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The Best Trader Joe’s Items for Easy, Healthy Summer Entertaining

July 18, 2023
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

Say what you will about the other seasons, but in our opinion, summer is the best time of the year. We love cookouts, picnics, pool parties, beach trips, lake adventures, river swimming… anything that involves being outside in the summer and enjoying time with friends and family. But sometimes the go-to appetizers we think of when entertaining — creamy dips, crispy wings, and cheesy fries — can feel pretty heavy and greasy in our stomachs. When we’re trying to enjoy ourselves on sticky-hot days, they’re the last thing we need.

However, we still need to nourish ourselves during the summer and we need to feed our guests… if we want them to come back, at any rate. We think that Trader Joe’s is the best spot for picking up easy, healthy products that taste fantastic. They have a wide range of options that make better-for-you foods that are still super fun and perfect for summer entertaining.

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1. Jicama Wraps

Jicama is an underrated vegetable, in our opinion, and actually has tons of delicious possibilities for entertaining. “They’re packed with water, fiber, and are super refreshing and mild. Sort of like a hybrid of cucumber, bibb lettuce, and watermelon, these jicama wraps make the perfect blank canvas for whatever appetizers, dips, or wraps you’re serving at any summer cookout,” says nutrition consultant Jaclyn London, MS, RD, CDN, author of Dressing on the Side (and Other Diet Myths Debunked). They could make a good swap for lettuce cups, tortillas, or wraps, and can also be added to burgers for a little extra crunch. London says she swaps them for cucumber in any passed hors d’oeuvres or platter, like egg salad or salmon salad bites. “I also love the TJ’s jicama sticks for any crudite platter or cheese board to add surprising crunch, an ultra mild sweetness, and refreshing flavor,” says London.

2. Trader Joe’s Vegan Nacho Dip

Any good party has a variety of dips to choose from, but that doesn’t have to mean we make them ourselves. “This dip is cashew-based and doesn’t contain added chemicals or fillers, unlike most other vegan cheese products on the market,” says Jenna Volpe, RDN, LD, CLT. This dip can go great with whole grain tortilla chips and crudites and can be served either fresh or heated as a queso. And what party isn’t better with queso?

Related: 9 Healthy Trader Joe’s Dips and Spreads Nutritionists Love

3. Organic Elote Corn Chip Dippers

If you’re not sure what to enjoy for a summertime snack, elote is basically always the right answer — and that’s true no matter what form it takes. “I’m a long-time fan of the ‘Everything But the Elote’ spice blend for grilled summer corn, but I also love these dippers as a pregame nosh to crunch on before guests arrive,” says London, who says the nutritional content is relatively standard for any type of chip (150 calories, 2 grams of protein, 1 gram of fiber). “What really stood out to me is that many types of competitors in the chip category are loaded with sodium, while Trader Joe’s made their version a heart-healthier, low sodium product at 115 milligrams per serving,” says London.

4. Pepita Salsa

Any type of salsa is great for dips, but London loves that this version adds pumpkin seeds to the mix without being overwhelmingly pumpkin-y. “The first ingredient in this product is tomatoes, which speaks to my go-to recommendation for anyone looking for pasta sauce, salsa, or marinades: look for the first ingredient to be a real, wholesome food, preferably a fruit or vegetable,” says London. “Tomatoes are packed with vitamin C, and pepitas provide key minerals like magnesium and zinc, which support overall immunity,” says London. Try this salsa with the elote corn dippers, use it on tacos or nachos, or swap it for salad dressing.

5. Fancy Cheese Crunchies

Crunchy cheesy snacks will always be a popular choice. “I love that these are made with ingredients like cheddar cheese and black truffle,” says London. “The real cheese in these crunchies adds two grams of protein, but the added truffle flavor makes these perfect as a snacking staple for any cheese board or a perfectly crunchy topping on salads or vegetable side dishes.” Try them mixed into air-popped popcorn for a surprising crunch and a little extra burst of flavor.

6. “Everything But the Bagel” Seasoned Smoked Salmon

Everyone is obsessed with this iconic spice blend, but adding it directly to smoked salmon is an absolutely brilliant move. “The beauty of an item like this is that it borrows the flavor of the foods you already love (everything bagel with cream cheese plus smoked salmon) and makes it versatile and adaptable to whatever you want to serve (a brunch toppings bar or summer salad platter),” says London.

If you’re trying to cut back on refined carbs, this gives you all the same flavors of lox on a bagel — minus the bagel. Is it the absolutely healthiest way to eat salmon? Nope, but it’s seriously fun food, and besides, you’re still getting plenty of nutrients, according to London.

“Yes, smoked salmon is typically going to be higher in sodium compared to other types of salmon prep, but since most of us (80% to 90%) Americans aren’t meeting our recommended servings of seafood each week, I’d say we’ve got to maximize every opportunity we’ve got!” says London. “The only difference between smoked salmon and grilled, roasted, baked, or broiled salmon is the preparation, you’re still getting the omega-3s, vitamin D, calcium, and potassium benefits from eating this delicious fish.”

Because the seasonings are all already packed in there, you can quickly grill up some vegetables to serve with them in no time.

7. Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips

Great dips require a perfect chip. “Trader Joe’s Quinoa and Black Bean Infused Tortilla Chips are whole grain and higher in protein compared to standard corn tortilla chips, but are just as tasty,” says Volpe.

8. Argentinian Red Shrimp with Ginger Garlic Butter

We can’t have too many lean protein options for the grill. Another seafood winner: ginger garlic butter shrimp, which Trader Joe’s has kindly deveined and peeled for you, making it that much easier to enjoy.

“As a source of protein (21 grams per pack), shrimp is a quick and easy option for any pescatarians in your crew,” London says. “But the real, whole-food ingredients and tasty herbs and spices in this marinade are what really stand out for me here.” Trust us: the marinade is so good.”

9. English Cheddar with Caramelized Onions

What is summer entertaining without cheese? “I love that this cheese includes that creaminess we love in an English cheddar, but also builds in that caramelized onion sweetness for a divine flavor combo — plus you get 6 grams of protein per serving,” London says.

The beauty of cheese like this? It helps to keep your grocery cost in check because you won’t have to separately buy an additional fig spread or wait for onions to caramelize before adding them to your charcuterie board.

10. Les Petites Carrots of Many Colors

Carrots are a popular vegetable for everything from guacamole to hummus and plenty of dips. But there’s so much more to this crunchy vegetable. “I know, I know. I’m a dietitian recommending carrots. I’m rolling my eyes at myself,” says London. But the truth is, this is a good pick for entertaining anyone who has ever found themselves buying more than one type of the same produce for different uses.

“I love that these are as delicious when dipped in pepita salsa or Mediterranean Hummus as they are when put on the grill or roasted in the oven and served with seafood, meat, or as a delicious side dish,” says London, who points out that carrots are packed with fiber and beta-carotene (upwards of 200% of the vitamin A you need in a day!). “The colorful mix is more than just nice to look at. It also provides a variety of phytonutrients you’re getting in an all-in-one package.”

Read next: 13 Trader Joe’s Dairy-Free Items That Actually Taste Good

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