Food

The $2 Meal That Changed My Budget

The $2 Meal That Changed My Budget

I’ve learned that the one of easiest ways to stick to a budget is managing how often I go out to eat. Say I bought five lunches during the work week, at an average of $10 a piece: by the end of the year I would have spent $2,500 on mediocre deli sandwiches. For the same price, I could have purchased items I would have truly appreciated, like 11 roundtrip flights to visit my family, 215 movie tickets or 2,131 king-size (!) Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Luckily, I discovered a solution…

The $2 Meal That Changed My Budget

Behold, the glory of Trader Joe’s zero-prep, no-hassle Southwestern Chopped Salad. The $2.99 kit contains cabbage, romaine, carrots, radishes, crumbled cotija cheese, pumpkin seeds, tortilla strips, green onion, a bit of cilantro and a zesty avocado dressing. When I add a scoop of black beans or some avocado, it’s enough for two meals — at less than $2 each. (There’s also a tangy Broccoli & Kale version that tastes delicious in flour tortillas or with leftover rotisserie chicken.)

Is the salad kit exciting and beautiful? Not exactly. Delicious and a conversation starter? I promise you. Walking through the store with this little guy in my basket sparks more conversations and compliments from fellow fans than I ever imagined. Once prepared (mixed in a bowl and sprinkled with flaky salt), even officemates lean over their $14 chicken sandwiches to say, “Wow, where’d you get that?” Anyway, I thought I’d give you a heads up!

The $2 Meal That Changed My Budget

What are your go-to easy meals? Any budget-friendly tips? Or other Trader Joe’s items I’m missing out on? ;)

P.S. Trader Joe’s meal hacks, and what food geniuses eat for lunch.

(Top photo of Elvis in 1958. Bottom photos by Stella Blackmon.)

  1. Min says...

    These tips are amazing! Now I need to attack my addiction to picking up a latte! Does anyone have tips for making excellent quality lattes at home/work?

  2. We don’t have Costco her in the UK – or at least not where I live. We do have bagged shop bought salads though! This is a great idea and an easy way to make a lunch interesting and healthy.

  3. Angie says...

    I know that other commenters have backed this up, but the Costco bagged salads have completely changed my work lunches. They’re very inexpensive, extremely tasty, and pretty much guarantee that I don’t go out and buy lunch. I often have leftover meatballs, or chicken, or grains from last night’s dinner to load it up with too. At any given moment there are at least 4 bags of the salads in our work fridge.

  4. Holly says...

    Hi! I’m a longtime reader who rarely comments but just wanted to let you know that this post was so helpful! I tried buying the southwestern salad kit soon after this article but my Trader Joe’s said it was a seasonal item and out of stock. To my delight, it was in stock this week and I agree that this is such a great desk lunch (with the added avocado, of course :)! I am guilty of spending $12+ on unsatisfying salads on a regular basis which makes me so glad you shared this tip with us! Thank you, Stella, for this great post and thank you, Jo, for consistently useful, relatable, and all around great content!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Thank you so much for your kind comment, Holly! Means so much. Stella xoxoxo

  5. Shem says...

    Stella,
    Just wanted to let you know that we tried this salad based on your review. Unexpectedly, my 2 yo son absolutely loves it! — possibly more than I do. It is the cutest thing when he asks me if I want to eat “sawad” with him. It’s so adorable. Thanks for the recommendation!

  6. Makia says...

    My go-to lunch is Trader Joe’s Cruciferous Crunch Collection with their Goddess dressing. I let the dressing break down the veggies overnight and add avocado and rotisserie chicken the next day, I sometimes add a little hot sauce also. I’ve been eating this lunch for years and it’s so delish!

  7. Christine says...

    I have been struggling to find this in stores, despite my desperate attempt to do so after reading this article, and was recently told by a TJ’s employee that it is seasonal. ~crying emoji~

    • Leanne says...

      I had the same problem – if there’s one near you, Harris Teeter has similar salads! I’ve been snagging a bunch every week to throw in my lunch or accompany dinner. Happy Dance!!!

  8. Wish we had something like this here in Scotland, the land that Salad forgot :(

  9. Summer says...

    This post and all the comments seriously made my day! AND you saved me money – I was about to run out for Poke, read this, and thought, “Eh, I’ll just make my soup and tuna.” Now I have more room for dinner. :) Thanks!

  10. Sally says...

    My easiest and almost tastiest dinner is this:
    Half a jar of watered down tomatoey/garlicy pasta sauce.
    A can of tuna.
    Rice.

    Cook the rice, heat the tuna in the pasta sauce, stir in a good sized dollop of pesto, and dump the lot over the rice. It turns into this soupy, almost-risotto-like concoction that literally takes 10 minutes. It’s one of my late-home-from-work dinner staples!

  11. Rita says...

    Love love love all the ideas! My coworkers call me the “health nut” because of the yummy things I bring for lunch but they also tell me they’re jealous because it looks so good! Now if I could just get those things made the night before so I’m not late to work anymore …… !

  12. Katey says...

    TJs soyrizo sautéed with a little olive oil, chopped onions (I freeze the chopped onions from the produce section), & a big handful of the frozen yellow/red/green peppers. Toss that on some brown rice and mashed sweet potato.

    If you re-heat it with a wet paper towel over it, the rice tastes almost as yummy as it was fresh!

  13. LOVE everything at Trader Joe’s .

    Cruciferous Crunch salad with chicken, goat cheese, nuts and dried cranberries
    Ricotta cheese with no additives that make the texture gummy. Most store bought ricotta is gross!
    Riced Cauliflower and Broccoli (made into fried rice here http://www.irishboutique.com/blog/2017/6/7/cauliflower-fried-rice)
    Sparkling Vino Verde

    I could go on and on.

  14. Of course our Trader Joe’s is on the other side of town from me, but I’d be willing to make the drive for an inexpensive lunch! It looks incredible. But I’d probably need to add some chicken to it as well. Thank you for the suggestion! Where I live, there is one place I can think of where you can find $5 lunches but they are definitely not the healthiest. Everywhere else will cost about $10, like you said. So I am super thrilled to find this suggestion. I’ve been trying to think of something cost-efficient I could do for lunch everyday without the prep hassle, still healthy, and packing the protein for a workout. This sounds like just the ticket. ??

  15. Susan says...

    Bought this yesterday for the first time coincidentally. I had this for dinner and plan on consuming the other half for lunch. Chewing on something is so much more satisfying than drinking a smoothie or having soup, etc.
    Happy crunching.

    Taylor Farms makes great salad mixes as well.

  16. Kim says...

    Kroger has at least 10 different versions of these bagged salads as well, and they have also changed my lunch game. I will also buy the pre-cut organic chicken slices ($ but worth it for the cooking-averse) to up the protein even more. Breaks down to less than $4/lunch and it’s super healthy.

  17. aws says...

    We have a Whole Foods literally next to my office. The hot bar is like kryptonite for my wallet.

    My office pals and I have started having an informal competition for budget-friendly lunches from WF. My coworker got a can of black beans ($1), a hard boiled egg and some grated cheese from the salad bar (about $0.75), and a splash of hot sauce (free from condiments section). It was very good when all heated in the office microwave. My current fave is ready-made egg salad (about $3.50), crackers ($2.50 for the pack), and an apple (about $1). The egg salad is enough for 2 lunches so I think my lunch costs under $4, since the crackers are such a big pack.

  18. Holly says...

    Great post! When the weather gets warm I like to make a big batch of tuna macaroni salad (pasta, tuna, bag of shredded carrots, bag of frozen peas, mayo, relish) and rely on that for a quick lunch all week. It’s cold, filling, and a total 80s throwback :)

    • Sally says...

      80s throwback? Try the 50s. My mom made a version of this when I was growing up and I’ve made it since at least the early 70s. I was just thinking that this summer’s inaugural batch will probably appear this weekend since we’re due to have highs in the 90s.

    • Lisa says...

