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While some may view it as a time-consuming errand, I love grocery shopping and look forward to my weekly run. I'm more than willing to go to different stores for specific ingredients, and Trader Joe's is one place where I have a go-to list of items that are reliable, tasty and budget-friendly (although like any dedicated TJ's shopper, I make a lot of impulse purchases when I walk by the "What's New" section).
To help you have a successful Trader Joe's visit, I pulled together my favorite affordable items from the store. I also reached out to fellow food editors and Trader Joe's fans Sean Kenniff, EatingWell's senior food editor, and Carolyn Malcoun, EatingWell's senior food features editor, to get their go-to picks. Here are our 10 must-have Trader Joe's items under $5. (Note: Prices may vary depending on location. The below prices were determined with Trader Joe's website and my local store in Vermont.)
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Mini Flower Bouquet - $3.99
When you walk into any Trader Joe's store, the first thing you're likely to see is their flower display. Bright and colorful, it makes it hard to resist picking up some stems. I'm a huge fan of their mini flower bouquets, which always have a range of textures. It's an easy way to add color to my coffee table, and I like to think of it as a small form of self-care. Plus, I've had bouquets last for weeks, which makes spending $3.99 an even bigger steal.
Asparagus Risotto - $3.29
A traditional risotto requires time and patience, two things that can be hard to come by in a busy schedule. Luckily, that's where the Asparagus Risotto comes in. You'll still get the same creamy texture of risotto, but it comes together in minutes. For Malcoun, this freezer-aisle find was especially handy during a kitchen renovation. She cooked up a bag on her grill's side burner while she grilled chicken or sausages for a tasty meal with ease.
Dolmas - $2.99
Another budget-friendly, time-saving product that Malcoun relies on is the canned dolmas. These grape leaves are stuffed with rice, onions and herbs, including dill and spearmint. She always keeps a few in her pantry to grab in a pinch. "Dolmas are totally my go-to emergency lunch," says Malcoun. "I've even brought them on camping trips. We stuff them into wraps with hummus or tzatziki, or open a can for happy hour."
Garlic Spread Dip - $2.99
Calling all garlic lovers! This creamy dip, similar to Lebanese toum, can be spread on sandwiches, served with shawarma or falafel, or enjoyed with some raw veggies on the side. Kenniff, who loves raw garlic, says, "I smear it on everything." While the garlic flavor is prominent, lemon helps balance the allium flavor.
Everything but the Bagel Yogurt Dip - $3.49
While you're standing in the dip aisle, look for the Everything but the Bagel Yogurt Dip, a favorite of Malcoun's. The creamy, tangy dip is made with Greek yogurt and features Trader Joe's popular Everything but the Bagel seasoning blend, a mix of sesame seeds, poppy seeds, dried garlic, dried onion and sea salt. This savory dip can be enjoyed in many ways, but we're partial to scooping it up with crackers, pita chips or raw veggies.
Zhoug Sauce - $2.99
Thought to have originated in Yemen, zhoug is a spicy herb sauce and condiment popular throughout the Middle East. The sauce gets its green hue and flavor from a combination of cilantro and jalapeño peppers. Kenniff suggests tossing it with rice or adding it to sauces, soups or pasta salad. Pick up the Zhoug Sauce on your next trip, or try making your own with our Zhoug Sauce recipe.
Green Goddess Seasoning Blend - $2.49
I'm a huge fan of green goddess dressing, so I was excited to find the flavors I love in a convenient, shelf-stable seasoning blend. The blend features a mix of dried onion, garlic, lemon, chives and parsley, so I can add allium and herbaceous flavor to my dishes in one shake. I love sprinkling it on Brussels sprouts before roasting, and the flavor combo is particularly good on salmon.
Green Goddess Dressing - $3.99
Clearly we love the flavors of green goddess since it's on this list twice! This creamy, vibrant dressing is made from avocado, green onion, lemon juice, garlic and plenty of fresh herbs, including basil and chives. Malcoun always buys multiple bottles to stash in her pantry to drizzle over salads and grain bowls or to dip veggies into.
Tamales - $3.99
Both Malcoun and Kenniff are fans of the frozen tamales. "The tamales are a great price and filling. Plus, they go from your freezer to steamer basket to plate in about 20 minutes," raves Kenniff. Whether you pick up the Chicken & Cheese Tamales, Beef Tamales or Cheese & Green Chile Tamales, you're sure to have a delicious meal at an affordable price.
Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches - $4.99
No matter the season, I always have ice cream in my freezer—and it's often these ice cream sandwiches. They're basically perfect: vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies and rolled in mini chocolate chips. Plus, I love that it's basically two desserts in one. Each sandwich comes out to $1.25, which is way more affordable than going out to my local scoop shop.