How to Eat Paleo at Trader Joe’s

By Hilary

In the same block as my CrossFit gym is a Trader Joe’s, and across the street is Henry’s Market, a local San Diego chain with a well-stocked vitamin and natural foods section, several aisles of bulk bins, and a fair selection of grass-fed meat and organic produce. These three businesses — CrossFit PB, Trader Joe’s, and Henry’s — form a little triangle of awesomeness. Each of them are so central to my happiness that if either of the three went out of business or moved I would not handle it well.

This past Saturday, after taking the kids to their swim lessons, I swung by Henry’s to get ingredients for the Paleo Turkey/Sweet Potato Casserole recommended to me by Liz. We had been invited to a friend’s house for pizza, and since I am in the midst of a month-long Paleo experiment, I had to bring something Paleo-approved or else sit there making everyone uncomfortable with my empty plate. (By the way, Liz was right. Everyone loved the casserole and ate as much of it as the pizza.)

As I was buying my groceries, one of the owners of the CrossFit gym appeared behind me and started stacking his grass-fed meat behind my ground turkey, yams, and coconut milk. We chatted for a few minutes about all the great stuff to be found at Henry’s, and he said, “As long as you don’t go to Trader Joe’s. I can’t stand that place.”

Well. I mean really. As a Southern California native, I have been going to Trader Joe’s since they sold only alcohol and cheese. Trader Joe’s — with its friendly-but-not-creepy employees, well-packaged and delicious prepared foods, and surprisingly well-priced staples — has been an essential part of my life for as long as I can remember.

And that got me thinking. Is Trader Joe’s anti-Paleo? Can you shop there and adhere to a clean, primal eating philosophy? It was then I realized — in the last week and half, most of my Paleo staples have come from Trader Joe’s. They have better prices on nuts and more trail mix options that don’t include chocolate or peanuts. My favorite is Simply the Best Trek Mix, which has cashews, almonds, pineapple, cranberries, and tart cherries. It’s $4.49 a pound — the same or cheaper as most of the prices on the bulk-bin trail mix at Henry’s. They carry Niman Ranch sliced black forest ham, a great deli meat with no nitrates. I couldn’t live without their bags of organic spring lettuce mix, only $1.99. While Henry’s often has wild-caught fish, the quality is variable. I always have a few of Trader Joe’s wild-caught salmon in the freezer — ready to defrost, add olive oil, salt, and pepper, and bake or pan-fry. They sell buffalo beef jerky, grass-fed ground beef, and have good prices on nice-quality olive oil. Their produce selection can be hit and miss, but since I get most of my vegetables from my CSA share, I don’t buy many vegetables in the grocery store.

I don’t know where I’d be without their almond butter with roasted flax seeds, or the amazing and well-priced fair trade, organic coffee. The non-Paleo lunatics in my family couldn’t survive without their whole-wheat bread, yogurt, and great prices on beer. What I love about Trader Joe’s is that the food is higher quality and better priced than it has to be. At this point, they have such a following that people would probably still flock there even if the prices rose and the quality dipped.

If you can manage not to get sucked into their amazing-smelling free samples (the other day they were cooking up mac and cheese — torture!) and avoid the well-stocked bread aisle and wall of chips, Trader Joe’s has some great products to keep the Paleo experience interesting and delicious.

So what do you think? Trader Joe’s, awesome or evil? What are your favorite healthy Trader Joe’s treats, Paleo or not?


24 Responses to “How to Eat Paleo at Trader Joe’s”

  1. Not so random guy that finds this awesome Says:


    TJ’s grass fed beef is too oily and the vaccuum sealed package scares me. Their fruits and veggies are a little too limited (this could also be cause Henry’s has stuff that is out of season and therefore grown in a labratory but lets not stress the little stuff).

    I don’t think TJ’s is evil and you can get all of your nutritious cave friendly snacks there. Unfortunatley, nobody at TJ’s is going out of their way to make the GF beef specifically for me or having the cashier open lanes for me when they see me at the end of a long line. Henry’s staff is just much more friendly and most importantly there is no vaccuum sealed packaged beef. Have I mentioned that Grass Fed beef and Henry’s are both a large part of my life?

  2. kristiina Says:

    I love Trader Joe’s! I’m in VA and we don’t have a Henry’s….but my husband and I have been doing the Primal Blueprint and I still shop at TJs! Our store happens to have great produce and I’m able to get stuff for the kids (since they haven’t gone primal).

    The prices are fantastic…my only complaint: inconsistency. I’ll find something great and get it for a few months and then suddenly it’s not there anymore..


  3. Amy Says:

    I have never been in a Trader Joe’s. This is a fact that makes me kinda sad.

  4. Kym Says:

    I am new to paleo-eating but I TJ’s has been a great place for me to shop. I can’t find cheaper organic bagged lettuces, spinach. Same with some raw nuts and the almond butter with flaxseeds. Frozen veggies were at a nice price. I prefer to buy local meats so shop elsewhere for that. I noticed some of the meats at my TJ were from Australia! I don’t think you can get it all at TJ’s (at least not at mine) but it is certainly a great place when you need to pick up a few of the staples.

  5. Hilary Says:

    Amy, it makes ME sad that you have never been to Trader Joe’s. Maybe a pilgrimage is in order?

    Kristina, there have been MANY times I’ve become attached to an item only to have it disappear. I always ask what happened — they can usually tell you if it’s a permanent disapperance or not.

    And, not-so-random-guy — I will need to do a TJs vs. Henry’s grass-fed meat comparison. But if you get to know the staff at TJ’s, they are pretty amazing, too.

  6. JMH Says:

    Since I live in a rual area, the closest TJ’s is more than an hour away. However, I am easily able to follow a Paelo type diet easily WITHOUT a TJ’s or a Henrys. I shop at my local grocery store (yes, I can get organic produce) and at the local Farmer’s Market. You can apply the diet principals anywhere, without any specific store, if you do a little research about what is available in your area

  7. Mary Mc Says:

    I am with you Hilary. I might have starved in college if it weren’t for Traders Joes cheese enchiladas and spinach lasagna. I will be moving in a few months and two requirements I have for our next home location will be close proximity to a TJ’s and a Crossfit Gym. The quality of TJ’s products has always been exceptional and if you find it not to be they have a return policy akin to Costco and Nordstroms. I don’t like the carbon footprint of the grass-fed beef from Australia, but we have lots of local and CA happy cows available at our farmers markets. TJ’s staples do inspire creativity in my new “paleoish” kitchen. I love to cook and entertain and Traders Joes can be a life saver. To my friend “not-so-random-guy” they don’t have Spicoli at Henry’s!!

  8. Aunt Karen Says:

    When I travel, I always take along TJ’s dried slab apricots and raw almonds. When spending August in the mountains, I also stock up on their frozen OJ, peanuts, frozen petite peas(Bruce’s favorite), maple syrup and Fat-free Balsamic Salad dressing. I’m like you, Hilary, and cannot imagine life without TJs. Have you tried the roasted red pepper-tomato soup (in a box)? Oops, it may not be allowed on your current diet.

  9. Southern Cooking Says:

    making me home sick reading this in New Orleans we have the same kind of open Markets sure miss them I tried drying my own stuff but i have a long way to go to get it right

  10. Jenn Says:

    That turkey/sweet potato casserole sounds interesting – can you post a link to it? Thanks!

  11. Hilary Says:


    Here’s the link to the casserole:




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