The Trader Joe’s Groceries I Always Buy to Make Meals with 5 Ingredients (or Fewer!)

published Sep 14, 2022
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Trader Joe's canvas bag filled with groceries on countertop.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

Trader Joe’s is loved by many for its fresh ingredients, affordable prices, and novelty items. But as a mom of a 1- and 3-year-old, its convenience ranks highest on my list. Give this mama all the pre-marinated, pre-sliced, pre-cooked options! When dinnertime comes around (as it inevitably does day after day), my goal is to get a delicious meal on the table in less than 20 minutes.

With that goal in mind, I started @traderjoes5itemsorless, an Instagram account filled with recipes that use no more than five Trader Joe’s ingredients. While the original inspiration came from myself (and other tired parents), these recipes are also for college students, beginner cooks, and anyone else who’s looking for meals with maximum flavor and minimal effort (and ingredients). 

The shelves at TJ’s are stocked with items that not only make these meals possible, but also easy and, dare I say, fun. Here are the seven seasonings, frozen shortcuts, pre-cooked proteins, and more I’m constantly adding to my cart.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

1. Dorot Gardens Crushed Garlic, $2.49 for 2.8 ounces

These frozen garlic cubes are the ultimate garlic shortcut. They’re perfectly portioned so one cube equals one garlic clove and are just as good as the fresh stuff. Anytime a recipe calls for minced garlic, I just pop in a few of these bad boys and keep things moving.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

2. Garlic Spread-Dip, $2.99 for 8 ounces

Garlic again? Absolutely. This dip is delicious on its own with cut veggies or pita chips, but that’s just the tip of the carrot spear. Slather it on burger and hot dog buns, or toss it with hot pasta. A grilled cheese isn’t a grilled cheese without a smear of this, in my humble opinion. You can also mix it with mayonnaise to make garlic aioli and, if you haven’t heard, it’s the secret to fast garlic bread.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

3. Multipurpose Umami Seasoning Blend, $2.99 for 2.1 ounces

Move over, Everything But the Bagel Seasoning. Deeply savory with a hint of spice, this Umami Seasoning Blend can take almost any dish to the next level, adding a rich, savory flavor with the help of dried porcini mushrooms, black pepper, and thyme. I use it with chicken, eggs, roasted veggies, chicken soup, and ramen. I even add it to takeout meals if they needs that extra little something!

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

4. Organic Jasmine Rice, $4.29 for 30 ounces

I reach for these pouches whenever I need rice, as a ready-made side or base for burrito bowls, stir-fries, and more (see below). Ready in minutes in the microwave, they come out hot and fluffy every time — and with virtually no cleanup required.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

5. Just Chicken, $8.99 for 16 ounces

The epitome of convenience, I keep this pre-cooked chicken handy and use it almost every day and in many ways, both hot and cold. I throw it in sandwiches and salads for a quick lunch or combine it with one of TJ’s other frozen dishes like the penne arrabbiata (or the aforementioned rice!) for an easy dinner. Made with cooked chicken, olive oil, salt, and pepper, you can easily add flavor by adding your favorite seasonings or dressings.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

6. Shawarma Chicken Thighs, $6.49 per pound

This pre-marinated, pre-cut chicken is what dinner dreams are made of. Just take it out of the package, throw it in the air fryer or oven, and you have flavorful, juicy chicken to use in dozens of low-effort meals. Wrap it up in a pita with hummus, or skip the pita for a bowl. You can also chop it up to use in nachos, toss in a salad or wrap, or simply pair with rice (notice a pattern?) and your favorite veggie.

Credit: Anna Lisa A.

7. Soy Chorizo, $2.49 for 12 ounces

This vegan chorizo is so packed with flavor, you won’t miss its pork-based counterpart. It’s perfect for meatless Mondays, Taco Tuesdays, or any time, any day really. I use it for both breakfast and dinners in hashes, tacos, nachos, and more.

What are some of your Trader Joe’s staples for weeknight dinners? Let us know in the comments.