Ever since I learned to cook for myself in college, I’ve preferred eating nutritious, home-cooked meals. It was challenging to find the time at first, when I was still bumbling in the kitchen without a clue as to how to chop an onion or prepare raw meat — but with practice, I got good at meal prep and discovered that I really loved spending time in the kitchen preparing a new and interesting dish.
I was saving money, eating well, and having fun doing it — until I moved to New York City.
In this chaotic metropolis, I discovered that there just wasn’t enough time or space in my life to cook for myself as often. Groceries were more expensive here. My apartment was small. My roommate and I had to compete for kitchen space. And it’s not like the space was that nice — we had to use a marker to write the oven temperatures on the worn dial of our antiquated range. Not ideal.
On top of all of that, at the end of the day, I was drained. The last thing I wanted to do was spend an hour chopping vegetables.
I almost gave up. I figured I’d either have to spend money on restaurant meals with lots of whole grains and vegetables (always overpriced) or I’d have to eat less of those things. It was a catch-22: Spend more, feel exhausted, and eat better — or save money, salvage some free time, and subsist on pizza. Pizza was sounding better every day.
Then I found a Trader Joe’s. I’m not exaggerating when I say that literally everything changed when I learned how to shop in that store.
Their fruit is affordable. They sell grains in bulk. Almond milk, plain Greek yogurt, and guacamole are regular staples on their shelves. I can buy chicken sausage, fish, and grilled chicken that’s already cooked.
But other than those nutritious gems, the discovery that truly saved me from a year of dollar pizza was their freezer aisle.
In their freezer section, you’ll find greasy dumplings and premade mac and cheese, sure. But if you learn how to navigate that goldmine, you’ll never have to cook again. On top of affordable frozen meats and pre-cooked grains, they have vegetables galore.
Not just any frozen vegetables — frozen vegetables that have already been cooked. No more did I have to chop, season, and wait upwards of 40 minutes for a palatable meal.
I can come home and microwave my grilled eggplant and peppers without a second thought. Add some fish (also found in their freezer section), some kale, and a toasted roll of buttered ciabatta and I’ve got a gourmet, balanced, no-cook dinner.
Sometimes, when I have time, I still enjoy cooking something craftier, perhaps spending the time to roast my own vegetables or season some chicken. But for my busiest nights, my healthy, warm dinners are back. And I don’t even have to turn on my oven.
Thanks, Trader Joe’s. While you’re there, make sure you pick up some of these healthy Trader Joe’s finds, too. I pick up a few every week.