How to Eat Paleo at Trader Joe’s
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?
Tags: Paleo Diet