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Jocelyn Hsu / Spoon
Life > Experiences

A Love Letter to Trader Joe’s: My Go-To’s as I Learn to Grocery Shop for Myself for the First Time

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at SPU chapter.

This year I’m living in an off campus apartment, which means for the first time in my life, my meals are not readily prepared for me by a dining hall and my pantry is not readily stocked by my parents. As I learn to grocery shop on my own and prepare all of my own meals, I have had one saving grace: Trader Joe’s. 

Trader Joe’s has irrevocably changed my life. I grew up in a rural town in Colorado, four hours from the nearest Trader Joe’s. In my first years of college in Seattle, I thoroughly acquainted myself with their incredibly delicious snack selection to power myself through long hours of studying or to stock my dorm room with little treats. However, my era of grocery shopping has taken my TJ’s appreciation to new heights. The prices are more reasonable than any other grocery store I have come across in Seattle (especially for produce), and they have so many easy, quick, little preparation options that make putting together two to three meals daily feel like a much less daunting task. If you are on your own grocery shopping/cooking for yourself journey and could use a little help, here are my tips, tricks, and go-to’s that have kept me fed and scurvy free thus far.

Cooking some chicken early in the week to use in your meals for the next couple of days will save you so much time and energy. It makes it so easy to just throw something together if you’re in a time crunch or are just too exhausted to put your full energy into an elaborate meal. For me, I am in love with the Trader Joe’s lemon, basil, arugula salad that you can find in a bag in the produce section. Not only does this salad make the perfect side for any meal on its own, but you can very easily turn it into a meal itself by combining it with some chicken and maybe some quinoa if you’re feeling really ambitious. 

Pasta has also been a staple in my meal prep. Keeping a couple packages of dried pasta in the pantry, and maybe a few packages of ravioli in the freezer (TJ’s has a really delicious truffle/ mushroom ravioli), makes for an easy meal in under 15 minutes. I love to have a jar of pesto and a jar of red sauce on hand so I have a little bit of variety in my pasta consumption (I personally love the vodka red sauce, but they have a variety of options). If you want more protein, I love to add chicken when I’m using pesto, and Trader Joe’s ready made meatballs that take approximately five minutes to cook when I’m using a red sauce. 

If you’re looking for an easy vegetable to serve on the side, I always like to go with either broccoli or brussel sprouts. Trader Joe’s has broccoli that is already trimmed to the florets and ready to go. If you just toss it with some olive oil, salt, and pepper (and maybe some parmesan cheese) and roast them in the oven at around 375 degrees for 15 or so minutes, you have a low effort, delicious accompaniment to almost any meal. I do the same exact prep method for my brussel sprouts, just trim and half them first and toss with some balsamic vinegar for some extra flavor. You can also do this with potatoes. Roasting almost anything, actually, with olive oil, salt, and pepper is a total game changer. 

The frozen section at Trader Joe’s has also proven invaluable. Some of the best, frozen, pre-prepared meals I’ve ever had in my life have come from the Trader Joe’s frozen section. Toaster waffles (boom, easy breakfast), fried rice (boom, easy lunch), three different, equally delicious varieties of gnocchi (my personal favorite is the cacio e pepe). All of these are only going to take between five and ten minutes to prep. They are all delicious and filling standalone, but can also serve as a supplement to another meal you might have going on. Add your favorite protein on the side of the gnocchi, fry an egg or two to enjoy with your waffles, enjoy your fried rice with some spring rolls. The opportunities are limitless.

My last tip is to buy ingredients that you can use across multiple meals, particularly when shopping for perishable items. Especially if you’re cooking for only yourself or maybe one other person, it can be easy to get carried away and end up with tons of food that you’re not going to be able to use before it goes bad. In my house that means chicken, avocado, eggs, bread, tomatoes, potatoes, and a few other items. It also means limiting our produce to only a couple varieties of fruits or vegetables at a time so we can use them up before buying something new. Of course this is going to look different for everyone, but think about the things that you use on a consistent basis and only buy items that differ from that basis if you have a concrete use for them.

Living on your own isn’t easy. Cooking, shopping, cleaning, and leaning into self sufficiency is definitely a learning process, and we all need help at some point or another. I found my comfort, my peace, my ally, and my saving grace in the aisles of Trader Joe’s, and have no doubt that you can find the same. Just keep persevering, and remember that adulthood is no match against the magic of TJ’s.

I am currently a junior at Seattle Pacific University pursuing a double major in Sociology and Social Justice. I grew up in rural Colorado, but have found my home here on the west coast. This is my third year as a member of Her Campus, and my first year taking on a leadership role within the SPU chapter. I have also devoted my time to SPU's independent, student run newspaper creating social media content.