      This was always a regular dish while I was growing up. When I moved out on my own and was broke, I’d buy a pound of macaroni, jar of miracle whip, some radishes, eggs, an onion
      And 2 cans of tuna and some frozen peas. Throw it all together and my boyfriend and I could eat on it for a week. Back in 1980 this cost $10 for 2 people for an entire week

  19. Sara says...

    This is the content I crave! :)

  20. We try to pack our lunch to work every single day and to me, that’s probably the most budget-friendly (not to mention nutritious) thing we could do to our bodies :)

  21. Stella, this is a really good reminder that it’s so easy to waste cash on unnecessary things… especially when you consider how much you could save over the course of a year. I stopped drinking wine for 10 weeks and we saved a small fortune lol. And isn’t Trader Joe’s just the best?!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      You are so right, Belle!! xx

  22. Amy says...

    This is hilarious! Started a new job with no lunch options whatsoever- have been seriously patting myself on the back for bringing these baggies in everyday!

  23. Maelle says...

    I was so exhausted last night and hadn’t prepared my lunch for today that i just sliced half a cucumber and about 4/5 cherry tomatoes; i added feta cheese, salt, pepper and fresh basil, et voilà ! It was super simple and yet turned out surprisingly delicious – i’m hooked now and doing it again for tomorrow!
    It’s a light lunch; i wouldn’t eat that during winter season but it’s absolutely perfect for summer!

  24. Jasmine says...

    I’m always bummed that Trader Joe’s doesn’t open earlier on mornings when I realize there’s nothing in the fridge for me… On weeks when I’m well prepared, I love making this salad and it holds for at least 4 days in the fridge. Great over quinoa or mixed greens too.

    http://www.marthastewart.com/340683/greek-salad-with-chickpeas

  25. My roommate loves this stuff. She makes five tupperwares full of it at the beginning of the week and puts a paper towel in the container to soak up moisture.

  26. Julie says...

    I thought I was the only one excited about this salad! I am thankful for it on a daily basis, and very glad it’s so popular…hopefully not going away anytime soon. Will definitely be adding beans!

  27. Shannon says...

    Ha! I’m on my third bag this week! LOVE THIS STUFF! I often add a protein – a hard boiled egg, sausage or chicken to the salad as well.

  28. Abby atkins says...

    I am truly the most boring person in the lunch room and am teased relentlessly for my lack of creativity, but I just sit silently and smugly as I know how much money I save by my budget friendly lunches. I buy a bag of spinach that lasts the week, grab either a five pack of adeles chicken sausages or two cans of tuna (yes – I’m that office mate who dares to open a can of tuna within the vicinity of peers), and a side. I don’t use any dressing but I’ll heat up the sausage and eat it directly with dry spinach and you may be surprised at how tasty it actually is because the juices from sausage get soaked into the spinach. Sometimes I’ll make a tuna salad with stolen mayo and relish packets from a deli. And then I’ll chop some cucumbers or strawberries or just a handful of pistachios on the side. I eat this everyday. And I haven’t calculated how much I’ve saved since the days of going out for lunch but I do know my lunch costs an average of $2-3 a day.

  29. Elizabeth says...

    I rediscovered tuna melts. During my 20s that’s what I lived on. While lamenting the weight I’ve put on since then, it dawned on me one day that I now consume a much bigger meal at dinner than a tuna melt. And one night, when my husband was at a loss as to what to cook (he does the cooking in our house), I said, “Tuna melts coming right up!” They were such a hit with him — you’d think I’d suddenly graduated from the Cordon Bleu! I use a good whole wheat bread, mix a dollup of mayo and good mustard, sprinkle dried basil with tuna (fresh dill if we have it), top with a tomato if in season, slap on a piece of cheese and stick it under the broiler ’til the cheese is bubbling. Delish!

    It’s making me hungry right now!

    • Jess says...

      My dad says that he lived on tuna melts in med school, and now I am in med school….and living on tuna melts. :) > cue lion king circle of life music <

    • Meghan says...

      I sometimes add a crisp finely chopped apple into the mix- sounds weird, but it adds a delightful crunch and sweetness! I also live on Tuna Melts, if you’d have told me when I was a kid, I’d be like… hard pass.,

  30. Katie says...

    Lately when I’ve been in a rush I’ll grab those premade bean salads from TJ’s or the Co-op across the street. They’re like $4 for one serving. But the ingredients are clearly listed and very simple, so the next week I go to the store, buy those 8 ingredients, and throw together a big bowl of the same salad, and it lasts me a week!

  31. Jane says...

    THANK YOU for this post! I’m always interested in trying new things from Trader Joe’s, so I just added this salad kit to my shopping list.

    Recently, I made these Quinoa Stuffed Peppers (http://whatsgabycooking.com/quinoa-stuffed-peppers/), but added 1lb ground turkey, which doubled the recipe. I stuffed some of it into peppers and have been eating the rest of the filling plopped on top of mixed greens with a dash of hot sauce. I haven’t calculated the price per serving, but my bet is that it’s pretty cheap!

  32. shannon says...

    Stella, it looks like you are making admirable progress on your financial goals that you mentioned in the post awhile back about tax season. Would love to see more budget-conscious posts and ideas! Keep up the good work!!

  33. Sarah says...

    Your website is forever making me wish we had Trader Joe’s here in Canada! The majority of salad kits in my local stores look wilted and sad. The few good ones are always 6-8 bucks! You’ve got a good thing goin’, American friends. ;)

    • Emily says...

      Me too! Also wishing Targets expansion to Canada was successful!

      I often get those brocolli/carrot slaws in a bag and just add dressing but it’s more of a side than a meal.

    • Meghan says...

      Trader Joe’s and Target… (RIP)

    • Lindsay Yuasa says...

      So true, I regularly lament the lack of TJs and Target! Costco has a salad mix that is almost the same as this. It’s so good!

  34. Seriously, you are speaking my language with this post! My husband and I loved this salad mix, that we considered a blog called “Bagged Salad B**ches” to review different premade salad mixes.

    As a vegetarian, I am ashamed that I didn’t think to add black beans. You just took this to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL!

    xoxo

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      This is making me laugh so much, Sandra. I would definitely be a reader!

      Stella xxo

    • Heidi says...

      Oh my gosh, you need to start this blog! Or at least an Instagram account!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      haha i would definitely read this too!

    • Please make this blog/instagram account a reality! fellow bag salad b**ch here!

    • Lisa says...

      Let me know when you start it up! Would love to read that daily!

  35. Oh my gosh that looks soooo good! I wish I lived near a Trader Joe’s still, maybe I should move back to Pittsburgh just for this. XD

  36. Margarita says...

    I live in Germany, so unfortunately no TJ here :( BUT, my hack is getting a small tub of hummus from the grocery store next door and a few carrots. It´s really good and satisfying and I can eat on my desk :)

  37. Jenny says...

    Fried egg in a corn tortilla with hot sauce.

    • Sarah says...

      Yum!!

  38. So very well written. We found that saving a few dollars here and there while out and about made a big difference. Well done.

  39. Rebekah says...

    Trader Joe’s Japanese Style Fried Rice with a fried egg on top! I can make three meals from one bag of the fried rice and three eggs. The rice is about $3-4, so that’s a pretty cheap meal.

    • aws says...

      What is in the rice??? I haven’t been to TJ’s in a while because life has been hectic, and it out of my usual path. I love their premade foods though!

  40. Julia says...

    A few favorites at TJs: the frozen garlic naan (I love making little naan pizzas with this!), the corn salsa, and the chocolate covered almonds with turbinado sugar (dangerously good)!

    I’ve been making a much more concerted effort to bring my lunches in. This Monday I brought in a few everything bagels along with pickles, sliced cheddar, avocado, and mustard for bagel sandwiches throughout the week. Nice and filling to get me through the long day!

  41. I’m all about eggs – fried, scrambled, hard/soft-boiled or omelette-style – with veggies and avocado…plus a bite or so of good, hard, preferably raw cheese.

    I buy the best eggs available (pasture-raised, local), which run around $7-ish a carton in my world. May seem pricey for eggs, but quality makes all the difference…and given their protein and nutrient-density, it’s still a total deal. (Plus, I love the taste!)

