Category Archives: Trader Joe’s

Gnu it all along

Ouch, I know.

I’m almost always on the hunt for a really tasty, really healthy go-to nutrition bar.  I rarely eat bars, but when I do, I want one that’s vegan, delicious, and of some nutritional value (and preferably minimally processed).

There are a few that fit the bill.  Larabars and Raw Revolution bars are good but so greasy (not added, just naturally from the nuts)!  So I have to be in the right mood for those (read: have napkins handy).  Clif bars are good but a little calorie-heavy for a snack, unless I’ve been working out hard that day.  Their Zbars (marketed toward the kiddies, but good for us too!) are lighter, but careful — several Zbar flavors contain honey.  Sadface.

My favorite bar of all, though, is the Gnu bar.   By far.  These little buddies have a lot of things going for them.  All-natural, all-vegan, minimally processed, and packing 12 grams of fiber per bar (nearly 50% of the RDA, so make sure you drink lots of water with these!) — plus many of the ingredients are organic.  And on top of that, they taste REALLY, REALLY GOOD.

Gnu's 7 flavors! Image from Gnu Web site

I first discovered the Cinnamon Raisin and Chocolate Brownie flavors at Trader Joe’s when I was in school in Chicago around 2006 or 2007, but I just recently found out that they sell many more flavors at Whole Foods and on the Gnu bar Web site.  The site is pretty sexy — along with both individual and by-the-box purchasing capability, there is a “Joy of Fiber” club (a similar idea to Amazon’s Subscribe and Save) that offers a 30% savings and free shipping if you sign up for at least one month of bar delivery, commitment-free.

I was so excited to discover that there were more flavors than the two I’d been buying that I immediately ordered the 7-bar sampler, which is just what it sounds like.  It cost me $13.95, but they recently dropped the price down so just $9.95 will get you one of each bar (plus free shipping!  one-time only).  This is a super deal, since the bars regularly retail at $1.99 each.

Here are my thoughts:

  • Chocolate Brownie – My absolute favorite.  I am so impressed with how delicious this tastes for something that is such a health food!  This can pass as dessert for sure!
  • Banana Walnut – A little more dry than the other flavors, but very banana-bread tasting!
  • Orange Cranberry – Not my fave — surprisingly super-orangey.  Might be good to kill the occasional scone or muffin craving, but I wouldn’t stock up on these.
  • Cinnamon Raisin – JUST like an oatmeal raisin cookie!  This is coming from someone who loves oatmeal raisin cookies.  This flavor especially is good with tea!
  • Lemon Ginger – Eh.  Not great.  Wrong taste for the texture (the psyllium and flaxseed especially), I think.
  • Peanut Butter – Not quite peanut-buttery enough to satisfy a PB cookie craving, and a little dry.  Still tasty in its own way.
  • Espresso Chip – I love this one!  It definitely tastes like coffee, though, and does contain caffeine, so this one is best saved for the A.M.

Overall: My faves were the Chocolate Brownie, Cinnamon Raisin and Espresso Chip.  Without being gross, it’s also worth noting that the Gnu slogan (“It works!”) may be cute but it’s also TRUE — so if your body’s not used to lots of fiber at once, maybe start with just half a bar a day, or split the bar between a.m. and p.m.  I’d also recommend NEVER eating more than 2 bars a day — eek!

Stock up on Gnu Bars (or try the sampler!) at, or purchase them individually at most Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s (and I’ve seen them in other stores too! — so check out your local grocer or health food store).

11/30 NOTE: I discovered JUST TODAY while I was perusing Gnu’s About page that the company is open about the fact that the sugar in their chocolate chips (found in the Brownie and Espresso flavors, which were my faves — boo!) is processed with bone char.  Bad that they use it, but good that they post a warning about it on their Web site so you can eat with full consciousness, whatever your decision.



