Rijuta Agarwal / Alexandra Folino
Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle is reason enough to shop exclusively at the low-budget grocery store: Almost all of the meals cost less than $5, and you could eat lunch and dinner there for weeks without repeating a meal—a fact I learned during my lengthy quest to rank every single frozen meal available. Since TJ’s frozen food section is aggressively large, there had to be some parameters: I limited the frozen foods to what could be considered a full meal on its own, meaning none of the chicken patties, veggie burgers, appetizers, or desserts were included. Also excluded: cauliflower gnocchi, which might just be one of the best items Trader Joe’s has ever created.
With the help of some very kind taste-testing friends, I tried everything in Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle. Here’s how the meals stack up, from the few you should skip to the ones you’ll want to buy in bulk.
Shells with Brie and Apsaragus
This was rough. I LOVE brie, but the big frozen chunk that came in this was not appealing, and it tasted gummy once it was mixed in.
BBQ Chicken Teriyaki
This was a unanimous no among the taste testers. The chicken had a weird, chewy texture, and while the sauce was decent, it still didn’t make up for the meat.
Southwest Chicken Quesadillas
One tester said these tasted like “warm mush.” Overall, too much tortilla, not enough cheese or filling. You’re better off making one fresh.
Beef Steak Burritos
The meat is decent here, but the burritos were mushy. These were tested in the microwave, so baking them might have better results, but if you’re going for speed/convenience, Chipotle might win out.
Steak and Stout Pies
These taste delicious, but I cannot in good faith recommend anything that has 800 calories inside one tiny pie. That said, they’re so freaking good, so you do you.
Three Cheese Pizza
The range in TJ’s pizzas is nuts. This one tasted artificial and came out runny, with a cardboard-ish crust. Fear not: Some of the other pizzas are in the top 10.
Four Cheese Pizza
This one also had a cardboard-like crust, but the cheese tasted less artificial, so it ranked a tad higher.
Chicken and Mushroom Pelmeni
This frozen pasta is fine, but it doesn’t have much flavor to it. You’d definitely want to add a sauce or at least a drizzle of olive oil over a bowl.
Gnocchi alla Forrentina
Again, this one’s not bad, but it’s about what you’d expect from frozen gnocchi. The tomato sauce and mozzarella help, but the taste is still pretty bland.
Shiitake Mushroom Chicken
The smell is a little funky here, and several testers weren’t a fan of the sauce. It does have a solid amount of veggies though — edamame, green beans, and shiitake mushrooms, obvs.
Farfalle With Cheese and Spinach
Like the previous pasta, this one is fine, but you can definitely make noodles that are just as good without much more effort. It took a while to heat up (five minutes, which is simply too long in my microwave-lunch book, though feel free to disagree). In a pinch (and with a little chicken), it’ll do.
Honey Walnut Shrimp
There’s a surprising amount of shrimp in the bag, and the walnuts are a nice touch. Go easy on the sauce though: Across the board, you can probably make do with about half the sauce packets in the frozen meats and shrimps.
This one’s definitely a step up from the three- and four-cheese pizzas. It’s a decent pie, with a crunchy crust and more flavor than you’d expect from a stripped-down pie. If you’re looking for a frozen pizza, it’s a good grab.
My main qualm with these is that they didn’t heat very easily, but other than that, they’re just what you’d expect. Add a little salsa or hot sauce for more flavor.
Other than the surprising lack of cheese (as in, there’s none), these are a pretty good lunch option. They’re filled with tomatoes, potato, corn, onion, broccoli, and black beans. If you have the time, cooking them in the oven works better, but they were still pretty good in the microwave.
Yellow Jackfruit Curry with Jasmine Rice
I didn’t know what jackfruit was prior to eating this, but I was very into this vegetarian meal. It’s supposed to have the same texture as pulled pork, and it delivered. There was also more curry than rice, which is not always the case in frozen meals.