  42. Courtney says...

    These comments are all so great! I’m a high school teacher so I always bring my lunch (mediocre canteen food, ick) and I never have more than 20 minutes to scarf it down so pre-prepped or picnic-y lunches are a major win.

    I swear by the app Wanderlist for all my listing needs, and I’ve got a folder of lists of ideas for each meal/snack. Then when I’m stuck for inspiration, I can just look at the list on my phone and I’m back to great lunches.

    My lunch list just got much, much longer and more inspiring thanks to these comments. :)

  43. Stephanie says...

    Love all this love for TJs! Have you all seen this website? http://www.whatsgoodattraderjoes.com/
    This guy reviews every product at TJs – beware: it’s super addictive!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, how cool! thanks, stephanie!

  44. Yes!!! This salad is SO good! It’s incredible with carnitas. I make mine in the crockpot and eat it all week. This carnitas recipe is my go-to: http://pin.it/X_PDxiD

    Now I know what I’m buying on my way home from work in the morning!

  45. Emily says...

    I love these salad packs! I usually dress up the broccoli kale mix with some quick chopped red onion and a portion of 15-minute lemon-dijon salmon – a total slam dunk for a first year teacher otherwise living mostly on Clif bars.

    The only problem is that when I am at the market, I usually have to reach over the locally grown kale to grab this bag filled with vegetables from 1,000 miles away and like 4 separate plastic sachets of add ons. The sad price of convenience :(

  46. Danielle says...

    I’m a little surprised by some of the negative comments- this isn’t worth the money or there are better options. The truth is there are million ways to eat lunch. I used to stress out so much about making everything from scratch- I could make 4 salads for the cost this bag, I could make a gallon of dressing for the cost of this bottle, etc. Maybe those things are true but at some point I just gave myself permission to take shortcuts. Turns out a bag of precut broccoli means we actually eat broccoli. Grabbing a Trader Joes salad bag keeps us from a sad overpriced sandwich. In the long run our meals are better for it. It’s striking a balance between your wallet and your sanity and your hard earned free time. That balance looks different to everyone.

    • Thanks for voicing this sentiment, Danielle! I often get caught up in the mind game of thinking I need to do things the *best* way, that often stresses me to the point of not doing it at all.

    • Well said! Seriously, I know I could buy pineapple/butternut squash and cut it myself, but why do that when it seriously is like another .50 cents and it saves my sanity (and probably my fingers…my knife skills need work).

      #KeepCalmandBuyBaggedSalad

    • Sara says...

      Danielle, you’ve hit the nail on the head. If buying a premixed bag of chopped salad gets me to have fresh veg at lunchtime, I’m going to do it.

    • Ali says...

      Yes! On the whole I hate buying pre-packaged foods but to be honest, on a busy week, the pre-cut tray of vegetables or the bag of salad keeps me healthier than the take out I would end up buying otherwise. We can be too hard on ourselves sometimes.

    • Jamie says...

      YES sometimes the semi-convenient way to do something is much better than not doing it at all!!

    • Jamie says...

      Danielle this is such a good comment I came back to read it again. lol

    • Elly says...

      “Turns out a bag of precut broccoli means we actually eat broccoli.”

      YES!

    • Meg says...

      Thank you Danielle! I have discovered that if I buy all the ingredients for some complicated fancy lunch, there’s about a 50/50 chance I’ll actually take the time to put it together while I’m running out the door in the morning. On the other hand, if I have something quick and ready to go, I’ll always pack it in lieu of eating out. Convenience is huge.

    • aws says...

      For us, the other option is takeout or delivery. So basically we could have $8 worth of premade TJ’s stuff that we throw together at home in 10 minutes… or $35 worth of takeout or delivery. That’s a huge difference for our overall budget.

  47. june2 says...

    I’ve always just made dinner with an eye towards bringing leftovers for lunch the next day – the flavors are always so welcome compared to a bought lunch. Plopped atop salad, I’ll eat it with dressing or bring a wrap (usually a couple sheets of nori!) to roll it all up in. I always add a treat, either a baggie of homemade trail mix (huge jar pre-made in the pantry), or some kind of treaty bar like tray-bake like fancy homemade granola bars topped with chocolate or the like that I make in advance specifically so I am not tempted to buy something.
    Something else I am trying this year along this theme is putting money I would have spent on lunch and the inevitable daily special treat in a piggy bank (jar) where I can see it and seeing how much I did not spend on food I did not need to buy! I actually am doing this will all my random purchases in an effort to get a tangible idea of just how much money I spend senselessly. I tally at the end of each month and keep a record for the year. It’s been eye-opening. After reading that most Europeans have like, 50K average in their savings vs most Americans who have, like 5K average, I realized I’ve got to get smarter about saving money.

    • june2 says...

      Actually, I’d love to see an article on what women here have on average in savings..

    • Jenny says...

      June2 – The attention you’re paying to your spending and the intention behind redirecting spending to savings makes my financial planner heart happy! I’m just as guilty of mindless spending, but also a firm believer that if you measure it you can manage it. It’s also worth saying that in all things (even financial things) there exists a balance. I recently began using a budgeting solution called You Need a Budget (aka YNAB). The idea behind it is that every dollar has a job and those jobs are assigned based on your goals and priorities. Ultimately, I think it’s an approach that has just enough flexibility to deal with life’s curveballs while maintaining the accountability needed to work toward goals. It’s not a silver bullet one-size-fits-all solution, but I think it could really help a lot of folks start moving in positive direction. I’d also love to see more conversations on CoJ about money – budgeting, saving for retirement, all of it.

    • Melanie Felix says...

      Could you please share your trail mix and granola bars recipes?!

  48. Haylie says...

    I’m in this really stressful time at work, so please don’t think I’m weird when I tell you this made me cry. It’s so hard to figure out what to do for lunches when I’m this harried. You never let me down, Cup of Jo.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      oh, haylie, sending you the biggest hug! hang in there. we’ve all been there. it must be so exhausting to have so much on your shoulders, but you’ll get through it, you’re doing a great job, and there are good times ahead. xoxoxoxo

    • sending you a big hug from Johannesburg today, Haylie. I have had those overwhelmed times too (matter of fact, it’s probably a week or two out for me – year-end coming up :))

  49. Liz says...

    You can get other cheaper versions of this anywhere. Its literally broccoli bits and scraps of frozen vegetables that customers didn’t want to buy. BROCCOLI stalks sheds of baby carrot.
    Save further money with skin on chicken thighs. ROAST IN OVEN, ADD A CUP OF COLE SLAW, ADD WATER OR BROTH TO CHICKEN. The extra skin makes broth especially for marinated chicken. It is a perfect lo carb lunch that has less prep then a cup of noodles. If you are on Keto you can even eat the skin. It probably could be vegan broth too. With a bit of salt or msg.

  50. Madie says...

    Currently eating TJ’s curried chicken salad (in the fridge section, and WAYYYY better than their plain “white meat” chicken salad). It tastes great on everything – bread, crackers, pita… I actually prefer it on tortillas! One container is enough for 2 lunches.

  51. Jenn says...

    Literally eating this salad right now! Added avocado and leftover steak. NOMZ

  52. Catherine says...

    Eating the shredded kale one with added avocado and goat cheese while I read this! Love it.

  53. This is awesome! Lunch is so challenging for me. I work from home and very often skip it all together! It feels like so much of my day is spent figuring out what to eat and actually eating, that it gets tiresome – especially around dinnertime. Having some go-to’s always helps, like yogurt and shakes, but I haven’t really found a go-to for lunch. I’m really interested in trying this! My energy has been so low lately and I have been skipping exercise, that I’ve decided to seek out some help from a nutritionist. I’m hoping she’ll get me back on track and give me some great, easy, ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner – like this one. Anyone else out there feel similar about meal planning? I never ends! Haha.

    http://www.shessobright.com

    • Colleen says...