I KNOW.  Sounds impossible, right?  But oh, is it possible!  I have a new obsession…

Our friends at Zen Bakery have done it again!  Well, OK, they’ve presumably been doing it for a while since the cinnamon rolls aren’t a new product, but I’ve just discovered them so they are new to me babe.  And I am making up for lost time by buying bags of them at once.  …And I will tell you to your face that I do not have a problem.

miraculous cinnamon roooooll!

I discovered these things at TJ’s on the West Coast, but back here at home I’ve only been able to locate them at Whole Foods, and not all of them at that.  For example, I know for a fact that they ARE at the WF on River Street in Cambridge, and they are NOT at the WF on Washington in Brighton.  I keep forgetting to check Whole Foods Andover (which is, ironically, the one closest to my house).  In any case, you can find them somewhere near you; and it’s worth it, I promise.

OK, now to extol their virtues.  First, let’s look at the ingredients (there are only nine, and none of them are sugar!): Whole wheat flour, unbleached wheat flour, water, white grape juice, raisins, canola oil, yeast, cinnamon, salt.  As if that weren’t good enough, somehow these few ingredients manage to pack in four grams of fiber and SEVEN grams of protein!  Serving size is a whole roll (none of this “1/2 muffin” stuff) and it has less than 9% calories from fat.  Winner in my book already, but if that weren’t enough, they are delicious!

They are also HUGE.  Hello breakfast.

I don’t know what Zen magic they’ve used on the white grape juice to give it such sweetness, but it did the trick!  I usually don’t even miss the icing, though there have been times of serious sugar withdrawal when I’ve made my own to pour on top.  It’s got the texture of a whole-wheat dinner roll (the kind you might get in a classy restaurant’s bread basket), light yet chewy and doughy.  The cinnamon layer is just right too – not cloying or artificial, just plenty of sweetness and cinnamon flavor.  And the whole thing is chock full of raisins.  Also, know how conventional cinnamon rolls taste way better the closer you get to the middle?  None of that nonsense here.  It’s consistently yummy from start to finish.  And they are still peelable, layer by layer, providing just as much fun as the far-less-healthy (yet still somehow vegan?) Pillsbury ones.

The one thing you MUST take note of for proper enjoyment of these cinnamon rolls is that they are NOT to be eaten un-heated!  Please, do yourself a favor and pop them in the toaster oven for a few minutes first.  I’ve had a few bites of cold, untoasted roll and it is basically just cinnamon-raisin bread.  I think the heat brings out the sweetness somehow.  I guess it might still be good if you ate it cold, but it’d be so boring…  Boring is not recommended!  The good news is that these freeze and reheat just fine, so if you live far enough away from WF that you need to buy multiple bags at a time to stock up (*ahem*) that’ll work just fine for me.  Um, I mean you.

So go get some!  Pair with chai tea and a fall day for best results.

Zen Bakery cinnamon rolls can be found at select Whole Foods and (possibly) Trader Joe’s.

(As a disclaimer, I swear I am not a Zen Bakery rep and I did not receive a cent to write this post.  Though… if they wanted to hire me, I’d seriously think about it. ;)  Think of the perks!!)

Split pea gladness

Split pea has always run a close race with lentil in the race for the title of My Favorite Soup Ever.  I know, I know — here we are in the middle of August, and she’s talking about soup!  But thick, creamy soups like split pea are good comfort food, too, and God knows the need for comfort food can arise any time of the year.  (Plus, if you live in a place like I do where the air conditioning actually makes it unbearably COLD in the summer, you may welcome a hot lunch from time to time.)

It’s not often you find a good, tasty split pea soup that’s also vegan and low-fat.  A lot of restaurant varieties have ham, bacon or even cream added (weird!), and most canned varieties have added oil.  Luckily, when a split pea craving struck me recently, TJ’s had just the (katy-approved) thing: this!

Organic Split Pea Soup from TJ's!

Ingredients: Filtered water, organic green split peas, organic onions, organic celery, organic carrots, sea salt, organic basil, organic garlic, spices, organic cracked black pepper.

nutrition facts

Check out those nutritional stats!