Ricotta and Spinach Tortelloni
This one’s got a solid amount of veggies, and all you have to do is microwave and stir. I’d definitely buy it again.
Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
These smell and taste heavily of gorgonzola, so if you don’t like the cheese, stay away. Otherwise, you’ll love it, especially with peas and prosciutto.
Fettuccine with Mushrooms
These come in cute little nests of noodles, which makes it easier to portion out meals if you’re not making it all at once. The mushroom sauce was light but creamy, and it was super easy to make … just throw it all in a big pan and you’re good to go.
This is definitely one of the best vegetarian options at TJ’s. It takes a little longer than the directions say to heat through, but the dumplings are good and the rice and veggies have a kick to them.
Chicken Chow Mein
This might give your Chinese takeout order a run for its money, especially since it’s super easy to make. It tastes like fancy Top Ramen and has a fair amount of veggies. Go forth.
Spinach and Ricotta Pizza
This wasn’t the best frozen pizza I’ve ever had, but it made for a solid dinner, and is obviously very easy to make. Unlike the plain pies, I didn’t feel the need to add anything on top, aside from some red pepper flakes.
Chicken Pot Pie
This was way better than expected for a frozen pot pie. The crust was soft and flaky, and there was a good amount of veggies and chicken inside. It’s not the healthiest of options, but it does taste good.
I was a little skeptical about frozen lamb, but this was surprisingly good, and it had a higher meat-to-rice ratio than I was expecting.
The texture is a bit chewier than regular risotto, and the spelt gives it a slightly nutty taste that works with the chickpeas and creamy sauce. Make this with a group, though — the next-day leftovers didn’t hold up.
Vegetable Pad Thai
Super easy to make and way cheaper than delivery. If you’re not vegetarian, add leftover chicken or some shrimp to make it more filling.
Reduced-Guilt Baked Ziti
Think of these as the Lean Cuisines of Trader Joe’s. The reduced-guilt meals taste pretty good and don’t make you feel like you’re eating something lighter.
Reduced-Guilt Mac and Cheese
Ditto what I said above. It’s still cheesy and creamy, and left us feeling less gross than a big box of the regular stuff.
Kung Pao Chicken
Of the bagged meats, this one had the best consistency and overall taste. It feels healthier than takeout, and it wasn’t overly spicy.
Saucy Scallops With Mushrooms
These were a surprise hit—they’re super rich and creamy, but the mushrooms and peas help you feel like you’re getting some nutrients in your meal, too.
Korma Fish Curry
I was also a little skeptical of a frozen fish entrée (though in hindsight, fish sticks are great, so this is silly), but TJ’s came through. Their Indian food always hits! This dish is super filling and has a pretty solid meat-to-rice ratio.
Ricotta and Spinach Filled Ravioli
I’m partial to Trader Joe’s fresh ravioli (find them near the deli meats and cheeses), but these are pretty solid too. It comes with ravioli pieces and frozen blocks of tomato sauce which melt out pretty quickly and evenly. Plus, you can get three to four meals out of it if you add a protein.
Vegetarians, this is such a clutch meal to have on hand. The chickpeas are super filling and there’s more protein than rice, which is a rare find. Overall, Trader Joe’s Indian meals are on point.
Beef and Broccoli
Another solid take-out replacement, especially since beef and broccoli is such a staple combo. There was a pretty even amount of each, and the sauce is as advertised — sweet and a little spicy.
Hatch Chile Mac and Cheese
Opinions were split on this one, but if you like your food spicy, you’ll be a fan — it’s way more flavorful than plain mac and cheese.
Chicken Fried Rice
You can make it in five minutes, and it tastes way less greasy than take-out. Definitely a winner.
Chicken and Vegetable Wonton Soup
This is the only frozen soup Trader Joe’s had during my test, and it held its own. Good for when you’re craving wonton soup, but not a whole Chinese takeout delivery.
