Perusing the aisles of a grocery store has always meant more to me than simply stocking my kitchen with essentials for the week. It was never a basic experience for me (milk: check; eggs: check; yogurt: check; vegetables: check).
Rather, when you have a strong appreciation for ingredients, as I do, your grocery store trips become culinary adventures, if you will — explorations of your own potential to create more than the mundane; to increase the quality of your culinary output and to grow in your abilities to maintain a well-stocked fridge and pantry for nights when a hassle just won’t do.
And it all starts with a trip to the grocery store.
For me, this all began at the ripe age of 16, when my mother handed me her car keys and a Trader Joe’s grocery list. Still a “probationary” driver, I was being handed a task that I would not take for granted. After all, I was being left to my own devices in what I can only describe as the foodie’s equivalent to a fashionista’s Bloomingdales.
Yes, I’m serious.
And therein began my love affair with Trader Joe’s, where we started buying kale and quinoa years before it became trendy, where the pizza dough is always fresh and comes very close to homemade, where the organic produce won’t put you in foreclosure, and where the beloved non-dairy ice cream comes without corn syrup solids and artificial colorings. And where, best of all, as a kosher consumer, I never have to compromise on the quality of ingredients (grocery and beauty products!) that I bring home to my family.
Now, let’s get a few things straight, I am not suggesting that Trader Joe’s is a “health food” store. It carries processed foods just like every other store. But it actually does offer healthier versions of them. When I became a mother, I could rest easy knowing that the snacks I picked up for my kids didn’t contain red dye #40 or ingredients I can hardly pronounce. The ingredient lists, even for the “junk” foods, are short and succinct — something I think every new or seasoned mother can wholly appreciate.
A common misconception among my friends was that Trader Joe’s was “high-end,” and that with that came high prices. I had to defend my shopping trips to those friends, who are now avid converted TJ shoppers. The prices of nearly everything are usually lower than their mainstream counterparts, and the best part is, unlike at a traditional grocery store, Trader Joe’s prices never fluctuate. I am especially grateful for this. Being a full-time working mom (and part-time Instagram blogger! #shamelessplug), it allows me to budget better and avoid looking at flyers and circulars for sales. At this point, I know exactly what everything costs — I can even send my husband (who’s not an avid grocery shopper, to say the least), for a quick shop without worrying beforehand about what’s on sale and what’s not. Plus, coming home with a gorgeous bouquet (or two) of long-lasting flowers for under $20 is always a win in my book.
There is always a new product to try, friendly and accommodating customer service that rivals any grocery store (read: stickers and balloons for kids; no-fail return policy; “try before you buy”), which makes my shopping experiences more than just a weekly, mundane task. For me, Trader Joe’s has always been a confluence of convenience and quality, without the guilt or high prices. A quaint shopping experience with friendly faces in a world of warehouse big-box stores is something that all of us, from college students to busy working moms like me, can benefit from.
Elisheva Taitz is an HR manager by day; food blogger by night @thatswhatshemade. Find the mother of two on Instagram