Break out of your vodka-soda rut with these healthy and delicious options.
Credit: Courtesy of Trader Joe's.

Everyone loves a good cocktail, but no one wants to break the calorie bank—or the actual bank, for that matter—on fancy drinks. I’ve spent a lot of time behind the bar, making fancy, expensive, calorie-busting drinks for folks, and I’ve also watched a lot of miserable people tuck into yet another vodka-soda, wincing at how boring it is, but happy that it’s not a 400-calorie margarita. But with just a bit of ingenuity and a well-stocked Trader Joe’s, you can make inexpensive, non-calorie bomb cocktails. Trader Joe’s is a wonderland for experimenting with healthier cocktail mixers—especially because nothing is too expensive, and they have a great return policy. Here, we've collected 10 easy ideas for you—but feel free to make up your own!

Embrace whole fruit.

Stop thinking of sugar-laden juice as a mixer. Think of it as something that you only use a splash of, for flavor. But better still, pick up some of those handy TJ’s pomegranate arils, blueberries, or blackberries. Muddle and shake with lots of ice and a liquor of your choice. Splash a little sweetener in if you need it. Feel smug about getting in your fruit.

Use the unexpected things you find.

Let me tell you, I am in love with TJ’s yuzu hot sauce. I like it even better on a Friday afternoon, when I’ve shaken a couple of drops and a squeeze of lime into a tequila on the rocks. Trader Joe’s has a bazillion exclusive spices and condiments. Think about what you like. Incorporate it into a cocktail. I’m still trying to find a cocktail use for their Everything But the Bagel Seasoning.

Take time for tea.

Tea can be an amazing, calorie-neutral mixer, but for some reason we don’t always think to use it. I’m a big fan of TJ’s Pomegranate White Tea. Brew up a strong (like 4 tea bags to 8 ounces of water) cup, let it cool, and you’ve got a pretty, flavorful mixer. Mix a couple of ounces with a liquor of your choice, top with soda water, and garnish with some of those pomegranate arils you picked up earlier. TJs also has a great Mint Melange Tea that I like to brew strong and mix with a touch of sugar and a jigger of bourbon. Don’t like either of these? Try ginger tea with vodka, or cinnamon apple with rum—just don’t forget about tea!

But embrace convenience, too.

TJs is a magical place for convenience items. Who doesn’t love their chicken tikka masala? Their cold-brew concentrate, canned matcha, and bottled kombucha are no exception, and make for great cocktail mixers. Also delicious is TJs Golden Oolong Tea, which comes handily in a plastic bottle, chilled and ready to serve.

Portion control.

Who here can honestly claim they did not drink Two Buck Chuck in college? Right, so why be snobby now? Especially with the advent of Simpler Wines, the amazing TJs wine in a can. The bonus here? You can take a single can of wine, splash it over ice, cut up some fruit, and top with seltzer for a quick-and-dirty sangria. Not necessarily a healthier option, but it lacks added sugar, you won’t have leftovers—or the temptation to drink more than one serving.

Go nuts!

We all know TJs has great deals on things like their 50%-less salt almonds and cashews (great snacks for sipping, of course), but don’t overlook the delicious cocktail potential of something like their Cocoa Almond Cashew beverage. Shake ⅓ cup of that over ice until it’s achingly cold. Pour it into a cold glass. Add an ounce of vodka (vanilla vodka would be good, too), and pour seltzer ($.99) over the back of a spoon for a somewhat-unholy—but very delicious—twist on an egg cream.

Waste not.

With frozen fruit as cheap as organic blueberries for $3.49 a pound, it would be criminal to overlook the potential of frozen fruit. Not only is it inexpensive, but there’s no clock ticking on when you need to use it. I’m also a big fan of TJs ginger paste. Kick up flavor in one of your new tea cocktails, put it in the fridge, use it when you want.

Sweeten the deal.

Unsure whether you want to try agave or maple syrup in your cocktails? (You do, btw. Maple, is especially nice, as it lends a deep sweetness to bourbon cocktails.) Well, the TJs store-brand maple syrup is a friendly $4.99. You can always use it on your pancakes, give it to a friend, or return it.

Garnish with gusto.

I know that you can get fresh herbs, English cucumbers, and assorted fruits at a regular grocery store—but they always seem to be cheaper at my Trader Joe’s. Peel some cucumber ribbons, candy some rosemary, and flame some orange peels—all easy garnishes that add luxury to a drink without adding much in the way of calories, time, or money.

Sometimes, it’s okay to vodka-soda.

I’ve served so many of these that in my brain, it really is a verb. If you’re a tried-and-true vodka-soda buff, then stock up on $.99 TJs seltzer—but don’t forget that it comes in fun flavors that would put LaCroix to shame. So sit back and sip on a Cran-Clementine, Starfruit, Mixed Berry, or Lime-flavored vodka-soda, and enjoy your health, good looks, and money while all those others are out there shelling out major $$$ to people like me.