January 15, 2013

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CHEWSDAY Vol. 1: Trader Joe's, The Poor Man's Whole Foods

Being A Haute Mess is not just a sartorial pursuit, but a lifestyle, and with that lifestyle in mind I thought I'd introduce a new food and drink column, called "Chewsday." Get it? It's about food. And it's going to be posted on Tuesdays (not every Tuesday, but only on Tuesdays) because if you look at the giant header that titles this site... I like a good play on words. 

I've also enlisted some help, since my affinity for takeout and cheap wine may not always address your interests. You know her from tales of Black Friday bravery and sexual politics, but now she brings her expertise in "binging on brunch, lunch and everything in-between, studying up on the latest fad diet trends, following them for three days and then eating a piece of pizza the size of my head," to Chewsday. Without further adieu, here's Marlisse Silver-Sweeney with Chewsday Volume 1:

Navigating Trader Joe’s – The Poor Man’s Whole Foods

Those of you who don’t know Joe, or Giotti as he’s called on all his Italian packaging, have been missing out in the world of low-priced, conveniently-packed/cut/chopped groceries south of the border (for Vancouverites) or South of Morningside Heights (for the Columbians). It’s the Forever 21 of the food world, back when we were actually 21, or the accessory aisle for us today.

However, unlike its organic-touting competitor Whole Foods, there are some prepackaged disasters waiting in the aisles and freezers, ready to clog both your arteries and your desk drawers at work (the green curry and bamboo individual microwaveable soup containers were my paper weights for much of my legal career. The sodium levels alone held down my legal briefs).

The Trader Joe’s at 72nd Street and Broadway is where the entire west side of the city shops, usually on Sunday afternoon when I choose to go. And thanks to NYC liquor laws, they don’t even have the regular wine section to indulge in halfway between the produce and the frozen goods. You have to go at it sober. My wiser and less-alcoholic roommate, Niki, suggested that we go Monday night instead, save ourselves the claustrophobia, social anxiety and liquor calories. The cashiers confirmed that the best time to shop Joe is early in the morning or just before closing.

The following products will fill your fridge with (undercase) whole foods without spending your whole pay cheque (or, well, um, student loan cheque). Except for the chocolate covered cherries, the crack cocaine of candy, but there are some habits you just can’t beat.

Prepared Lunches:

The wrap, sandwich and salad section of Trader Joe’s is where the professional and economic girl’s waistline comes to die over lunch. Convenient? Yes. Cheap? Yes. Caloric? Yes. And the salads are the worst culprit. Most of them give the calorie count in ½ a serving, so the 255 calories you think your chicken Caesar is worth is really a whopping 510. For salad. Why bother?

The best contender in the aisle is the Super Spinach Salad (with quinoa, carrots, cranberries, chickpeas, edamame, pumpkin seeds and carrot ginger dressing). It’s 400 calories for the whole thing, extremely satisfying with, as the name suggests, plenty of super foods to keep you full for the rest of your work-day. It’s also vegetarian and gluten free, for those of you that are following that diet for the next three days.


There are more dip options than dippy men in New York (read: plenty). For plunging your baby carrots, my favourites are the Cilantro and Jalapeno Hummus and the Reduced Guilt Spinach and Kale Greek Yogurt Dip (though it’s only reduced guilt when it remains on your baby carrots and not shoveled high speed into your mouth on pita chips – whoops).


Besides French’s and its upscale Maille cousins, guilt-free condiments can be hard to find or unflavourful. The following picks from my main man, Joe, will spice up your meat and veggies without making you have to run that extra mile.

Peach Salsa

Smoky and delicious, this salsa is great over fish (especially halibut) or chicken or tossed in a salad and is perfect to have around the house for last-minute entertaining (asshole friends).

Flower Pepper

Regardless of whether you prefer to be given roses or eat them, this pepper adds a nice touch when ground over salads and entrees and at $1.99 you can afford not to like it. There’s also a lovely lemon pepper grinder, but the lemon is potent so it’s not good for every day/dish use. Unless you really like lemon. A lot.

Pre-Packaged Foods:

Don’t do it. Foods are meant to be prepared more than unwrapping a vacuum packed seal and putting it in a micro-wave for seven minutes. Unless it’s 4am and you’re drunk. And the calorie and sodium count in the freezer section would equal more shoes than are currently in my and Niki’s closets combined. (That’s a lot).

However, there are some great produce packs that are almost as easy to prepare. The Asparagus, mushroom and onion sauté is a particular favourite (throw in a few eggs or egg whites and you have the perfect omelette without lifting one finger to chop) and the Asian Vegetable Stir Fry mix was a first time purchase, but I’m certain its mix of broccoli, peppers, baby corn, snow peas and bamboo shoots, when tossed with soy sauce and garlic in a pan, will be delicious, nutritious and fun to eat.

Best Slip-Up:

There are two different kinds of dried cherry chocolates at Trader Joe’s and it’s the ones with the unnatural red food dye (as opposed to the natural dark chocolate) that will make you eat the entire package in a night of self-loathing and self-fulfillment. It’s worth the half-marathon you’ll have to run the next day, trust me.

[Editor's Note: Also don't buy the fresh tomato, pesto, and mozzarella flatbread pizza and eat it at 10:30 at night. It will cause you one mean stomach ache and make your bowels as stiff as Tommy Lee Jones' frown at Sunday's Golden Globes.]

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  1. This post came at the perfect time! I live in Vancouver and I LOVE Trader Joe's! I am going to Seattle for work tomorrow and am planning to stop by Trade Joe's in Bellingham to stock up on my way home Thursday. I get so giddy when I know I'm going there, I always find something new. I am totally gonna grab that Spinach and Kale dip and the Peach Salsa!

    Thanks for the tips! Great blog. I am a new follower :)

    Robyn xo

  2. Haha - poor man's Whole Foods :) Love it! I love Trader Joe's but it's totally true :)

    Great post!




  3. I live in Ottawa, and unfortunately we don't have a Trade Joe's or Whole Foods here. We suck. But I do love their products, I actually buy 75% of my groceries from the Organic isles at Lowblaws! XO


  4. Niki please do a fashion review of the Golden Globes - I've read ALL ur posts on this blog & my all-time favorite post of ur's was when u gave ur HILARIOUS critique of awards show fashion.

    EVEN IF u didn't see the award show, PRETTY PLEASE use google to view the outfits & provide us with ur critique. It'll be hilarious & drive even more.traffic to ur site too...

    1. pandering to my ego eh? it works. ask and you shall receive my friend!