      I really struggle with lunch too….no great wisdoms to offer unfortunately. I chop up one romaine heart and add whatever is floating around the fridge, bring some pita and dressing. I try to add some fruit in the salad for a different dimension. Always SO grateful when there is a work lunch to save me from myself.

      Maybe Joanna and team can help Us? Wink, wink, nudge, nudge.

    • Amy says...

      Meal planning can be hard, but I find that if I keep a couple of staples on hand I can keep from getting hangry. I love pre-washed spinach or salad kits. You can put spinach in anything: eggs, a sandwich, pasta, stir fry. I always keep lunch meat, cheese and tortillas in the fridge. It only takes five minutes to whip up a quesadilla. (Warm it up enough to melt the cheese in either the microwave or on the stove.) Big batch cooking also helps. On Sundays, I boil 4-5 eggs. They are easy, convenient snacks. Maybe I’ll make a big pot of soup to reheat by the bowl throughout the week. In summer, it’s I love to keep a big batch of egg salad or tuna salad in the fridge to eat on toast.

  54. em says...

    trader joe’s lazy meals are the best! i love getting new ideas. our favorites:

    breakfast
    -they sell a bag of peeled eggs. cut the egg in half & top with their whole grain Dijon mustard. quick protein fix without having to boil & peel eggs

    lunch
    -bowl of cottage cheese + can of chili (+ chicken sausages if we make at home)

    dinner
    -butternut squash ravioli w/ a bag of their frozen mushroom medley
    or Japanese rice frozen bag (weirdly addictive)

    dessert
    -frozen mango mochi dessert (mango flavored ice cream wrapped in mango flavored mochi)

  55. One of my favorite Trader Joe lunch hacks is their Tomato & Roasted Red Pepper Soup, some arugula and feta. YUM!

  56. Stephanie says...

    My coworkers make fun of my snack drawer but I dip into it daily and am always glad not to be dropping another $4 on a muffin from the lobby coffee stand. Snack drawer staples: clif bars, sweet & sour cashews, at least one can of soup, instant oatmeal packets, and usually a bag of M&Ms. Daily, I try to make a sandwich at home and grab an apple, a banana, chips, and a yogurt. I also generally keep hardboiled eggs in the office fridge.

  57. liz says...

    My favorite thing about this is seeing that “what to do about lunch” is such a universal thing. My latest super lazy go to meal is ramen with a TON of pre grated ginger tossed in. Every time I think about making it I think this is so wrong but it’s so warm and quick and satisfying.

    • Karinny says...

      Just make regular pasta or soba with a drizzle of sesame oil and soy sauce! Same ginger and green onions and you are good to go!

  58. this looks yummy! I usually bring a peanut butter and banana sandwich on wheat bread. I cut it into threes thinking I might snack on one third at 11am but usually end up eating the whole thing then ;-)

  59. Mimi says...

    I love Trader Joe’s and always appreciate these articles for the great TJ’s hacks – thanks fellow readers!

    I always try to bring my lunch and usually will make a big batch of dressing for the week and bring in fresh ingredients to stow in my office fridge (a big bag of kale/arugula, nuts/chickpeas, another veg). Lately I’ve been really into a PB dressing (I use this with a bit more water: http://pinchofyum.com/detox-rainbow-roll-ups-peanut-sauce). A couple other favorites here (http://camillestyles.com/food-and-drink/from-camilles-kitchen/kale-persimmon-pomegranate-salad/?slide=1) and here (http://pinchofyum.com/green-goddess-detox-salad).

    • Mallory says...

      Thank you for sharing!

  60. This is also my go-to lunch. I like to use half and beef it up with extra shredded carrots (also at TJ’s). Sometimes I buy the frozen chicken breasts and put a few in the crock pot with salsa verde or hot sauce and use that to top the salad. Also! They now have ranch flavored crispy chick peas and they make an amazing addition.

  61. Meghan says...

    I wish we had Trader Joe’s in Canada :(

  62. I kind of wish I made lunch more, but when I eat a lunch I make I almost always end up eating it at my desk. Whereas when I go out and buy lunch, I tend to eat it there, or in a nearby park. It’s a much-needed break in the middle of my day.

  63. Halle says...

    I love this idea for lazy day (or should I say night – if I don’t pack lunch at night, it ain’t happening) lunches. Also, I’m bookmarking this because of all the genius TJ recipe hacks in the comments. thx!

  64. Joanna says...

    Perfect timing for this post!! Thank you!!

    • Beverly Ann Towry says...

      No Trader Joe’s in Huntsville, AL? Great business opportunity for someone….

  65. Teej says...

    I am lucky that I have a company fridge where I can stash (a fair amount of) food. So I will bring a tub of hummus, tub of goat cheese, wraps, sun-dried tomatoes, tub of cherry tomatoes, package of english muffins, laughing cow cheese, tub of guac, some hard-boiled eggs, jar of olives, bag of mandarins or apples or container of strawberries…and just leave it all at work. I keep some crackers and some peanut butter and some pistachios on my desk. Then I can just make a little snacky lunch every day that suits my fancy! One day it will be a hummus wrap with goat cheese and sundried tomatoes with fruit and nuts on the side…or the next day, I will have a toasted english muffin with laughing cow cheese and a hard-boiled egg. Etc. Etc. When I start getting tired of the monotony of it, I will introduce just one new element (oooh – almonds! Or artichoke hearts! Or cream cheese instead of laughing cow cheese..) and it feels fresh again for a while. I haven’t priced it out per say, but I like to think it is cheaper and healthier than eating out. Now if I could just convince my husband to do the same…

    • Ver says...

      This sounds so delicious!

    • Jennifer O. says...

      That’s a great idea! I eat that way at home so I should bring stuff to work. I’ve got hummus, pita chips, and beef jerky but can expand.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      yes that’s such a great idea, teej — seems so obvious to keep yummy picnic-y foods in the office fridge but i’d never thought of it!

    • liz says...

      would you come and “cook” these lunches for us in our office :) sounds so delish!

    • Kathryn says...

      I love this! You make it sound so good! I am truly spoiled – I have a mini fridge IN MY OFFICE. I need to follow your lead. Pronto.

    • This is SUCH a good idea, thanks for sharing. I also am sometimes in the mood to go buy groceries at lunch instead of going out and buying food. I’ll keep this list handy for the next time I don’t bring lunch and don’t feel like buying an overpriced meal.

    • sadly (and this is a sore point for me!), if you leave anything in our work fridge, it gets stolen. Drives me nuts! So I carry in a ginormous bag of food daily with everything from fruits and veg, to bread, sandwich fillings and even yoghurts!

    • Sam says...

      This is brilliant. Thank you for reminding me of this obvious possibility.

    • CadyT says...

      Reply to Marcia (organisingqueen)
      We had the same situation of lunches getting stolen, and food taken at my last job. One of our crew brought in a small tool box with a lock on it! Problem solved. Unless someone took the whole box, but luckily that never happened.

  66. JMB says...

    hella. lazy. I started doing this a few months ago, with the bagged salads. I feel better when I don’t want to MAKEEEE lunch. Even if there’s no real protein in it, it’s better for me to eat some lettuce than to eat lunch at a restaurant or (BARF) our on-site cafe. I feel better too! WORK treat- I buy one of those giant almond danishes $3.69 (size of a cake, next to the muffins) and I cut it up and wrap it in paper. It feels luxurious to have a nice treat and tea in the afternoon. You can put jam on it, if you’re really feeling yourself that day.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahaha

  67. Karen says...

    My husband works for trader joe’s but, being budget-conscious, he still brings mostly homemade lunches every single day :) But one of the pre-made favorites is their tamales in the fresh section (not frozen) sometimes found by the hummus and guacamole. They are 6 to a bag so he can get 2 breakfasts or lunches out of them (he eats big meals) and they just need to go in the microwave for 2 minutes. Add an egg or beans or salsa or guac. They are actually really good in my opinion and come in pork, chicken or vegetarian.

  68. Carrie says...

    This post has made my belly growl! Anything with with words “southwest” or “cotija” and I am SO sold!

