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An Ode to Trader Joe’s

Every so often in an allergen-filled existence, you have moments which excite you, touch your heart, and make you want to hug random strangers.  As I’ve mentioned in earlier posts, my autoimmune journey has certainly been littered with such moments: Mom’s Organic Market (where I really did hug an employee very early in my gluten-free days), Whole Foods (though I still feel like people judge me there because I almost always forget to bring my re-usable cloth bags), locally-operated co-ops, farmers’ markets, etc. There’s nothing quite like that moment of pure joy when you find something you didn’t know existed or a place that offers a new (or even revised to avoid allergen) treat that makes eating fun again…if only for a moment.
Of course these joy-filled moments are often tempered by a harsh reality of allergy-friendly eating: a hefty price tag. I mean don’t get me wrong, I will cough up $4 for the occasional gluten-free, dairy-free cupcake…but my frugal, coupon-clipping heart cries a little bit inside each time I do. For those who may not know me quite so well, you can add coupons to the list of things I simply love. I’m not sure quite when this passion was ignited…I have a feeling it was around age 5 when my Dad began explaining basic economics during our trips to the corner store in our neighborhood. (Let’s just say between my dad and my grandfather, I didn’t stand a chance of avoiding the frugality gene.) By 15, my Sunday mornings always followed the same routine: church at my childhood parish, Sunday coffee from the Dunkin Donuts across the street, and then a good hour spent poring over the week’s circulars and clipping coupons. It’s a tradition which carries through to this day; granted the parish, the coffee shops, and even the newspapers themselves have changed over the years…but Mass, coffee, and coupons continue to be the mainstay of my Sundays.
A typical Sunday morning…
So imagine in the midst of all my larger-scale life adjustments 3 years ago, I open up the paper on a typical Sunday morning…and suddenly realize that most of the items in the circular are no longer an option. More upsetting still, I realized that many of the things I now considered necessities (coconut milk, brown rice/pecan bread, almond flour, etc.) don’t really have coupons. And saying they’re slightly more expensive is a bit of an understatement. So add that to the list of worries that were plaguing poor ill, painfully frugal Katie 3 years ago. Well, as I’m sure you can predict, there is a (somewhat) happy ending to this story. For those of you still drowning in the new amount you must add to your food budget, each month: breathe a small (and I do mean small) sigh of relief. I have some advice for you…again gleaned from my own experience.
1)     If the coupons won’t come to Katie, Katie must go to the coupons: Believe it or not, there are coupons for the more allergen-friendly foods. They just don’t appear on your doorstep in the Sunday paper. Almost every natural food store or “alternative” grocery store has their own coupons. Even Whole Foods! They give out a bi-monthly coupon booklet full of treasures! You may just have to go to the store first, grab the coupon booklet, and then plan your shopping. My Whole Foods here is conveniently located next to a Starbucks so I make a morning out of it…coupon book, coffee/make shopping list based on such coupons, go back and actually shop. Make sure to ask at every market you visit…some post coupons on their facebook page or may even have an email listserv. Finally, many of these natural food stores are small enough that they offer pretty great reward programs. ALWAYS ASK.
2)     The internet is your friend: Almost every major allergen-friendly brand posts coupons on their websites. They know the food is expensive (but it’s also expensive for them to make) so they do what they can to help. You just have to take the time to accept it. Enjoy Life, Udi’s, Glutino, and so many other brands often provide $1 off coupons for completing a survey…or even sometimes just for pressing print! Also, I know I mentioned this in an earlier post but sign up for sites like this one: www.glutenfreesaver.comIt’s like Living Social for the gluten-free world…and they come right to your inbox!
3)     Go to Fairs and Expos: There are SO many reasons you should look for allergy expos and fairs to attend…see Today is a Fairy Tale if you need to remember the joy they provide. However, another added bonus, you know aside from eating delicious safe food samples and feeling “normal” again for a few hours, you also leave with an inordinate amount of coupons. Yes, even frugal me was hesitant to pay the $20 registration fee to attend…but I can say without a doubt that I came out in the black on that day. I’m not exaggerating when I say I left with over $50 worth of coupons. So yes, go. It’s worth it!
4)     Be a Hoarder: As a lifelong sufferer of a moderate to severe packrat condition, I can tell you there are few instances in which I will encourage hoarding. (I consider myself on step 8 of the 12-step road to non-hoarder-dom); however, when it comes to allergen-free food I am 100% in support of hoarding. When a loaf of bread typically costs $6 and you can get it for $4.50, buy a few…you know you’ll use it eventually! Same goes for Enjoy Life chocolate chips…if you find those for less than $4, buy every one you can find. (Another one of my former ACE roommates (we’ll call her my Long-Distance Life Chat Listener) can attest to the profound level of excitement when I stumbled upon chocolate chips for $3.49 in an Indiana grocery store…$3.49!!) Bake big batches, use your freezer, embrace your inner hoarder…just try not to let it extend past food. 🙂
5)     Beg, borrow…but don’t steal: I have become shameless when it comes to coupons. Recently, an allergen-free restaurant outside of Baltimore had a Buy 1, Get 1 coupon in our local paper. I put the word out to my co-workers and friends and managed to collect 7 of them. That’s 7 free “cheese”steaks, reubens, etc. Granted they expire in late January so I better get spending. (If anyone wants to come along, let me know. There are still 5 coupons remaining) Just please, whatever you do, don’t steal coupons. SO Delicious has a habit of sticking $1 off coupons to their ice cream and milks. I’ve seen people take them off and not buy anything. I’m not judging.. I just can’t promote coupon theft. It goes against the unwritten code of coupon ethics.
Now after all this, you’re probably wondering why this post is entitled “Ode to Trader Joe’s” when so far it seems like “A Celebration of the Art of Couponing”. I mean Trader Joes doesn’t even accept coupons. Well, remember those joy-filled moments I mentioned at the beginning?? I had one this week. It had been awhile since I’d visited Trader Joe’s because there are a lot of items there that contain that pesky “Made on shared equipment…” label. In fact, Trader Joe’s black beans were the culprit of the ill-fated dinner which taught me that lesson all too well 3 summers ago. However, I walked in there this week and could scarcely believe my eyes. They have a gluten-free section now…with NAME brands (Udi’s, etc.) AND they now carry gluten-free cupcakes and a flourless chocolate cake which was my staple “pick up a dessert on my way to an event” item prior to my dairy-free days. They even have gluten-free pizza! I know, I know, you’re joining McKayla Maroney…you’re still not impressed. Every grocery store has this nowadays. True. BUT what I couldn’t believe were the prices!! SO much more reasonable! For example, among the many things that disappear with one’s ability to process gluten, add many brands of cold cuts to the list. That’s right, those of you who can eat such things might want to skip the next few sentences or you may never eat a sandwich again. You think it’s just meat in that deli counter…sadly, not the case. Gluten-free cold cuts are pretty easy to locate in a regular counter, but add casein (the dairy protein my body attacks) to that list? Suddenly you’re left with very few. Now I’m one of those people I used to stare at who bypasses the deli counter for the much less cost-effective organic/individually packaged/explicitly labeled gluten and casein-free packages of cold cuts. Even on the best days in most grocery stores, I have to shell out somewhere close to $6 for my package of roast beef…a little less if I go for the turkey breast instead. Well, much to my surprise…there was my roast beef hanging in Trader Joe’s…for $3.49!!! Talk about a joy-filled moment. That’s almost 2 weeks of lunches now for the price of 1.

