Looking to shop on a budget? Here’s how you can turn $50 at Trader Joe’s into 5 homemade dinners

"A trip to TJ's certainly won't come at the expense of quality — or your paycheck!"

By Joy Saha

Staff Writer

Published May 8, 2023 3:30PM (EDT)

Food spread (Getty Images/nazar_ab)
Food spread (Getty Images/nazar_ab)

Trader Joe's may be known for its eclectic decor and well-stocked frozen food aisle. But, perhaps, the greatest perk of the California-based retailer is its affordable prices. A trip to TJ's certainly won't come at the expense of quality — or your paycheck!

If you're a frugal shopper like I am, you're probably always looking for ways to save some extra moolah during your grocery runs. That's why we went on a mission to spend only $50 at TJ's — and see what homemade dinners could come out of that budget.

In the end, we were pleasantly surprised with our final meal plan and quite confident in our shopping abilities.

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So without much further ado, here's how you can turn $50 at Trader Joe's into five tasty (and simple) homemade dinners, including Mini Chicken Wonton Stir Fry and Falafel Waffles.

"Truffley" Cauliflower Stir Fry

Take stir-fried cauliflower and tempeh to a whole new level with this easy-to-whip-up recipe that calls for only four ingredients! You'll need a package of TJ's Organic 3 Grain Tempeh ($2.29), TJ's limited-time-only Truffley Soy Sauce (which can also be substituted for TJ's Organic Coconut Aminos Seasoning Sauce, priced at $2.99), TJ's Extra Virgin Olive Oil ($6.99 for one liter) and TJ's Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry ($3.79).


To start, mix cut-up tempeh with soy sauce (or coconut aminos) in a medium-sized bowl and let sit for five minutes. Then, cook the marinated tempeh in a bit of oil in a large non-stick pan over medium-high heat. Cook the cauliflower stir fry in the remaining oil until it's warmed through, before serving with the tempeh.


Total: $16.06 

Mini Chicken Wonton Stir Fry

The best part about this dish is that most of the prep. work is already done for you, thanks to TJ's ready-to-eat Chicken Cilantro Mini Wontons ($3.49). Additional ingredients include TJ's Baby Shanghai Bok Choy (which can also be replaced with TJ's Baby Cauliflower, which is $2.69 per pack), TJ's Extra Virgin Olive Oil, TJ's Organic Broccoli Slaw ($2.49), TJ's General Tsao Stir Fry Sauce ($2.99) and rice (optional!).


In a heated skillet, cook the frozen wontons with a tablespoon of olive oil. Add two tablespoons of water, cover and steam them for two minutes. Remove the wontons and add the chopped bok choy (or baby cauliflower) and broccoli slaw to the same skillet. Cook until tender, mix in the General Tsao sauce and stir-fry to combine. Once cooked through, re-add the wontons and serve over rice.


Total: $11.66

Battered Fish Nugget Tacos

Perfect for Taco Tuesday, these weeknight tacos call for TJ's Battered Fish Nuggets ($5.99), Plain Whole Milk Greek Yogurt ($0.99), one fresh lime, TJ's Organic Broccoli Slaw ($2.49) and TJ's Corn Tortillas ($1.25).


Place the frozen Fish Nuggets on a greased baking sheet and bake for 15 to 18 minutes. In a large bowl, mix Greek yogurt, lime juice, lime zest and broccoli slaw together. Once the nuggets are cool, construct the tacos by cutting the nuggets in half and placing a few halves on a warmed tortilla. Top each taco with yogurt-lime slaw and an extra squeeze of lime juice. Finish with pico de gallo, hot sauce, cheese or any other toppings your heart desires.


Total: $10.72

Falafel Waffles
Thanks to TJ's pre-made Falafel Mix ($3.29) — made from ground fava beans, chickpeas, cumin, coriander, garlic and onion — you don't need to make your own homemade falafels for this recipe. Not only are these savory waffles great for dinner, they can also be enjoyed for breakfast and lunch! In addition to the mix, you'll need TJ's Sunflower Oil ($3.99) or TJ's Extra Virgin Olive Oil. For the toppings, you'll need TJ's Fire Roasted Red Peppers ($1.99) and fresh lemons.

Combine the falafel mix and water in a large bowl. Cover and let it sit for one hour before adding a tablespoon of sunflower oil. Stir and scoop ⅓ of the falafel batter into a heated waffle iron and cook for approximately 12 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with chopped peppers and a squeeze of lemon. If you're so inclined, gussy it up with some freshly chopped parsley, tahini and hummus, too.


Total: $9.27

Roasted Cauliflower Mezzelune and Fried Basil

This spring-themed dish is perfect for evening dinner parties. The recipe calls for TJ's Roasted Cauliflower Mezzelune ($2.99), TJ's Extra Virgin Olive Oil, TJ's Fresh Basil Leaves ($3.29) and TJ's Grated Parmesan ($2.99).


First, prepare the mezzelune according to the package instructions. In a separate skillet, heat sunflower oil and fry the rinsed and dried basil leaves for 5 to 15 seconds on each side. Serve the cooked mezzelune with olive oil and garnish with grated parmesan and fried basil.


Total: $9.27

By Joy Saha

Joy Saha is a staff writer at Salon, covering Culture and Food. She holds a BA in journalism from the University of Maryland, College Park.


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