Trader Joe’s Frozen Foods, Ranked
Gourmet food from the microwave?
On nights when the last thing you want to do is measure, dice, and season, there’s a place you can go. Trader Joe’s has achieved a cult following because they offer unbeatable produce, prices, and convenience—we’re talking aisle after aisle of frozen meals so divine you’ll feel comfortable passing them off as your own. While we might ideally like to be eating our way around the world, for now, we’ll have to simply eat our way through the Trader Joe’s freezers that contain everything from their fan-favorite orange chicken to the ready-in-minutes gnocchi. We’re trying the top-rated frozen meals from this cult-favorite grocery store and ranking them, because knowing where to find an under-$5, microwavable chicken tikka masala that’s also appetizing is important. These 10 dishes are the best of the best.
Okay okay, so our first pick isn’t a meal , but that’s why we gave it 10th. While elotes might not be a main course in the traditional sense, a bowl of this heavenly, creamy Mexican street corn will fill you up while leaving you wanting more. My stomach aches and my lactose intolerance is kicking in…but there’s still another scoop I could eat . Trader Joe’s frozen elotes carry the perfect ratio of heat to sweet, and the corn comes pre-browned, meaning that you can put your cast iron away. Screw it, this is what I’m having for dinner tonight.
9. Ricotta and Spinach Filled Ravioli
This is a classic—it’s something you’ll love just as much as the picky eater in your family: A little cheese, a hint of veggie, and a nice coating of a tomato basil sauce. This is one of those meals that’s so easy to make it’ll become a weekly staple, and so tasty yet simplistic you won’t grow tired of it. My only suggestion: use less water than is suggested so as to avoid a tomato basil broth.
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8. Cuban-Style Citrus Garlic Bowl
This is one of the best quickly throw in your bag to take to work lunches. With layers of rice, chicken, beans, plantains, onions, and peppers, this meal is filling enough to hold you over until dinner but not so heavy you head back to your desk in a food comatose. The citrus can be a bit powerful, so if lemon-lime isn’t your favorite topping to an otherwise savory meal, this might not be for you. Otherwise, bon appétit!
7. Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
Gorgonzola can be quite divisive—a little too pungent for those who favor a mild cheese—but if a little stink doesn’t deter you, this frozen gnocchi is the way to go. No boiling water, no sauce creation, all you need to do is dump this bag of frozen gnocchi pillows and cheese blocks into an olive-oiled skillet and wait. This meal is great as is but can be made even better with a few (simple) upgrades—though this goes for most Trader Joe’s pastas. Sautee separately veggies and bacon, or just add to the skillet a handful of frozen peas. This is your chance to get creative because, if you go awry, it’s okay; the bag is under $5 and the prep time under ten minutes.
6. Chicken Fried Rice
Frozen meals at their best are simple and good . That’s Trader Joe’s chicken fried rice. It comes with a nice serving of vegetables and chicken that (once cooked) you’ll be shocked was ever frozen, and because it’s best made by heating it in a skillet with oil, you’ll get the feeling you actually cooked. “Yes everyone, I really made this!” The only reason it ranks six (and not higher) is because making fried rice from scratch is perhaps the next easiest thing to do, and notably better.
5. Gyoza Pot Stickers
These are the crème de la crème of the frozen appetizers (that yes, are great eaten as a meal). Choose between chicken and pork, and then ready the skillet. This meal is by no means intensive, but it does require the occasional check-in to make sure they’re not burning, as well as a change from searing in oil to finishing with a nice steam—follow the bag, it really is easy. And once ready, feel free to dip in whichever Trader Joe’s sauce speaks to you : for me, it’s the sweet chili sauce.
4. Pad Thai
Okay, so this isn’t takeout, but if you didn’t know that, you might think otherwise (and save $9). The Pad Thai from Trader Joe’s is consistent—a badge most frozen food can wear proudly. It will never not be deliciously savory with the noodles incredibly light, and it will never take you more than a few microwave-clicks to get it piping hot and ready to eat. There’s just no going wrong with this meal, which seems like a pretty good reason to give it fourth.
This is a Shakshuka starter , meaning that, yes, a little work on your part needs to be done (but please don’t let that stop you from buying this). Trader Joe’s Shakshuka is one of the best things available for the breakfast-anytime eaters. This Middle Eastern dish will make you fall in love with roasted tomatoes and peppers, with spices that take the eggs to the next level. The runny yolk melds perfectly into the stew that’s packed full of flavor yet not overwhelming to the taste buds. I could keep going but, instead, I’ll simply say: get it.
2. Orange Chicken
This is a Trader Joe’s classic—the signs in the freezer aisle even say so. This staple has been so well-received they’ve even created vegan versions for those who want a taste of the meal shoppers can’t stop talking about (after trying both, the traditional is better). While most of the other meals can be popped in the microwave or skillet for a few minutes, this dish comes out best when heated in the oven, allowing it to crisp-up before being coated in the sauce. While most frozen orange chicken dishes tend to come out soggy and lacking in flavor, Trader Joe’s version is so good you might not get takeout again—though, we still recommend supporting local restaurants.
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1. Chicken Tikka Masala
The frozen meal of all frozen meals: Trader Joe’s Chicken Tikka Masala. What can I say other than “yummm”? This is another meal that was so beloved the store introduced a vegan version, because everyone deserves to indulge in spices this well-balanced. If heat is what you’re looking for, it won’t be found here, but that doesn’t mean this dish isn’t worth your time—I mean, we’re giving it first! The sauce is not too thick and not too runny, and the rice turns out remarkably soft for being heated in the microwave. If there were ever a reason to venture into a grocery store during a pandemic even though your fridge is full, this is it.