I Went Shopping at Trader Joe’s with My Mom — Here’s What I Learned

updated May 1, 2019
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Cassiohabib)

Up until a few years ago, talking to my mom about groceries and cooking would’ve been completely bizarre. She was comically clueless when it came to anything kitchen-related. But then, when my dad got sick and could no longer shoulder all the cooking responsibilities, my mom stepped in and surprised us all by becoming a curious, enthusiastic home cook.

Now, with her newfound love of cooking and her expanding skill set, it’s not strange to spend an hour talking about food on the phone with my mom. On one such recent chat, it struck me that this whole time we’d been missing out on an essential mother-daughter bonding experience: going grocery shopping together.

So we set out on an adventure to Trader Joe’s, her favorite store. I don’t shop there often (I’m a sucker for Whole Foods), but wanted to see what all the fuss was about. I followed my mom around on one of her trips, asking questions and taking notes, while she dropped her go-to TJ’s picks into the cart.

I quickly realized that my mom’s most common staples come from the frozen aisle, as she works full-time and needs to get dinner on the table quickly when she gets home. She also buys lots of easy snacks and meals that my dad can grab for himself when he’s home alone.

Here are the 10 items my mom always buys at Trader Joe’s.

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

1. Japanese Style Fried Rice, $3 for a 16-ounce bag

My mom had this frozen fried rice for the first time at her sister-in-law’s (with a fried egg and rolled-up salami!) last summer, and now she loves it. She’ll either microwave or heat the fully cooked rice in a skillet and top each portion with a fried egg, soy sauce, and Sriracha for an easy, filling meal.

Put an egg on it: How To Fry an Egg

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

2. Red Bell Peppers, $1 each

Mom says the red bell peppers at Trader Joe’s hover consistently around $1 each, so she always stocks up on them when she does a TJ’s run instead of getting them at other grocery stores, where they often cost more and look less fresh. She’ll add them to salads, stir-fries, and pasta dishes all week long.

Get a Recipe

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

3. Tarte d’Alsace, $4.50

Despite this item’s fancy French name, it’s known in my parents’ house as a “ham tart.” It’s not uncommon to hear my mom say, “Oh, I’m just warmin’ up a ham tart!” She serves it with a simple side salad, like the instructions on the box say to do. The one thing my mom laments is that they don’t sell wine at her TJ’s — she says a crisp, affordable Sauvignon Blanc would really seal the deal here.

Pair with this easy side salad: Simple Arugula Salad

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

4. Uncooked Wild Argentinian Red Shrimp, $10 for a 16-ounce bag

When my mom first dipped her toes into the wide world of cooking, she started with vegetarian recipes, as she thought it’d be easier to learn the basics before bringing seafood or meat into the equation.

But then she found these wild-caught (peeled and deveined) Argentinian shrimp, which she says are so easy to prepare. She tells me she now purposely seeks out new shrimp dishes because she feels confident with a bag or two of these in her freezer.

Get a Recipe

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

5. Shredded Parmesan Cheese, $5.50 for a 12-ounce bag

My mom buys four bags of this stuff at a time. Short of putting it on ice cream, she adds it to anything and everything (salads, roasted veggies, soups, pastas). According to her, “You can never have enough Parm. Everything is better with Parm!” Truer words have never been spoken.

Get a Recipe

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

6. English Cheddar Cheese with Caramelized Onions, $9

Mom says she likes this one because it’s not normally something you’d see on a cheese plate, and people always rave about it. “I don’t know how they get the onions in there, but it’s amazing,” she says. “It tastes so real, not artificial.” (Probably because there are real caramelized onions in there, Mom!)

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

7. Gnocchi alla Sorrentina, $3 for a 16-ounce bag

“I can’t believe a bag of weird little discs can make such a delicious meal,” Mom says, as she grabs this gnocchi from the frozen section. When I ask her to elaborate, she explains that when you first open the bag you’ll see little “disc-looking things” that don’t really resemble gnocchi. But once you heat them, you’re left with plump, flavorful gnocchi.

She serves her cooked gnocchi with plenty of Parm, of course.

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

8. Organic Spinach and Ricotta Pizza, $4.50 each

Of this particular TJ’s pizza, Mom says it “doesn’t taste like cardboard, like most frozen pizzas.” She thinks it has something to do with the perfectly tangy sourdough crust. To stretch it out, she’ll make a side salad while it’s heating in the oven.

Pair this with your pizza: Every Pizza Place Salad

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

9. Pork Gyoza Potstickers, $3 for a 16-ounce bag

A quick defrost and these potstickers make a perfect snack with some soy sauce for dipping. Or, sometimes, Mom says she will make them for dinner and pair them with roasted broccoli.

(Image credit: Lauren Kodiak)

10. Laceys Dark Chocolate Almond Cookies, $4

My mom always keeps these crunchy chocolate almond cookies on hand to serve at impromptu get-togethers and fancy dinner parties alike. “They taste really, really good with a glass of red wine,” she tells me. “I call this combo ‘getting my antioxidants.'”

What are your Trader Joe’s staples? Do you have any in common with my mom?