Friday, October 6, 2017

What To Buy at Trader Joe's on a College Budget

Hello, beautiful! I wanted to write this post for many reasons. Firstly, I've been really struggling with my grocery budget lately, and secondly, I recently made a huge switch in my diet that I wanted to share with you all.

After six months of being vegan and seven years of being vegetarian, I'm transitioning into a pescatarian diet. I made this decision upon realizing that, because I'm sensitive to dairy (the main reason why I went vegan), I can safely eat dairy in a healthy way by taking lactose supplements like Lactaid. I also wanted to supplement my diet with a lean source of protein and omega 3s that I wasn't getting as a vegan - and for me, fish seemed like the most ethical way to incorporate this into my diet. To me, a pescatarian diet is a lot more mentally healthy as well, because it means I feel much less restricted than I did on the vegan diet.

In short, being vegan doesn't work for everyone for a number of reasons. Personally, I went vegan for ethical reasons, reasons that are still very close to my heart - but purely in the interest of my long-term health, I decided to transition away from it and into a different, more relaxed style of eating.

So, since I've recently become pescetarian, the way I grocery shop has become a bit different. Overall, I'm still primarily plant-based and like to rely on plant-based sources of protein; however, I'm now eating the occasional fish (once a day or less often, depending on my mood) and some sources of dairy, like Greek yogurt (if I'm feeling healthy) or a slice of pizza (if I'm not!).

Trader Joe's is my favorite place to grocery shop as a college student - and no, I wasn't sponsored to say that - because it's the most budget-friendly health foods store near BU's campus. It's a great place to buy staples like fish, frozen veggies and yogurt, which brings me to this week's blog post!

That's why today, I'm planning on highlighting some of my favorite items to buy at Trader Joe's (both specialty and non-specialty groceries) for both my wallet and my diet. Without further ado, here are some of my classic faves from good old TJs (as me and Ryan like to call it).


Okay, so one staple I've recently discovered on a vegan diet is tilapia. Seafood fiends often recommend this white fish to people who've either never tried fish before or don't like it (I was the latter before I became pescetarian) because it's very mild in taste and has a soft, melt-in-your-mouth texture. It's also a super versatile fish that's great for things like tacos - and at Trader Joe's, its prices are basically unbeatable, weighing in at around $6.00 for two large filets (for me personally, this comes out to about four servings). Now that's what I call a "catch"!  

Organic Fruit Wraps

Fruit Roll-up fans, this one's for you! Trader Joe's sells a much healthier version of my personal childhood fave for - wait for it - just 49 cents per wrap. The ingredients? Organic fruit purees and juice, with zero added sugar. And that's literally it! Not to mention, they taste amazing and come in a whole rainbow of different flavors, from mixed berries to apple and cherry. If I had to list a con, my only complaint would be that I could literally eat twelve of these at once if I wanted to.

Whole Grain Blend

One of my favorite things to buy from Trader Joe's for a quick meal is their frozen whole grain and vegetables blend. I don't know what spices they use in their recipe, but whatever it is smells and tastes amazing - plus, it's 100% dairy-free and great for your body! All you have to do is empty the bag into a large microwave-safe bowl and heat for about three minutes. Top it with a serving of tilapia, salmon or even grilled chicken, for all you meat-eaters out there, and a squeeze of lemon and you'll have yourself a cheap, speedy, healthy dinner that will fill you up for hours.

Pasta Arribiatta 

I'm not going to blindly pretend that Trader Joe's Pasta Arribiatta is the best thing in the world for me, but I will say that it's one of the most delicious things I've ever tasted before in my life. Before this pasta came into my life, I had never experienced the delectable delicacy that is spicy red sauce. Now that I know it exists, I simply can't go back to boring old marinara again. I dare you to try it for yourself and see if you can. (If so, lend me your secrets, because I've really got to stop eating so much of this frozen white pasta...)

Pumpkin Os

Trader Joe's pumpkin foods are a well-known seasonal spectacle for those who frequent the store. Though this may be an unpopular opinion, I happen to think that their Pumpkin Os cereal is by far the best pumpkin-themed product they offer - in fact, it's the one I count down to every year when fall comes around! For what it's worth, they're at least decently healthy, seeing as they're made with whole grain brown rice. However, what really counts when it comes to Pumpkin Os is the taste: diving into a crunchy bite of this tasty cereal just feels like biting into the sweet taste of fall to me!

