The Best Items to Buy from Trader Joe’s for Really Fast, Low-Lift Lunches, According to Nutritionists
Published on April 15, 2022
By Aly Walansky
We’ve all been there: It’s a busy day packed with errands, so we grab a quick sandwich from a local takeout spot. We know it’s not the healthiest choice — and worse still, it’s not even delicious. (If we’re going to eat something that isn’t great for us, we always want to actually enjoy it.) But a takeout sandwich is fast and convenient, and that’s all that we’re thinking about when we’re busy. Usually, we end up regretting it — those sandwiches often leaves us feeling either stuffed and bloated, or just not satisfied.
One great option is stocking up on quick, easy, healthy meal options from Trader Joe’s. Whether a salad, soup, or kit that we can throw together in minutes, these meals require little-to-no effort, are seriously affordable, and packed with flavor. And they’re great nutritional choices, too.
Those create-a-salad joints may sound like a good bet for lunch, but they often have long lines — and besides, they’re so pricey. But buying a salad kit filled with all the ingredients you want anyway is just as good, takes nearly as little effort, and costs way less. “For a complete salad kit, try the Mediterranean Style kit which includes a good mix of different lettuces with broccoli stalks, celery, some crunchy flatbread strips, feta cheese, and chickpeas,” says Kathryn Bonilla Strickland, RDN. This is a good choice because this salad packs plenty of vegetables and plant-based protein. If you eat meat, you can up the protein content even further by topping with leftover chicken from last night’s dinner or a can of tuna.
This kit is a nice balance of lettuce, sunflower seeds, carrots, fried onion, and a tangy, vegan dressing. “Beans can be added to this kit to make it a more complete lunch or to add extra protein as a side salad,” says Strickland. The fried onions may not be the healthiest option but they do give it a nice crunch and since they comes in a separate bag, you can always opt to not use the whole package.
Pasta salad usually gives us images of a mayo-laden room temperature dish served at a cookout or BBQ. But there’s a whole other way to enjoy pasta salads that we find far more delicious and satisfying. “Made from orzo, feta cheese, onion, spinach, sun dried tomatoes, and a blend of spices, this is a great all-around staple that doesn’t require any preparation,” says Jenna Stangland, MS RD, co-Founder of A4 Health and Team Dietitian for the Minnesota Timberwolves.
The Harvest Apple Salt Kit has a seasonal feel, but it’s still plenty available in the spring and summer. This salad kit contains a good mix of lettuce, cheese, apple chips, and nuts. “Precooked chicken or fish, can be added to make it a more substantial meal or it can be used as a side salad with another easy to prepare lunch,” says Strickland. Consider the smoked trout available at TJ’s — it’s a favorite.
Eating a healthy, fast lunch on the go doesn’t mean being left hungry or disappointed. A really filling and satisfying meal is possible, and this combination seriously works. “Ready-to-eat in just a few minutes with only a microwave needed, this protein-packed, low-sodium, low-fat combination can pair perfectly with another carbohydrate if you so choose,” says Stangland.
Pasta doesn’t have to leave you feeling weighed down or bloated. In fact, it can be a really healthy and delicious option, especially when paired with lots of green vegetables. “Top this delicious pasta with an extra dose of fiber-rich greens, and you won’t even notice that it was prepared in a microwave,” says Stangland.
If there’s a microwave available, this frozen option is a great blend of different lentils that’s high in protein, fiber, and iron, says Strickland, who calls this dish a “great vegan option for a quick meal that takes little time to heat up.” It can be mixed with the multigrain blend or some frozen brown rice from Trader Joe’s for an added option of a grain, which provides beneficial B-vitamins.
If you’re working from home and can spare a few minutes to prep your lunch, the Trader Joe’s sauté kits are a great fit. “The Brussel Sprouts Sauté Kit can be ready in five minutes, and it’s a good way to get vegetables in for lunch,” says Strickland. Use prepared steamed lentils (also available in the vegetable section at TJ’s), or add precooked chicken or fish, such as seasoned smoked baked salmon, for added protein and a more filling lunch.
“The Tikka Vegetables is an Indian dish with a lower sodium content, 340mg, in half the container — which is 2/3 cup and can be added to frozen brown rice for a more substantial lunch meal,” says Strickland. This quick lunch provides whole grains from the rice and delicious, seasoned vegetables from the Tikka Vegetables.
Peanut Udon Noodle Salad kit + Organic 3-grain Tempeh
Noodle bowls are always so tempting, but not always the healthiest choice. Fortunately, there’s a healthier version. “This is the easiest way to get in a beautiful rainbow of vegetables, whole grain noodles, and almost 20g of protein — with no meat in sight,” says Stangland. This tempeh item consists of brown rice, barley, millet, and soybeans, and it’s quite a value, too: It offers multiple servings per package for under two dollars total.
Lentils deserve a lot of love due to how filling and nutritious they happen to be, all while being satisfying and delicious. “Every time I visit Trader Joe’s, I pick up their Ancient Grains Lentil Soup as a quick lunch option,” says Cassidy Reeser, a vegetarian RD at Cozy Peach Kitchen. Not only does it taste great, but it is also a good source of plant-based protein, and it’s made with simple ingredients. “It’s an easy way to include fiber in your diet because one container provides over half the daily recommended fiber for women.”
There’s nothing like a hearty chicken soup, but a lot of the pints we pick up at the local diner can be loaded with sodium and other ingredients we’d rather not be eating. There’s a good option waiting at Trader Joe’s, however, and it’s also likely to be a few bucks cheaper than the restaurant version you’re buying. “This soup can make for a nice, quick lunch, as a one-cup serving is low in fat with 2.5mg, higher in protein at 13mg, has a decent amount of potassium at 400mg, and 610mg of sodium — which is a moderate amount in soup, but better than many,” says Strickland. Just portion out one cup of soup and serve it along with vegetables like carrots and a piece of fruit, such as an apple, and with a whole wheat roll for a filling, easy lunch.
Soup is a good answer even if chicken isn’t on your menu. For a quick, healthy plant-based option, opt for the organic hearty minestrone soup. “One cup (which is a serving) is packed with vegetables and beans with a total of only 2mg of fat, 630mg sodium, and 6% iron content,” says Strickland. Add a vegetable side like a cucumber salad, a piece of fruit like an orange, and a piece of bread for dipping for a quick, filling meal.