  69. Gen says...

    I absolutely love Trader Joe’s, working across the street from one so I’m there all the time and they do have great to-go lunches as well. I’m also all for budgeting meal expenses and being healthy. However, I’m kind of sick of posts like this that claim a salad can be 100% lunch. I don’t want a burger and fries, but I need more than that bagged salad and beans to get me through the work day!!! Not to mention it looks bland. I’d like to see some recipes that are budget-friendly and healthy, but also tasty and filling. Also Cup of Jo, I’d love to see some diversity in your recipes in general if you’re going to post about food.

    • Heidi says...

      I ate this salad for lunch today, and I swear to you, it’s not bland! The dressing is zingy and the flavors in the salad are different than other bagged salads. I added chicken, ate half of the bag with an apple as “dessert” (ugh, trying to be healthy) and I’m satisfied. I know everyone is different though. Just sharing my experience.

    • Gen says...

      Thank you Heidi! I will give this a try. And maybe add a lot of protein like nuts or an egg.

    • Sam says...

      I’m with you, Gen. I always need more protein than others seem to need. And eggs are kind of out because I have them every single morning for breakfast.

      I’ve had good luck with high-quality lunch meat. I think it’s underrated! I just buy a half a pound of the kind my deli roasts in-house and freshly slices for me. I keep it on hand and add it to what meals or snacks need more protein. It’s quick and easy! Another option that’s worked for me–not as quick as lunch meat, but a little tastier–is getting a rotisserie chicken at the beginning of the week, taking all of the meat off of it, and keeping the pulled meat on hand to add to salads, snacks, dinners, etc. It’s even good cold! :)

    • Summer says...

      Totally going to use that tip about deli meat and chicken, Sam!

  70. Cynthia says...

    I’m a public high school teacher, so if I don’t pack a lunch, I have to eat school cafeteria food. Even when I worked in the business world, I always brought a lunch from home. It saves a bundle, and since my husband is a super cook, we rarely eat out, because we don’t want to pay for mediocre food. We always have cheese and deli meat, so if there aren’t any leftovers, I can always make a sandwich.

  71. MA says...

    I have a love/hate relationship with Sunday prep for weekday lunch options. Hate doing the actual work on Sunday when I feel like the rest of the world is drinking a glass of rose with their feet up. But really love having all the components of easy, healthy lunches the rest of the week.

    • Jamie says...

      Haha “drinking a glass of rose with their feet up.” At 8pm every Sunday night I am usually still trying to finish up my vacuuming!

    • I like to drink a glass of rose while I do meal prep ;) So much more pleasant.

    • Kristen says...

      I’m a strange one who doesn’t mind meal prep on Sunday – a glass of wine and a favorite show on my ipad and I just get in the zone! It may also be related to the fact that I’m slightly OCD and get a little too much pleasure out of a well stocked, well organized fridge. And oh man – so glad for it come Thursday.

  72. Elysha says...

    Costco also has awesome bagged salads. Their kale salad is amazing. I don’t even LIKE kale! I swear! But this salad, which also contains shredded brussel sprouts, dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and the yummiest poppy seed dressing, is addictive. Their Caesar salad is also the best bagged one, I think. I just finished eating a bowl of that and am trying not to go back to the kitchen and just finish the rest of the bag off. It is SO good. They have an Asian inspired one, too, with cabbage and crunchy noodles, but it has a good amount of cilantro, which I don’t like, so I skip that one.

    • Betsy says...

      I work around the corner from a Costco and that salad is omnipresent in our office. Every day, at least one person is eating a big bowl of it!

  73. Lauren says...

    Ooh, this looks good. (TJ’s for life!) Going out for lunch/dinner is my main financial vice, so I have pretty much stopped doing it. I am a big fan of quiches–I buy a frozen whole wheat crust from Whole Foods, throw in whatever veggies/meats/cheeses I feel like, and then eat leftovers for lunch/breakfast.

    I like quiches because it is a nice way to indulge whatever mood you are in–go vegetarian, get that fancy smoked Gouda, throw in whatever veggies you have left over in the fridge. Pair with a salad, and BAM! you have a nice, indulgent meal that is pretty good for you. (Sorry, vegans. WF does have a vegan quiche recipe on their site though :D)

  74. Auste says...

    I LOVE THIS SALAD. It’s in the regular dinner line up at our house – with avocado (and occasionally some chicken if we have leftovers from the previous evening). So easy. SO GOOD!

  75. justine says...

    Their asiago cheese batard sliced thinly and toasted and topped with smashed avocado, parmesan and sriracha.

  76. kelly says...

    I agree about lunches out but my husband likes to eat out for lunch. I’m happy for him to do this since he is at work and earns all our income. But I just personally like eating lunches at home-I make lunches for our two kids either if they are home with me or at school. Lunches at school cost 4$ a day and while it’s nice they offer it-it ADDS up even when you compare what you are spending to make the lunch. Thankfully my daughter is happy to eat the same exact thing like myself for lunch everyday. If I also ate out I’d be spending $10-15 I’m sure. But meh. Even coffees out have become meh since they can never make a proper latte.

  77. Meredith says...

    For budget meals, I use the website budgetbytes.com all the time, and I love the recipes! There’s a huge variety and always leftovers to take for lunch if you’re just cooking for one or two people. I use the recipes from the Indian and Asian sections the most.

    • molly says...

      I love that site as well as skinnytaste

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      YUM!!!!!!! thank you, lauren!

    • Bran says...

      This is THE BEST thing TJ’s has come up with. It’s also so good on salads with quinoa, greens, smoked salmon/rotisserie chicken and a poached egg. I currently have 2 in my pantry and am planning on buying more to stock up in case Trader Joe’s stops making it.

    • JO says...

      Lauren, me too! Just recently I’ve been making avocado toast with Ezekiel bread and I load the everything bagel seasoning on there. It’s like I “discovered” the perfect breakfast!

    • It’s SO good. I love it on cottage cheese. They just came out with their version os season salt and onion salt and I’m excited to try both of them.

    • Paige says...

      It’s incredible as a seasoning to roast broccoli or potatoes, and also as a dry rub for meats.

    • Emily says...

      You guyyyys, I just saw this stuff my last trip to TJs and was wondering how many uses it could have. I guess I just couldn’t get my brain to stop tasting bagels and get creative. Thanks to all for these tips!

    • Nicole says...

      I love the bagel seasoning AND also the Dukkah – which I put on avocado toast or squash soup.

    • It is SO GOOD on salmon and roasted veggie/rice bowls.

  78. Cheap grocery store no-cook lunches is an awesome topic for a series. I find this so useful!

    In a weird coincidence, I recently wrote an ironic blog post about spending money on lunch/coffee/treats to improve my mood at work and how much this is really worth. Read if you care to: https://emmafauxfemma.com/2017/05/24/on-money-and-happiness/

  79. Amy says...

    I did the math years ago on packing my own lunches. It’s healthier and cheaper for sure. Today I have a handful of salad greens (I keep a few dressing options in the work fridge), a hard boiled egg, and cantaloupe with prosciutto. Leftovers are always a go-to as well.

    I also agree on the Sunday prep for the week. Sometimes I’ll prepare a bunch of bean burritos or cook a take-and-bake pizza for the kids’ lunches, then roast a few chickens or a simmer big batch of soup. Add in some prepped veggies and the week just got a whole lot simpler for all four of us.

  80. Amanda Blair says...

    I love making all my meals at home. I swear to God the grocery store is my favorite place in all of NYC. I favor Whole Foods because I live for their produce or I shop at farmers markets for the produce as well. I thnk this salad is a great idea. BUT, it’s in plastic. Single use plastic no less that is just going straight to a landfill. Tomorrow is Wold Ocean day and 8 million metric tons of plastic, like this salad bag, end up in our ocean every year. EVERY YEAR. You could absolutely make this salad without the plastic and I bet it would taste even better knowing you aren’t contributing to plastic pollution.

    • Emilie says...

      Haha I am also always saying Whole Foods is my favorite place to go shopping in New York! And agreed on the plastic :). Everyday “small” waste adds up quickly.