The joy continued…I found a packaged of roasted chicken for my salads that was ACTUALLY JUST CHICKEN! Seriously, next time you’re at the store, find one of those Purdue Short Cut chicken packages. Even the plain, unseasoned one contains soy. The seasoned ones? Forget it, I can’t even read some of those words. I even found a multivitamin that I can take! And the nice associate called the manufacturer for me just to make sure that the only reason it wasn’t labeled vegan was because it contained shellfish fragments and not dairy. (Though trying to explain to someone why you’re looking for a vegan label but you don’t care about eating fish…that was entertaining to say the least) And last but not least, I found chicken sausages that were gluten and casein free!! I left Trader Joe’s with a smile on my face, a receipt for less than $20 (which is rare these days for groceries) and a bag full of delicious safe foods. I went home and made a scrumptious dinner…with enough leftovers for 2 days!

My delicious post-Trader Joe’s dinner…
A refrigerator of safe foods! (well, once the eggs are baked that is)…it almost looks normal, right??
So in short, thank you Trader Joe’s for bringing some unexpected joy into my allergen-free existence. If you have allergies, find one near you and check it out. Don’t swear off all other stores of course because coupons make a difference…but be an informed consumer. Plan, shop, and save. 
And if you live in the Baltimore area and need groceries before Friday, please let me know. I’m 53 points shy of earning my free turkey/ham and I only have this week to earn them. There’s no way I’m getting this close and missing out on free meat that will provide a week’s worth of dinners. My Excel spreadsheet just won’t allow it…
You can take the girl out of accounting…but you can’t take accounting out of the girl…

2 thoughts on “An Ode to Trader Joe’s

  1. Trader Joe's is the BEST! I have noticed recently that they seriously expanded their gluten-free/casein-free offerings – especially with name brands that cost double anywhere else. Applegate is my go-to lunch meat as well…which reminds me that I'm probably overdue for a TJs run…As always, LOVE the blog!


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