Organic Produce

Okay, okay - this is pretty broad. However, it's hard to narrow down just one or two of my favorite fruits and vegetables when TJ's offers fantastic prices on just about everything! Trader Joe's produce is especially great to buy if you're someone who cares about buying organic whenever possible. As a college student who cares about buying organic, it's hard to find organic prices I can actually afford. I love that Trader Joe's makes buying (and eating, more importantly) organic fruits and veggies easy on my budget, so I can enjoy the healthy foods I love without worrying about the price.

Almond Milk

Trader Joe's shelf-stable almond milk is exactly the same taste and quality you would buy from name brands at the regular grocery store, if not better - plus, it's a huge staple in my diet! I like to buy the unsweetened variety to minimize the amount of sugar in my diet. I also typically like the vanilla kind, simply because I usually use almond milk purely in sweeter (rather than more savory) dishes, like my morning coffee or my breakfast cereal. 

Vegan Mozzarella

That's right: just because I'm pescetarian now doesn't mean I've completely reverted to my old ways! Since dairy still bothers my stomach, I'm trying to minimize the amount I'm consuming, even as a pescetarian. However, I'll let you in on a little secret: when it comes to the Trader Joe's Vegan Mozzarella Cheeze, I actually prefer the taste of the vegan version over traditional mozzarella! That's one major reason why I will always go back to this product. It's light, it's melty and it doesn't have that offensive over-nooched taste that so many vegan products seem to have. So, whether you're vegan or not, I cannot recommend this product highly enough! 

Almond Butter

At home, my mom always keeps a jar of Trader Joe's creamy almond butter in our fridge. As someone who doesn't eat meat and only just recently started eating fish, I like to rely on nut butters as a major source of protein, since they're one of the tastiest things you can possibly eat (in my oh-so-humble opinion, haha). While I love the taste of natural peanut butter, Trader Joe's peanut butter doesn't quite cut it in my opinion; it's a little more liquidy-slash-melty than what I'm normally used to...yet when it comes to their almond butter, OH. MY. GOSH. I could rave for hours about how much I live for their creamy natural almond butter! I'll eat it almost any way imaginable, whether that's spreading it on apples, spooning it on my morning oats or even baking it into some vegan blondies.


Quinoa is a superfood that's great for your health and perfect for subbing into recipes that call for white pasta or white rice. Unfortunately, quinoa's usully on the pricier side - we're looking at $8+ a bag, at least in the inner Boston area. Thankfully, Trader Joe's is the cheapest place I've found so far to buy quinoa. For just $6, you can get a fairly large bag of tri-color quinoa that lasts me several months at a time (though, admittedly, I don't eat quinoa all that often). So, cook up some Trader Joe's quinoa to top your next salad, use in a tasty take on stir fry or even top with fruit and cinnamon for a sweet breakfast dish! 

Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups

I don't get something sweet every time I go to Trader Joe's...haha, just kidding. I almost had you fooled, didn't I? But in all seriousness, Trader Joe's Dark Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are one of my favorite sweet treats for when I've got a craving for chocolate. The outer layer of dark chocolate is so rich it melts in your mouth, and the salty-sweetness of the creamy peanut butter center...mmm! It gets my mouth watering just writing about it...

Frosted Pumpkin Spice Cookies

Another one of TJ's seasonal delicacies, the frosted pumpkin spice cookies are one of my all-time favorite vices at Trader Joe's - or anywhere, for that matter. These are basically the frosted animal cookies we all knew and loved in our childhood, with a spicy fall twist. The sharpness of the cinnamon and nutmeg blends so well with the sweet, creamy frosting for a treat I literally can't resist. Go ahead, try not to eat the whole box in one sitting...I dare you!

Two-Buck Chuck

Technically, I don't actually buy this product, since I'm not 21 just yet. However, I wanted to point it out because it's a great item to purchase on a college budget if you are of legal drinking age! Wines can get pretty expensive, especially if you're someone who likes to enjoy a glass on a nightly basis to help you de-stress (and get those antioxidants in, at least when it comes to heart-healthy red wine!) - and believe it or not, Trader Joe's so-called "Two-Buck Chuck" wines actually get great reviews. For just $2 or $3, that's an entertaining expense you can definitely afford no matter how tight your budget.

What's your favorite pumpkin item at Trader Joe's right now? LMK @haleymarieblog or in the comments below!

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