By Guest Blogger Angela Smith

I’m what some would call a Trader Joe’s junkie. I probably go twice a week, buy the majority of our groceries there, and follow several Trader Joe’s blogs to read reviews on their items. I also frequent the Trader Joe’s website to look up recipes for how to use their items to make something really yummy.

During my weekly trips to Trader Joe’s, I look forward to seeing what they have on their sample table. I’m always willing to give it a try, regardless of how risky it might seem (FYI-I did not go back for seconds on the bacon jam).

In the three years Trader Joe’s has been in the Triad, I have found a number of favorite items for my family and those are always on my shopping list. When I see a new item that sounds like it might be good, I usually go ahead and buy it just to be sure I’m not missing out on the next great thing! Lucky for me, they have a great return policy. More than once, I have returned Items that we did not like and have been given a refund without a receipt or any questions (Dill Pickle Popcorn definitely went back). I’ve heard that employees will gladly (they are all so happy there) let you sample an itembefore purchasing it if you just ask.

Here are some of my family’s favorite Trader Joe items. I hope these will help you navigate your way through a successful shopping trip.

1. Mandarin Orange Chicken is one of TJ’s most popular items. We serve it with their Fried Rice and frozen Edamame (2 more of my favorites). This meal is just about as good as take out! We also love the frozen Organic Jasmine Rice which is ready in only three minutes!

2. Traditional Carnitas-You can find these in the refrigerated foods. We like to heat them on a skillet (directions call for microwave), shred them, and mix the meat with the Salsa Verde (which is something else on my list). The carnitas make yummy tacos or nachos.

3. Speaking of salsa, you can’t beat their Salsa Autentica for a Mexcian restaurant style salsa. Their Corn and Chile Tomato-less Salsa is a different spin on salsa because it obviously has no tomatoes in it. It is great on its own or in recipes.

4. I’m a huge fan of TJ’s Roasted Corn. This corn heats up quickly on the stove or in the microwave and has a slightly charred flavor. It is yummy on tacos or nachos and in recipes.

5. I recently discovered TJ’s Enchilada Sauce. The flavor is delicious and not too spicy.

6. Another one of my new favorites is Carolina Gold Barbeque Sauce. This stuff goes well on pork or chicken and has a bit of a mustardy flavor to it.

7. Frozen Mini Meatballs are also an excellent vehicle for the Carolina Gold sauce. These meatballs are so easy because you just heat them up on the stove or in the microwave. They are good on their own or in spaghetti.

8. Dark Chocolate Covered Almonds – I don’t love almonds or dark chocolate but there is just something about the combination of these flavors that I love. They should have a caution label on the container because they will become an immediate addiction!

9. Partially Popped Popcorn is one of the strangest items on my list. It is an entire bag of the yummy little partially popped kernels you find in the bottom of your popcorn bowl. I don’t know how they do this but it definitely works.

10. If you love ginger cookies, their Triple Ginger Snaps are amazing. They have a little bit of a bite that is perfectly balanced with the sweetness of the cookie. They are another best seller.

11. Another really yummy cookie is TJ’s Crispy Crunchy Chocolate Chip Cookies. These cookies are tiny and come in a tub. Because they are so small, it is easy to eat too many in one sitting!

12. A treat at our house is a weekend breakfast that includes Danish Pancakes. These really aren’t pancakes at all. Instead, they are heavenly little balls with the texture and taste of pancakes. We sprinkle them with powdered sugar and serve with syrup.

13. The Chocolate and Almond Croissants are to die for! They do require you to plan ahead because they have to rise for many hours before you bake them. They are “almost” as good as the ones I had in France. Look for the seasonal pumpkin flavor in the fall.

050316121214. TJ’s has an amazing selection of yummy soups. Two of my favorites are the Organic Creamy Tomato and the Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper.

15. If you like pistachios, you will love TJ’s Salt and Pepper Pistachios. They have a little heat but not too much. It is impossible to eat just one!

16. For a healthy alternative to cooking sprays, which can be full of chemicals, I love the Coconut Spray. It does add a little bit of a coconut flavor to foods (maybe don’t use it with eggs) but I actually like the mild taste with cookies and other sweet items.

17. TJ’s has a great selection of really good cereals. Some of our favorites are the Frosted Shredded Bite Size Wheats, Coconut Cranberry Granola, and Strawberry Yogurt O’s.

18. A relatively new offering that I had to add to this list is their Mini Churros. You just bake them for a few minutes then sprinkle the cinnamon and sugar packet all over. My kids love them!

19. Everyone loves the Speculoos Cookie Butter. This is not one of my favorites but I had to include it because I’m the only person I know who does not love this stuff. If you like it, I’ve heard the Speculoos Cookie Butter Cheesecake is also delicious.

20. We love the Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips as an alternative to regular corn tortilla chips. They have a nice crunch and a unique flavor that is great with salsa and other dips.

21. TJ’s frozen Mac ‘n Cheese is definitely a favorite with my kids. They use several different cheeses to make this ooey, gooey dish. It heats up in eight minutes so it is an easy side for a busy night.

22. Their Habanero Lime Wraps have a little heat and make a yummy sandwich wrap or taco.

23. TJ’s has a great selection of yummy salad dressing but one of my favorites is the Cilantro Salad Dressing. You have to love cilantro to like this one but if you do, it will be a favorite! You find it in the refrigerated section.

24. Their Pumpkin Bread Mix is a seasonal item that you start seeing on the shelves around September. I stock up on it because who doesn’t love pumpkin bread all year?

25. Speaking of seasonal items, I just discovered TJ’s Margarita Mixer. This stuff is really good and just in time for my summer cocktails!

26. TJ’s offers many non-food items that I love but our favorite is probably the Tea Tree Tingle Shampoo. This shampoo feels so good on your scalp and you will enjoy the smell while you shower. In my opinion, the quality is just as good as salon brands but the price is so much lower.

27. At last but definitely not least, TJ’s selection and price point for wine cannot be beat. Everyone has their own preferences so I won’t recommend one particular, but part of the fun is trying them! Luckily the often have a booth set up for wine samples (and they don’t make you feel guilty for going through more than once).

The only downside I’ve found to shopping at Trader Joe’s is the way they sometimes rotate or discontinue items. Several times I’ve had my heart broken when I went to get a particular item only to learn that they aren’t selling it anymore. My son and I are still grieving the loss of their Shrimp Corndogs (sounds weird, right). I’ve learned that you might want to stock up if you find an item you like because you never know if that might happen. What are your favorite Trader Joe items? We would love to hear from you!