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The Top 11 Plant-Based Items at Trader Joe’s Nutritionists *Love*

By Aly Walansky
April 1, 2022
Image credit: Lindsey Engelken for Clean Plates

Trader Joe’s is among the most popular grocery chains, and one of the reasons it’s so beloved is that it offers a wide variety of innovative — and seriously tasty — products at affordable price points. Whether you’re embracing a plant-based lifestyle or you’re just trying to eat less meat and dairy, there’s never a reason to compromise on flavor and taste — especially with so many good choices out there. However, not all of TJ’s offerings are always the healthiest, so we spoke with a few nutritionists who helped us pick the very best vegan products at Trader Joe’s.

1. Vegan Kale, Cashew, & Basil Pesto

Pesto is popular because it can just do so much. Toss it in pasta, spread it on sandwiches, or use it as a marinade for proteins. But if you avoid cheese, it can be hard to come by a good premade pesto. However, this vegan pesto is delicious — and it’s seriously packed with vegetable power. “I love this one because it’s super yummy, and kale is the first ingredient,” says Katie Tomaschko, MS, RDN. “It has simple ingredients, and it’s packed with healthy fats, thanks to the inclusion of extra virgin olive oil.”

2. Dark Chocolate Sunflower Seed Butter Cups

It can be really hard to find fun chocolates that don’t contain dairy — even those labeled “dark chocolate” often have at least a little milk in them. And there are issues beyond dairy for vegans when it comes to sugary snacks, too. “For vegans who are concerned about vegan sugar, the sugar in this is organic, so you can be sure it contains no bone char,” says Sarah Skovran, RDN LD, a Maine-based registered dietitian nutritionist. So if you’ve been craving peanut butter cups, this is a great find. “One thing I especially like is that these use sunflower seed butter instead of peanut butter or nut butter. Not only is this great for people with allergies, it’s also convenient for kids who can’t bring peanut or nut products to school, or for parents of kids with allergies at Halloween,” says Skovran.

3. Zhoug Sauce

This sauce adds a whole lot of flavor to any meal if you need to amp up a vegan dish. But not only is Trader Joe’s Zhoug Sauce spicy, versatile, and delicious, it’s also quite healthy. “Think of it as a spicy chimichurri,” says Leah Johnston, RDN. “I like to bake some spiced tofu, throw that in a warm pita and top with dairy-free tzatziki, pickled red onions, and zhoug sauce.”

4. Riced Cauliflower Bowl

We’re always looking for quick and tasty meals that don’t require eating takeout or popping an unhealthy frozen meal into the microwave, and a cauliflower bowl is the perfect answer. “This pre-made microwavable vegan meal is rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, and iron — which is especially important for vegans since iron is usually most present in meat and animal products,” says Tomaschko. This meal is also low in calories, high in protein, and contains no added sugars, too. 

5. Organic Coconut & Avocado Oil Blend

This is a vegan take on ghee, and it’s so versatile. “My go-to vegan item at Trader Joes is the Organic Coconut & Avocado Oil Blend,” says Kelly Springer, MS, RD, CDN. This rich, creamy, plant-based blend works like a plant-based butter or dairy-free ghee for spreading, baking, and high-heat cooking. “Crafted with a blend of organic coconut and avocado oils, it’s naturally gluten-free, vegan, and keto. Swapping your daily butter use with this Organic Coconut & Avocado Oil Blend can do wonders for your digestion if you have issues processing lactose, soy, or gluten.”

6. Frozen Cauliflower Gnocchi

One of the best-loved vegan items are Trader Joe’s is the Frozen Cauliflower Gnocchi. If you are looking to lower your carb intake, the Cauliflower Gnocchi is a tasty and satisfying option. “Compared to potato gnocchi (which may contain as many as 50g of carbs per cup) the cauliflower gnocchi contain significantly less — just 22g of carbs per cup,” says Lauren O’Connor, RD, author of Healthy Cooking for One. This product can be steamed or air-fried if you want to keep your dish lower in fat, but with only 3g of fat per 1-cup serving, pan-frying with a little oil is still definitely a healthy option. Serve with a spicy marinara or the vegan kale pesto.

7. Vegan Caesar Dressing

Caesar salad dressing is a classic, but since cheese and anchovies are part of the traditional recipe, it’s hard to find a vegan variety that captures the same level of flavor and rich taste. But the vegan Caesar dressing at Trader Joe’s is a winner. “Just wow,” says Tamaschko. “You would not even believe this is vegan — it tastes so good! It’s also low in calories and has no added sugars.”

8. Cheese-Less “Cheesecakes”

Want cheesecake, but avoid cheese? This option is so good and tastes like the real deal. “Cheesecake is my favorite,” says Tomaschko. While a little high in calories and fat, this is a worthwhile occasional treat — and it’s very hard to tell it is vegan. “If you are worried about the calories, split it with a friend, or save the other half for another day… if you can,” says Tomaschko, who recommends adding some fresh berries for even more flavor and a little health boost.

9. Teeny Tiny Avocados 

These bags of avocados are much smaller than your typical avocado, measuring around just three inches tall. This smaller size is a plus — you’ll save on calories and potential wasted avocado halves, since they’re perfectly portion-sized. Just throw a whole one in your salad at lunch! “One tiny avocado contains around 160 calories — about half the amount of a regular one,” says Mackenzie Burgess, RDN, registered dietitian nutritionist and recipe developer at Cheerful Choices. “Avocados are also packed with fiber, which slows down our digestion and allows us to feel fuller longer.

10. Thai Vegetable Gyoza + Gyoza Sauce

This combination is great for an appetizer, snack or even as a really quick meal. It’s all the comfort-food flavor of takeout but in a better-for-you, vegan form. “The Gyoza Sauce is unmatched, and a little bit goes a long way,” says Johnston. Vegans and non-vegans love this combination — plus, it’s really easy to make. Either steam or pan fry the vegetable gyoza depending on your preference.

11. Trader Joe’s Vegan Kimchi

Kimchi is a spicy, savory cabbage dish that’s great as a side on its own or an ingredient in a wide variety of recipes, but it’s often hard to find vegan versions, thanks to the common ingredients like shrimp paste and fish sauce. This version is made with Korean chili flakes, onion, red pepper, salt, garlic, vinegar, radish and doesn’t contain fish sauce, making it vegan. “The first thing that comes to mind when talking about kimchi is its gut-healthy probiotic value,” says O’Connor. But what’s also great is that it is low in calories and nutrient dense. “The cabbage alone — its first ingredient — is a great source of vitamins K and C, and contains some calcium, folate, and magnesium, too,” says O’Connor.

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