me? Ok, on to the next.
Ezekiel Bread is made from sprouted grains, so it's going to be more nutrient dense, slower digesting, and just all around better for you than plain white bread.
Here's a tip: check the frozen section for inexpensive grass-fed beef options. I've compared the prices, and these are comparable to Costco in price per pound, except you're not forced to buy like a bazillion pounds of it.