What Not to Buy at Trader Joe’s: Top Things to Avoid

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Who doesn’t love Trader Joe’s? There are some things that I can only get there. Important things like Middle Eastern Style Kebabs, cauliflower rice, or my kids’ favorite– Crispy Crunchy Okra. I’m also a big fan of the cheese selection. My only real complaint about Trader Joe’s is that they never have their sparkling water in the refrigerated section! Why?! Of course, you do have to be careful at Trader Joe’s, too. There are plenty of things you shouldn’t buy. Regarding what not to buy at Trader Joe’s these are the things that I have learned to look out for.

Now, there are people out there who will tell you don’t buy this because there are too many calories, or don’t buy that because it’s 20 cents more than if you drive 3 miles in the other direction to get it somewhere else… Here’s the thing, Trader Joe’s is not my supermarket. I go there for extras. And as for nutrition values, as long as there’s transparency on the labeling, I’m not going to tell you what not to buy. You do you! What I’m mostly concerned about at Trader Joe’s is freshness. Now, basically, everything there gets shipped in so you’re not expecting freshly baked loaves of bread, but in my experience, there are some products with expiration dates that give me cause for concern. In general, here are some examples of what not to buy at Trader Joe’s based on freshness and value.

Frozen Skillet Meals

I love to cook. I spend a lot of time at the stovetop. Sometimes just watching Lawson cook, because it’s one of his favorite things to do. When it comes to frozen meals, Admittedly, I prefer the oven or microwave to the skillet. However, sometimes a skillet meal is just the right thing for the family. Trader Joe’s skillet meals typically won’t feed the whole family, but that isn’t my concern. It’s the poor instructions and disappointing outcomes that I usually get when making these. Generally, these require you to melt down some kind of frozen sauce, and for me, it just never seems to turn out right or have all that much flavor.

Basic Condiments

Trader Joe’s is a good place to go for some less common flavors but when it comes to basics like ranch dressing or mayo, they just aren’t quite right. If you need to restock the condiments in your fridge Trader Joe’s is probably not the right place. Dips and spreads are a different matter, though.

Shredded or Sliced Cheese

I love my Trader Joe’s cheese selection. I always find good stuff there. I like to try new things once in a while but I also have my faves. The prices of the cheese are so good, too! I don’t go to the store without picking up some and it doesn’t even matter if we already have cheese… which we always do. On the other hand, I would not spring for shredded or sliced cheeses. They are of a much lower value. I get my shredded cheese wherever they are having the best deal. That’s often Safeway, not Trader Joe’s.

Meat and Seafood

This is sort of a commonly known thing, so I’m throwing it in here, just so that it’s not “not mentioned” The meat and seafood are generally overpriced and I have personally run into some expiration date issues. If you’re looking to cut down on grocery spending, save the meat and seafood purchases for another trip to a larger store like Kroger or Safeway. If you just want to get something while you are there, it probably won’t kill your budget, but make sure you check the freshness and make sure you have plans for immediate consumption.

Proceed with Caution:

Other areas where expiration has been a known issue for me personally are bread and prepared foods like cut fruit and sushi. It doesn’t happen often, but I have bought expired food there before. More commonly, I have seen items with a sell-by date that is too close for comfort since I usually plan meals more than a few days out. Now, fruit doesn’t have a long lifespan, to begin with, but the high price of convenience and the low shelf life makes it a good example of what not to buy at Trader Joes. Having said that, I wouldn’t say to never buy the sushi. Just because it’s delivered and not made in-house doesn’t mean it isn’t fine. What I would say is to just use your best judgment and don’t assume it’s at optimal freshness when you buy it.