Marie Kondo, the queen of organized, joyful living recently shared that after the birth of her third child she is at peace with messes and no longer tidies up every day. Hallelujah! As a parent of three young children, I feel seen. I work full time, the kids' are in a million activities, and there is never enough time to cook anything elaborate. I had long given up on the desire to feed my family perfect meals every day and her confession came to me as a relief. I thought to myself, these are wild days and you are doing a great job.
One way I keep our big family going, well-fed, and me sane, is by stocking up on staples at Trader Joe's. These are the grocery essentials I keep around for quick and easy weeknight dinners, emergency snacks, and school lunches the kids will actually eat. Here are the top five products that I always pick up:
1. Trader Joe's Pasta
If I have dry pasta in the pantry, I know I can whip up dinner in the time it takes to boil it. Our family has reached a point that I have to cook two pounds (that's two packages) of pasta to feed the five of us plus leftovers for school lunches the next day. That's why I always stock up when I visit the grocery store. Trader Joe's sells one-pound bags of the usual suspects—spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, penne, macaroni—for only 99 cents. And they are always adding new shapes. Most recently, the $1.99 trofie, a short twisted pasta, has been a huge hit for us. I toss it with TJ's kale pesto and it's so yummy.
2. Unique Pasta Sauces
I'm not referring to your standard marinara sauce—though the Organic Marinara Sauce is my go-to. Trader Joe's also carries affordable and delicious unique pasta sauces. The Pesto Rosso ($2.49), an ultra-creamy red pesto with concentrated tomatoes and Parmesan, is a family favorite. I simply toss it with cooked spaghetti and a splash of pasta water, and it tastes better than a basic ragu.
Artichoke Pasta Sauce, Calabrian Chili Spicy Pasta Sauce, Red Pepper and Almond Pesto, and Pumpkin Alfredo Sauce (this one's seasonal) are the sauces I reach for when pasta's on the menu and I'm itching for something more than the traditional red sauce.
3. Mini Vegetable or Chicken Samosas
I pack my kids mini chicken samosas for school lunch every Wednesday, so I always stock up on them. Once we ran out and there were tears—that's how much they love the samosas. Air fry them at 400°F for nine minutes and let them cool as long as possible before packing so that they don't get soggy.
4. All the Salad Kits
Mom's gotta eat too. I used to scramble for a satisfying, delicious lunch—I work from home—and often reached for my kid's half-eaten bagel from breakfast along with the coffee I reheated a dozen times. Not anymore. Trader Joe's salad kits are amazing and most are under $4 a bag, so I keep at least five in the fridge at all times. Miso Crunch and Southwestern chopped salads are my favorites. The better fed I am, the better version of mom my kids will get.
5. Trader Joe's Dried Fruit
The dried fruit shelf is the most underrated section at Trader Joe's. My kids know this because it's where they run to first when we enter the store. Name a fruit and Trader Joe's probably has a dried or freeze-dried version of it—mangoes, pineapples, strawberries, oranges, figs, bananas, and more.
Both dried or freeze-dried fruit is great to keep in the car as emergency snacks since it won't go bad as fast as fresh fruit will. I keep a Tupperware of dried mangos and pineapple rings, freeze-dried strawberries, and fruit bars under the passenger seat—it's a lifesaver when anyone goes from happy to hangry with zero notice.