    • allison says...

      Love this!! So glad you flagged.

      Buying and consuming food and food items are so filled with political and ethical considerations — how does it affect the planet? workers’ rights? immigration? is it local? what kinds of chemicals were used? how were the animals treated? how much does that influence the price, and can I afford it? is it healthy? — that it can be easy to ignore. But I think now more than ever, it’s important to think holistically about our food, its sources, and its impact, and know what your choices mean for the world. I certainly can’t afford either in time or money to be perfect, but overall I think I make different choices with these questions in the back of my mind than I would if I just ignored it.

    • Katie says...

      I recently learned that John Mackey, the CEO of Whole Foods, doesn’t believe climate change is a bad thing. https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/environment/2013/jan/18/whole-foods-ceo-climate-change-bad

      It’s frustrating because when I go to my local WF store, I notice for instance, that the only shallots available are from France. Think about the carbon emitted to get those shallots from France to stores across the US! Food for thought when making comsumer decisions.

    • Jess says...

      Still though, this is a big improvement over the sandwich wrapped in foil- styrofoam box-in a paper bag-with plastic silverware in a plastic sleeve arrangement you’d get at a deli. It’s true that single use plastic is a big environmental hazard and something I try to be more conscious of, but it is pretty hard to avoid packaging altogether, and if you bought all of these ingredients separately and made the salad at home you’d probably end up with just as much packaging in the end.

    • Jess, I disagree. I buy all my produce from the farmers’ market 2 blocks away and just ask them to hold the plastic bags. I bring the things home and put them in my plastic bags which I wash and reuse until they have holes in them (and some things like herbs and mushrooms don’t even do well in plastic bags!). And even when the stuff is packaged at a farmers’ market, it’s usually much less than the grocery store and styrofoam is rarely involved.

    • molly says...

      Thank you Amanda for bringing up SUCH a great point about single use plastic! Is the convenience really worth the long term repercussions on our planet? One of the many reasons I try to pack my own lunches in non-plastic. Yes, it takes a little more effort to plan and make ahead of time, but it is definitely a time saver during the week and I feel good about less waste.

      There are so many small changes that we can all do that would really make such a huge difference longterm in regards to waste.

    • Suzie says...

      I agree with you Amanda! + am working on trying to cut down on plastic consumption in my life. Not all plastic bags are recyclable, and it’s always a headache for me to try to figure out which ones are (a lot of times the bag doesn’t say and you can’t assume). Thrift at Home – you are my hero!

    • emma says...

      Thank you guys for adding this. My thought exactly. Also, I’m kinda terrified of those bagged salads. I’m not a germaphobe at all, but there are just too many articles on those salads being full of salmonella for me to thoroughly enjoy them, if I could get over the plastic-buying guilt (like this one: http://www.bbc.com/news/health-38026695).

    • Amanda Blair says...

      Ya! Thank you ladies. I love seeing people who are thinking outside of the box for how to avoid packaging. It takes effort for sure! But, you can use cloth bags for produce so you don’t use plastic! That’s what I use for mine. I bring my cloth bags for produce/bulk items and mason jars for things like bulk peanut butter or something like that. No waste needed!

  81. Jenny says...

    I’ve been trying to save money by eating out less as well. I always gravitate toward salads because they’re easy and healthy, but even when I add beans or chicken for some added protein, I’m always ravenous an hour or two later. :/ Seems I need to brainstorm something to eat alongside my salads to make my lunches more filling.

    Ps. If the salad kit is $2.99, wouldn’t that make it the $3 meal that changed your budget, not the $2 meal? ;)

    • Jenny says...

      I see that Stella replied to a couple other commenters about the price per meal equaling $2 since you add a can of beans and get 2 meals out of the bag of salad. Touché. :)

    • Katie says...

      consider adding a little bit of fat to your salads, like avocado, in order to feel more satiated. i found a great formula that this nutritionist recommends when building a meal: http://bewellbykelly.com/bewellfabfour/
      (essentially, it’s protein, greens, fiber, and fat). hopefully this is helpful!

    • Amanda says...

      I found I had the same problem for a long time, but now I add either marinated sweet potato or quinoa to all my lunch salads (on top of either beans or another protein). They make the salad super filling and are easy to meal prep on a Sunday!

    • Amy says...

      Probably more healthy fats would help. I learned in a college nutrition class that your body can’t absorb nutrients from vegetables unless fat is present. That could be avocado, high quality cheese, olive oil, nuts, etc. Honestly, I usually have some milk chocolate after salad for that very reason. (The dark chocolate thing was trendy for a while but think about it: it’s just straight sugar going into your system without the benefit of fat to slow down how your body processes the sugar.) Healthy fats have been demonized by the sugar industry. Since I’ve started adding more healthy fats to my food, I’ve felt so much better. I stay full longer so that means I end up eating less overall.

  82. Magda says...

    I love Trader Joe’s, maybe more than I like my any of my friends. My last apartment was 2 blocks from Trader Joe’s and when I first moved in, I believe I visited Trader Joe’s every day for the first 5 days straight. My current apartment is not near a TJ’s, and it’s the saddest thing. I live about 30 minute walk away. Once a month or so I’ll walk there, buy two enormous bags of stuff, and take the bus home. I live close to Whole Foods now and while a few things are better (the produce, namely), everything is double the price and it’s just not the same.

    • Anna says...

      Your comment made me laugh bc I think I have to agree – I love my friends but I looooove Trader Joe’s.

  83. Elise says...

    Currently eating TJs:
    “Cruciferous Crunch Collection” sauteed with “Sliced Sun Dried Tomatoes in Olive Oil” plus a can of chick peas.
    To sautee, I just throw the whole bag of greens, tomatoes and chick peas into the pan for a few minutes. Easiest way for me to get my greens and can be microwaved at work!

    • Gabrielle says...

      Totally copying this! Great idea.

    • justine says...

      Awesome!

  84. Tracy Q says...

    I’m on a huge yogurt parfait kick recently, and the store bought ones are so sad. I like using a plain whole milk or goat milk yogurt. You could use Greek if you want more protein but I’m tired of Greek yogurt! I add toasted coconut chips, pumpkin seeds, pecans and almonds, sliced strawberries and a drizzle of honey :)

    • Faith says...

      This sounds delicious! I love the idea of adding coconut chips.

  85. Courtney Hayes says...

    Love this! I am always on the hunt for vegetarian friendly options that don’t result in sad desk lunches.

  86. Yesssss this has been my go-to office lunch lately! Our local grocery store carries a southwest ranch bagged salad that I top with a black bean burger. The dressing might not be super healthy, but at least I know I’m eating a vegetable!

  87. Stella! You mention Trader Joe’s and Reese’s PB cups in the same post….which makes me worried that you haven’t tried Trader Joe’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups!! They made me leave Reese’s in the dust for good.

    Also, TJ’s Scandinavian Swimmers are 100x better than Swedish fish (you don’t think it’s possible, but it is). They are quite possibly the best gummy candy on the market. Check them out. :)

    p.s. I’m v impressed you buy something with nutritional value while at TJ’s, as you can see I spend all my time there getting candy.

    • Emily says...

      100000% agree re TJ dark chocolate PB cups. They give me life. Bring them to work and you will be the office hero for the day (if they last that long).

      p.s. not into gummy candy but I can attest that the Scandinavian Swimmers are the superior fish-oriented/gummy candy.

    • Leia says...

      I kept a container of TJ’s dal chocolate peanut butter cups in my nightstand drawer when I was pregnant. The. Best.

    • Laura says...

      TJ’s dark chocolate peanut butter cups (and lindt dark chocolate with touch of sea salt) and my favorite chocolates ever. those things are heavenly & deadly all at once. and with a plain cup of coffee.. ugh. i want some now.

    • Scandinavian Swimmers are seriously the best.

  88. Lindsay says...

    No Trader Joe’s in Canada! :(

    • Kait says...

