I want to hand every young adult a manual for how to whip up 3 quick Trader Joe’s dinners within a moment’s notice. Young people on the cusp of first apartments need to know about the art of feeding last-minute company and the secret to stretching your food pantry just a little bit further. I know not everyone is lucky enough to live near a Trader Joe’s, but you can take the same basic concepts I share below and implement them for the stage of life and the region you find yourself in. Here are the 3 quick Trader Joe’s dinners I make again and again in our house. Each one takes less than 30 minutes to prepare with just a few, but flavorful, ingredients.
POST by contributor: Mary Beth Johnson is a writer based in Atlanta, GA. She is currently writing her first book in between school drop off and laundry piles. She can be found every day on Instagram and at the local coffee shop.
I like to keep several packages of spaghetti on hand in my pantry because it keeps well and serves as a great base for building and layering a quick dinner. I have gotten a lot of mileage out of my favorite summer spaghetti recipe HERE, but when I need to make a quick Trader Joe’s dinner I keep it simple and dress the spaghetti up with whatever I have on hand. I typically start with a sauce, then meat or veggies, then cheese and herbs. Trader Joe’s is known for offering really great seasonal items (like this harvest blend for fall) that come and go with the time of year and availability, but their basic tomato basil sauce is my go-to. You’ll see me using it in another recipe down below, so hear me when I say, keep it in your pantry for a lot of mileage! I also like to keep a package of Trader Joe’s sweet Italian pork sausage in the freezer and turn it into small meatballs.
I grew up in a large family where mealtime was kept simple out of necessity. There wasn’t a lot of money for fancy food, so breakfast was often my mom’s “big splurge”. It was very normal for our family to be seen around the dinner table on a weeknight with stacks of pancakes, eggs, and bacon if we were lucky. My siblings and I would all descend on the table and inhale everything we could get our hands-on. I have such fond memories of these dinners and decided to carry on this tradition with my own family. I use breakfastnight about once a week when we’ve used up all the fresh ingredients on hand and the pantry is getting low. This is, by far, my kids’ favorite quick Trader Joe’s dinner of the week.
The Best Gluten-Free Pancakes:
Blueberry Sauce, by Pinch of Yum
For the blueberry sauce:
For the pancakes:
I have long tried to master the art of making pizza dough from scratch, and every time it ended in all of us looking at each other, and silently daring the other person to say out loud, “We should have gotten takeout”. It doesn’t seem to matter what type of flour I use or what recipe I try, the pizza dough always ends up done on the outside and doughy on the inside, or rubbery and tasteless. In my quest for upgrading our Friday frozen pizza night, I tried this quick Trader Joe’s dinner using their ready to bake refrigerated pizza dough. No kidding, my husband turned to me and said, “Babe, you did it. This is better than the local Italian place.” The secret is following the directions for preheating the pizza stone for an hour. I know it sounds like a long time to wait, but it seriously makes such a difference. After your stone or pizza pan is good and hot, pull it out of the oven, splash with flour, and arrange your pizza dough on top. The dough will sizzle when it meets the hot pan, which is exactly what you want.
If you also have a large family and one pizza won’t cut it, grab two pizza dough packages and make a quick Trader Joe’s dinner using white sauce and red sauce. I used the Trader Joe’s Basil Marinara that I mentioned above and layered with mozzarella, parmesan, and some slow-roasted tomatoes I had in my refrigerator. I then topped it with fresh basil from our garden.
Seriously, this is the best Trader Joe’s hack ever and you will feel like super mom pulling these pizzas out of the oven. Want to take it up another notch? Try this amazing summer pizza recipe with fresh corn and cherry tomatoes.
If I could go back and give the younger version of me, just starting out in marriage and motherhood, any advice, it would be to practice getting really good at making a few quick Trader Joe’s dinners under my belt. I’d also tell the younger me, “It is perfectly okay to have breakfast for dinner.”