When it comes to life with littles, packaged foods can be an element of survival. And keeping with that analogy, Trader Joe’s is like the MacGyver of snacks. To better navigate the super-tempting aisles of TJs and snag those foods that are as nutritious as they are easy (spoiler alert: Speculoos Cookie Butter does not meet this criteria) we chatted with Rachelle Mallik, MA, RD, LDN, Reproductive Nutrition Specialist and Founder of The Food Therapist, LLC, who knows a thing or two about nutrition for this season of life. She’s also mom to a hungry two year old, so trust us when we say she keeps it real. Besides the usual nutritious foods available at any grocery store (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, lean proteins, etc), here’s what goes in her cart on her regular TJ’s run:
Organic Whole Milk Yogurt (32oz)
I almost exclusively buy plain yogurt – you can always add things to sweeten like berries, applesauce or a touch of maple syrup or honey (for babies over one year!). My son loves the combo of plain yogurt and peanut butter or applesauce, and sometimes all three together! It’s my go-to when other dinner options are rejected. Plus this one is organic and has added vitamin D. (FYI: most milk is fortified with vitamin D, but most yogurt is not.)
These were a fave for baby led weaning – they’re an appropriately-sized finger food and little ones like the fun shape. Plus not needing to peel, core and chop hard butternut squash is a big time saver! Just steam or saute with some olive oil until softened and they’re ready to go. Butternut is packed with beta-carotene, which converts to vitamin A in the body and is important for babies as well as pregnant or breastfeeding moms.
Organic Hummus Dip
Sure, you can make your own hummus, but if you’re short on time and want to skip the dishes, go for pre-made. While TJs makes hummus and similar bean dips in a variety of flavors, I stick with the classic for my toddler. Interestingly, my son does not like dipping crackers in hummus but instead prefers to eat it by the spoonful. With chickpeas and tahini as the the first two ingredients, I’m ok with that.
Organic Valencia Peanut Butter
It can be hard to find peanut butters that are just ground peanuts, without added oils and sugar. Even products labeled “natural” still have these ingredients. But TJs makes an organic peanut butter that’s just peanuts, available in creamy or crunchy, depending on your kiddo’s preference. Considering the amount of peanut butter both my toddler and I both eat, I prefer organic.
Mixed Nut Butter
For those with peanut allergies or who want mix it up from the usual PB, TJ’s Mixed Nut Butter is a tasty and nutritious option. Made from almonds, cashews, walnuts, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans and sea salt, this nut butter has no added oils or sugar and is low in sodium. My son likes this one spread of whole grain waffles. Personally, I love that it has Brazil nuts for a boost of selenium.
A few months ago, my son discovered whole nuts and they’ve been a favorite snack ever since. I keep a close eye on him when he’s eating them and stick to pistachios and cashews since their texture is a bit softer than other nuts. (TBH I’m not sure which one my toddler wants since he asks for “pistashews”.) Nuts in general are a good price at Trader Joe’s compared to other grocery stores. I like buying the shelled pistachios, aka “nutmeats” at TJs, so I’m not shucking them one by one (a 2-year-old doesn’t quite have the dexterity for that).
Simply Seasoned Mahi Mahi Burgers
I keep frozen fish burgers on hand for super quick weeknight meals. TJs mahi mahi burgers taste more like chicken than fish to me, so they may be a good option for someone who doesn’t like fish because it tastes, well, fishy. Keep in mind, mahi mahi considered a “good choice” in terms of mercury content by a joint advisory from the EPA and FDA. Pregnant and breastfeeding women as well as children are advised to limit mahi mahi and other “good choice” fish to one serving a week.
Organic Brown Rice
My son loooves rice. Since brown rice takes a while to cook, and hungry toddlers rarely have patience beyond 60 seconds, I keep frozen cooked brown rice in my freezer for nights when I don’t have time to make my own on the stove. TJ’s version is just organic brown rice and cooks in three minutes.
Organic Wild Blueberries & Wild Boreal Blueberries
Blueberries may be my child’s favorite fruit, but in the winter they can be a bit expensive, so I hit up the freezer section for berries that are always ripe and affordable. I rarely bother thawing them fully since he enjoys biting into the icy cold berries (maybe they feel good on his gums since he’s still teething). While all blueberries are loaded with fiber and antioxidants, wild blueberries from growing regions in New England and eastern Canada boast significantly more of the antioxidant anthocyanin.
Inner Peas Snap Pea Crisps
Made primarily from green peas, with 3g fiber and 5g of plant-based protein per serving, these are a crunchy, savory snack that my toddler loves and I’m happy to give him. (I enjoy them too!). While they’re not the same thing as snacking on whole snap peas or other crudite veggies, they’re a satisfying savory snack with some nutritional value. I often keep a bag in our pantry or in the car for snack emergencies.
In addition to their snap peas crisps, Trader Joe’s has other shelf-stable, vegetable-based snacks that toddlers may enjoy, with more nutrients than than potato chips. TJ’s Crispy Crunchy Okra is a fun way to introduce this staple of Southern cuisine, and they contain a whopping 11 grams of fiber per 40 gram serving. There are also crispy broccoli and kale options. These aren’t quite as popular as the snap pea crisps with my little one, but he does enjoy them on occasion. Maybe try them on the picky, veggie-averse adults in your life!
When my son started solids, I had read about Bamba, a peanut-based snack from Israel. I was excited when they appeared on Trader Joe’s shelves soon after. (Not to mention a bag is less than a dollar!) Recent research has shown the importance of introducing peanuts early to reduce the risk of peanut allergies*, and bamba peanut snacks, which have the shape and consistency of cheese puffs, are a perfect food for baby-led weaning. Though we’ve expanded our snack options now that he has a lot more teeth, bamba are still a hit with my toddler.
There are so many other Trader Joe’s goodies – I’d love to hear about what you like buying for your toddlers!
* There are some situations where introducing peanuts early is not advised. Please speak with your child’s pediatrician if your child has a high risk for food allergies before introducing highly allergenic foods.
Rachelle Mallik is a registered dietitian and founder of The Food Therapist, LLC, a private practice specializing in reproductive nutrition counseling for fertility, prenatal, postpartum and breastfeeding. Rachelle provides individual nutrition counseling to clients, supporting behavior change and empowering women to make nourishing choices before, during, and after pregnancy. You can find her at rachellemallik.com or on Instagram/Facebook/Twitter @rachellemallik