      Do you live in BC? Ever heard of Pirate Joe’s? It’s a fascinating story about a guy who buys in bulk and then smuggles all of TJ’s items into Canada to sell at his own Pirate Joe’s store. They’re constantly in legal battles with each other, but I believe it’s currently open! I really can’t believe Trader Joe’s hasn’t opened a Canadian location yet just to shut him down, hah!

    • Karinny says...

      My number one import wish!

    • Marianne says...

      Pirate Joe’s in Vancouver just shut down yesterday, June 8th, due to multiple law suits and the high US $. See ‘CBC News British Columbia’ for details.

  89. Elizabeth says...

    My greatest TJ’s hack is so simple and sure to impress! 1 package of the pre-cooked lentils, a container of the bruschetta (usually by the salami/cheese, in a white container with red writing I believe), and a small log of goat cheese. Mix all together and it makes the most delicious lentil dip with crackers or salad topper! My friends call it my “secret family lentil dip” no matter how many times I tell them it’s just the easiest Trader Joe’s combo!

    • Hilary says...

      Yes to this!! I use feta instead since that’s usually what I have around. Forget the crackers, I eat it with a fork. It just keeps better the longer it sits in the fridge too!

    • Diana says...

      That sounds delicious! Do you mix it with a spoon or do you make the mixture into a smoothie consistency? Thanks.

    • Joanna T. says...

      I’ve never tried this with cheese! A friend taught me to mix the precooked lentils with the bruschetta sauce and I always eat it with multigrain tortilla chips. I could eat it every day…

    • Hilary says...

      Diana- I just mix it all with a spoon in a bowl! It’s like 2 minutes of prep and makes several meals. SO good.

  90. jill c. says...

    toast, smashed avocado, lemon juice and course sea salt – obviously this is not unique as it has become a very popular lunch for many the past couple of years but it works – it’s easy, healthy, super filling in my opinion and cheap!

    • Faith says...

      I love this idea for an easy meal during the workday! Quick, fresh, and not strong-smelling. :D

    • yes!! My favorite lunch when I packed a lunch for work!

  91. Erin says...

    i made salads this week and honestly i’m not digging them. cuz even though i tried to chop the lettuce, it’s still not small enough. I love chopped salads. Might have to do this next week!

  92. Emily M. says...

    I’ll often throw in a can of tuna to a bagged salad too. YUM!

  93. Laura says...

    Thanks, Stella! I love Trader Joe’s (to the point where I search for the closest one when considering a new apartment) and didn’t know about this. I’ll probably add some chicken. I work next to a popular SoCal sandwich place (Seinfeld stopped there for an episode of Comedians in Cars) so it could be difficult to escape that lunch temptation.

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      No way, Laura! That sounds awesome.

      Stella xoxox

  94. Katie says...

    You should do one of your monthly food series on Trader Joe’s meal hacks!

    • Laura says...

      I love “What I Eat in a Day” YouTube videos (is that weird?). Would also be interesting to see something like that in a blog post format from writers on the CoJ team!

    • Leia says...

      That would be awesome!

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      so interesting, guys! we will chat about this today, thank you!

    • Lea says...

      Love the “What I Eat in a Day” idea!

    • Oh my god, yes! I vote yes to this!

  95. Stacy says...

    My favorite Trader Joe’s item — and possibly my favorite salad EVER — is the Broccoli Slaw & Kale Salad with White Meat Chicken. It’s DELICIOUS, and the dressing might have some sort of crack additive in it. I add sriracha and (if possible) a small handful of ripped-up butter lettuce to make the salad spicier/even bigger/more substantial. I have bought it fairly regularly for 3 years, and I swear I’m not exaggerating: every single time I pay for it, the TJ’s employee at the register and I connect on how addictive and amazing this salad is. Truly: EVERY. SINGLE. TIME.

    Sure, it’s only a single meal and not as cheap as the larger bagged salads, but MMMMMM, it’s worth it. Here is what it looks like, for those who may be interested:
    http://www.traderjoes.com/images/fearless-flyer/uploads/article-1176/50286-kale-broccoli-slaw-s%20copy.png

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love that one, too, Stacy!!

      Stella

    • Yes!! That is THE BEST tj’s salad. I pretty much never get a different one.

    • Kiani says...

      Agree. Every time I go to TJs for lunch I get this. No matter how often I tell myself I’ll branch out.

  96. eg says...

    While I don’t like the totally prepared salad bags, I do often buy the TJ’s Power Greens which serve a similar purpose!

    Of course yesterday was the height of my thrift and laziness, when I tossed a whole uncooked sweet potato in my bag to cook in the microwave for lunch. I couldn’t even be bothered to open my fridge!

    • Miruska says...

      hahahha! that made my day. I have never done that, but I had days when I just toasted two slices of bread in the morning, buttered it and took it to work for lunch. By the time the lunch came, they were as appetising as a brick, but it was easy lunch. I bet your potato was tastier than that.

    • h says...

      For awhile, I would sautee a big batch of garlicky-kale at the beginning of the week, to use throughout the work days as topping for a baked potato (microwaved at work). Some bacon, or some shredded cheese, can really round it out.

    • Kirsten says...

      Ah yes. One of my classic lunches from a few years ago was the old microwaved sweet potato–surprisingly delicious when topped with peanut butter!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Kirsten, that is genius.

    • Starlene says...

      I do this all the time! I keep a jar of almond butter at work and mix it with the mashed sweet potato for a little extra protein.

    • Lauren E. says...

      A sweet potato is my go to lunch! Lately I’ve been topping it with black beans, red onion, Frank’s Red Hot, and a sprinkle of cheese. I’ll roast a bunch of them on Sunday and then bring them throughout the week. Soooo easy and healthy, too.

  97. Stella, I also discovered this salad kit a few weeks ago and we’ve had it SO MANY TIMES since!!! It’s awesome with chicken that’s been pan fried in butter and olive oil. I like to throw on a hefty squeeze of lime juice. In solidarity! (Fist in the air emoji here;)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hahahaha. YES! The pan-fried chicken sounds so delicious. Thank you, Lindsey!!

      Stella xx

    • Karen says...

      add garlic to the pan fried chicken . . . and you can rest in peace, peacefully.

      ** mouth is watering and stomach is ferociously growling**

  98. Carrie says...

    Do you ever get the “just sauce” Turkey Bolognese from TJs? So good. It is in the freezer section. It is a great to have on hand to eat with zoodles or pasta.

    Also, the precooked lentils! They are what I lived on in law school. Mix into in a salad or in the winter add chicken broth, onions, carrot, and celery and a few spices and you have lentil soup in 10minutes. The best!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      These recommendations sound so delicious, Carrie! Thank you for sharing!

    • Erin says...

      I love the prepared lentils with the TJ Bruschetta and some feta cheese for a super yummy dip. I’ll bring that to parties (and have it for lunch) with whole wheat crackers…so good

    • Jasmine says...

      That’s the secret easy and impressive appetizer that will never die… pretty sure it was an ongoing sample like 10 years ago and some of us still remember :) It’s really good scooped on cucumber slices.

  99. Bridget Black says...

    My husband and I top this with taco meat (beef or chicken!) and it really stretches it to 2 hearty meals! Delish!

  100. I discovered this a couple months ago and am OBSESSED! Lately, I’ve been topping it with seasoned chicken for a much healthier (and cheaper) Taco Tuesday supper. If TJ’s ever gets rid of it I’ll be devastated.

  101. Bridget Black says...

    My husband and I add taco meat (beef or chicken!) and it really stretches to 2 filling meals! Delish!

  102. I don’t know if this counts as a meal, but my latest obsession is grapes with cottage cheese. It’s so sweet, salty, and satisfying (and hella easy to throw into some tupperware). That’s my go-to mid-afternoon snack.

    And for lunch, since I work from home, I usually just poach a few eggs in some chicken broth with a little soy sauce, mirrin (or sugar if you don’t have it), and a hand full of spinach for a super quick but totally delicious low-carb version of ramen soup. If you’re not into the low-carb thing, you can also boil up some soba noodles in it. Here’s a quick recipe if anyone’s interested (definitely budget friendly): http://www.wordly-bird.com/blog/a-weekday-meal-for-writers-or-anyone-really1

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      grapes with cottage cheese sounds SO good. i’m suddenly starving:)

    • Em says...