Warmed up for a few minutes on the stove, this soup is every bit the comfort food you want it to be; creamy and filling with the perfect mushy texture provided by the peas, carrots (which seem to be pureed in) and cooked celery bits.  I usually don’t even like celery, but there is no identifiable celery taste here — it’s purely for texture. The spices are nothing special, either, but they give the soup just the flavor it needs.

tasty tasty comfort food!

Split pea soup proudly joins hummus in the Hall of Fame for Foods Which Taste Much Better Than They Look

I ate it with a few pretzel bites I picked up from the farmer’s market on Sunday (baby pretzel bread!  my new favorite thing!).  They were the perfect croutons.


Pretzel bread! So hard to find vegan but so worth it when you do!

It’s definitely a simple dish.  So simple, in fact, that what I most wanted to do after tasting it was sit down and figure out a recipe to make it myself!  It seems easy enough and the results would be well worth it.  I love to cook but I’m not intuitively good at it; that is to say, I’m great at following recipes but not so hot at inventing them.  Maybe once I’m back home and into an apartment with an Actual Kitchen, I’ll give it a try.

Healthy cookie option at TJ’s

Can I just say how much I love being in L.A.??  The healthy eating options here are virtually endless, and there is a grocery store with edible food in it around every corner.  Tomorrow I’ll be at a blogger meetup organized by Lynn at The Actor’s Diet and attended by other generally-healthy-type food bloggers around the L.A. area.  The other bloggers have been around the blogosphere longer than I have, to be sure, so I’m hoping to pick up some bloggy tips there as well as having a good time and enjoying the food!

On to other delicious things…

I was in Trader Joe’s a few days ago when a craving for cookies struck me.  Lately I’ve been quashing sweet cravings, when they strike, with Whole Foods’ “Health Starts Here” brownies and chocolate chip cookies, but I was in the mood for something a little less chocolaty and a little more…oaty.  Luckily TJ’s carries just the thing: Oatmeal-Cranberry Cookies!  I’m 99% sure that these are the off-label version of Zen Bakery’s oatmeal-cranberry cookies.  Zen Bakery makes pretty good stuff — a huge variety of vegan, high-fiber, (relatively) low-fat baked goods without refined sugar or Questionable Ingredients.  Zen Bakery stuff is practically omnipresent at health-food stores here in L.A., but we East Coasters can find their stuff in Whole Foods or, like I’m sayin’, off-label at TJ’s.

Oatmeal-Cranberry Cookie from Trader Joe's

Ingredients: Whole wheat flour, rolled oats, white grape juice, cranberries, raisins, canola oil, walnut pieces, sodium bicarbonate, vanilla, spices.

While the cookies are not fat-free (they contain some canola oil and a very small amount of walnuts), they were still low enough for me to buy them (200 calories, 30 from fat = 15%).  The serving size, however, was ridiculous — 1/2 a cookie?  Who eats half a cookie when they are that size?  Of course, I’m not a big fan of 1/2-item servings anyway; I feel like it’s disingenuous labeling.  Granted, they are pretty filling, so maybe if you have more self-control than I do you could get away with just one “serving.”

I think the “cookies” would be more accurately described as “large globs of granola,” or perhaps “very oaty scones.”  They are extremely dense and filling, but super-dry — they easily crumble apart in my hands if I’m not careful.  What I really wanted to do whenever I ate one was dip it in my tea, but it always fell apart too easily and I was afraid of drinking oat chunks (ew).

As for the taste, which is what really matters anyway, right?: I’ve really been enjoying them.  They’re plainish, not too sweet but with the right amount of dried fruit and spices to give them a pleasant flavor that pairs well with my post-meal tea (usually rooibos chai or chamomile).  Since I wasn’t totally floored by them, and vegan cookie options are so numerous these days, I doubt they’ll be a staple in my pantry — but I don’t regret buying them and I would eat one again if someone were to offer one to me!  :)

Select Zen Bakery items can be found at Whole Foods all over Massachusetts, and may be purchased at TJ’s off-label.