      I’m obsessed with grapes and greek yogurt, which is similar. I’ve been eating it every single day for breakfast. Sometimes with a drizzle of honey.

  103. Katie says...

    I don’t have any hacks necessarily, but when we don’t feel like cooking, our go-to meal is Trader Joe’s (Trader Ming’s) kung pao chicken served with brown rice. It’s always in the freezer, always tasty, and so easy.

  104. Gen says...

    One trick I’ve learned from the delightfully health-conscious people at my gym is that the best way to eat a good lunch is to make ALL FIVE OF THEM on Sunday. That way you’re not struggling each night/morning/day to come up with something.

    I love the TJ’s idea for a quick go-to, but it’s also not too hard to combine all your own ingredients into a yummy, fresh meal with protein and veggies.

    I usually whip up some combo of: quinoa, celery, spinach, sunflower seeds, tuna or smoked salmon or marinated baked tofu, seasoned black or pinto beans, apples, cashews, sprouts, sauerkraut, rice vinegar.

    Big ups to the hubs who keeps us stocked: he smokes the salmon, bakes the tofu, makes the beans, sprouts the seeds, makes the sauerkraut. Healthy eating is truly a team effort in our house.

    And don’t get me wrong, some Sundays I’m just not up for it! (And neither is he!) But when I motivate, I’m thankful to my Sunday self all week.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      wow, you guys are awesome! that sounds great.

    • Karen says...

      Do you mind sharing your husband go to method for baking tofu? I have a hard time getting a good flavor and texture. Thanks!

    • Meghan says...

      Karen,
      This – http://www.wellplated.com/ultra-crispy-unfried-tofu/
      Or this – Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Cube tofu and place in a single layer on a non-stick baking sheet and cook for 25 minutes. If you aren’t using a non-stick baking sheet, lightly spray with cooking spray.

    • Lisa says...

      I am so looking forward to trying this tofu cooking method – thank you! Thinking this could be an absolute lunch game changer for me!

    • Julia says...

      Re: tofu – the best way IMHO to get a good texture starts with the tofu you buy. I always get the vacuum-packed extra firm tofu rather than the kind in the water. Then I just slice it up, sprinkle a bit of salt and cornstarch onto each piece, and bake at 400 for about 25-30 minutes.

  105. MarlaD says...

    Bagged salads are a staple for me…add a protein (boiled eggs are a favorite) and you’re good to go! These make a great dinner too with simple add ons: grilled fish, leftover chicken, tiny mozzarella balls, canned beets, olives, chopped avocado, I even add fruit sometimes!

    • L says...

      I love fruit in salads. Right now I’m sitting at my desk eating arugula with cantaloupe, tiny mozzarella balls, avocado, and mint. A little olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper is all it needs.

  106. Liz says...

    Thanks for the tip! I’m always looking for ways to eat out less and making lunches easier since I’m typically running late in the mornings. I too want to spend less on eating out and so I can spend more on meaningful things! Luckily we have a Trader Joe’s opening here in Iowa City this summer!

  107. Cass says...

    I wish we had Trader Joe’s in the UK – not particularly for this alas, but for all the other things they seem to have!

  108. This is genius. I had no idea TJ’s made next level salad kits. Sorry, Whole Foods, your 9.99/lb salad bar may have seen the last of me…

  109. Lindsay says...

    I often buy the TJs prepared salads, too. They’re quick and easy and I can buy 5 that last me all week for lunch. It’s slightly more than your $2 lunch (more like $4-6), but still saves money and is healthier than going out!

  110. Lauren says...

    I love buying the kale from TJ and throwing it in a mason jar with nuts and dried fruit and topping it with apple cider vinegar and olive oil. If I do have time I add some chicken or beans. So easy and cheap!

  111. INGRID BELQAID says...

    isn’t this a $2.99 meal and not a $2 meal?

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Hi Ingrid,

      I actually split it into two meals! :) When I bring it to work, I leave half of it in the refrigerator for the next day. The bag contains four side serving or 2 entree servings.

      Hope that helps,
      Stella xxo

  112. Erin says...

    Toast, two eggs, showered with arugula and feta. Done!

  113. Alice Jones says...

    hallelujah trader joe’s! what would we do without it? i get a pack of boursin cheese and pita bread and grapes, like a lovely french picnic at the office ;-)

    • Faith says...

      I love, love this idea! A French picnic can surely improve a dreary day in the office!

    • Madie says...

      Boursin at TJ’s is such a great secret – it’s at least twice the cost anywhere else!!

  114. Erin says...

    Lol – isn’t it technically a $3 meal if it’s $2.99? ;)

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Haha! I split it into two meals, so even with a $1 can of beans, it turns out to be about $2 a lunch. :)

      Stella xx

    • Emma says...

      Yea exactly, add some beans, avocado, chips, chicken and it becomes a $7 salad.

      I work in downtown S.F. and the lunch options are anything but sub-par, I am one block away from authentic Thai rice noodle bowls, organic steak salads, and sushi-burritos. I usually grab a salmon with vegetables and potatoes for $9. Which is way more nutritious and delicious than this option. A place called Eatsa launched recently and serves $6 lunch bowls with at least 10 ingredients in each, also a decent option!

    • Edith says...

      You clearly do not read carefully! She splits the $2.99 bag into two meals. ;)

  115. Amy says...

    We have almost the exact same salad at Costco in Canada, for about the same price! I buy it all the time :) I make a lot from scratch (yogurt, bread, ice cream…) but for some reason I hate making salad.

    • Emily says...

      Me too regarding making salad. Not a fan of chopping veggies.

      This post opened my eyes; bagged salads are a part of the produce section I ignore!

  116. Twyla says...

    A rotisserie chicken from the grocery store goes a long way in my house. I often pull the meat off the bones, put them in my crockpot on low for a full day and make soup. Half the chicken I use for the soup and the other half gets sliced and my hubby uses it for sandwiches. That makes one dinner, plus two lunches for each of us to take to work. 5 meals ain’t bad!

    • Sarah Malcom says...

      Keep the bones and use them to make your own stick for soup – so much better than canned broth! I throw mine in the freezer until I have 3 and then make stock

  117. I use Trader Joe’s as a lunch hack too! Sometimes I buy 5 frozen meals for a week (at about $3-$4 a pop)….that’s a lot less than buying lunch out every day, and arguably even less than cooking my own food and brining it (though I’ve never done the math on that…)

    • Faith says...

      I do the same thing, Christina! I’ve especially been enjoying TJ’s frozen Indian meals lately. If I’m feeling fancy, I’ll pack some hummus and a piece of naan on the side!

  118. L. says...

    This is exactly what my husband and I are doing to save on work lunches! We stock up on bagged salads (not necessary TJs brand) and I make a crockpot of shredded chicken on Sundays. We have a variety of bagged salads with shredded chicken all week long. Huge savings for us!

    • Stella Blackmon says...

      Love the idea of the shredded chicken. Thanks for the tip, L!

      Stella xx

    • Janice O'Kane says...

      Yes, yes, yes! Chicken in a crockpot and used to create a bunch of different meals is my go to for many lunches and dinners. It is so versatile and I use it with the bagged salad that Stella loves or wrapped in a tortilla with other fixings, tossed in with some roasted veggies (that I also make a big batch of almost every week), etc.

    • patricia blaettler says...

      Add some salsa verde to the crockpot and your chicken is kind of mexican flavored. Just something a little different.

  119. Rachel says...

    This salad is so good! Add shrimp or fish to make it a delicious taco salad!

  120. Lunches add up so quickly! Especially lately – I feel like more often than not they creep upwards of $10-12. I love a good sandwich for lunch – even when I splurge on the fancy deli meat (not the pre-packaged stuff), it amounts to only 4 bucks a sandwich. Can’t beat it!