Vegan Tikka Masala
It’s not as good as the chicken version, but if you’re vegan, it’s obviously the perfect replacement. It’s made with a wheat gluten and soy substitute, and the texture is more like chicken than tofu. Big fan of the cumin-flavored Basmati rice.
Stacked Eggplant Parmesan
Way better than you’d expect from a frozen eggplant parm! And if you’re cooking for one (or even two), it’s nice not to have to go through the whole process of making your own from scratch.
Roasted Vegetable Multi-Grain Lasagna
This is one of the more expensive frozen meals at TJ’s, but for good reason. The lasagna is massive and could feed a big group or make for a week of leftovers.
Family Style Meat Lasagna
Same as above re: size, but the meat gives it extra flavor and makes it taste more like a classic lasagna.
Like lamb, don’t let the frozen seafood put you off. There’s a lot of protein in here, and the rice and sauce is buttery and flavorful. Fair warning, it will make your kitchen smell like a fish market for the night.
Pepperoni Pizza Mac and Cheese Bowl
Pizza mac and cheese is everything you could want on an especially bad day. This was my favorite of the mac and cheeses, although those who don’t like pepperoni were obviously partial to the more traditional bowls.
Like I said before, TJ’s knows how to do Indian food. The spices taste pretty on par with what you’d get in a restaurant, and there’s a good amount of chicken and curry.
Riced Cauliflower Bowl
For just a couple bucks, you’ve got a whole, healthy meal. OK, I added a fried egg on top because I was eating it for breakfast, but it’s solid on its own too. Plus, it heats up in three minutes tops.
Riced Cauliflower Stir Fry
I was very excited to try this one, and it didn’t disappoint. The texture isn’t the same as regular fried rice, but the overall taste will definitely satisfy your fried rice craving.
Four Cheese Mac ‘n Cheese
A classic, and 100% better than the grocery store boxed kind — you can actually taste the four cheeses.
One of the healthiest options, and so easy to make. Dump it all in a pot and wait for it to heat through. You’ll probably want to eat it with a grain, though.
Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread
UGH so good. The red peppers were juicy, prosciutto is always a good idea, and it was overall a good balance of crispy and cheesy. This is the ideal frozen pizza — er, flatbread.
Chicken Burrito Bowl
One of Trader Joe’s newer frozen meals is absolutely a winner. It tastes like a Chipotle bowl and costs about half as much.
Cuban Style Citrus Garlic Bowl
If you think TJ’s Chicken Burrito Bowl is good, just wait until you try this one. The plantains and citrus sauce make the meal feel bright and light.
Paneer Tikka Masala
The cubes of cheese hold up surprisingly well in the microwave, and the spinach basmati rice should be in all the Indian dishes.
Vegetable Panang Curry
Aside from the lack of spice, this bowl was one of my favorites … the rice comes out fluffy, there are a ton of veggies, and it’s vegan, so the creamy sauce won’t weigh you down.
Sriracha Shrimp Bowl
Another newbie, this bowl is a go-to frozen lunch. It’s made with brown rice, Asian-style veggies, and a good amount of shrimp.
Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice
Byeeee, take-out. This shrimp fried rice is so flavorful, especially when you get a bite with the Thai lime leaves. The bag will last you a few days, and it’s easy enough to make in batches if you don’t want to cook it all at once.
Mandarin Orange Chicken
There’s a reason this has been Trader Joe’s top-selling item for years: It’s pretty freaking delicious, and the only reason it’s not ranked number one is that it’s not really an entire meal on it’s own. With that said, you could definitely take down half the bag and feel more than full.
Mushroom and Black Truffle Flatbread
The flatbreads without a doubt take down the pizzas, as proven by this UNREAL mushroom truffle number. It’s a true struggle to not add one of these to my cart every time I shop at TJ’s.
Chicken Tikka Masala
*DRUMROLL* Coming in first place … chicken tikka masala! It’s truly the gold star of frozen food, and as good, if not better than, any take-out meal you could order. Plus, it’s ready in less than five minutes. If you haven’t tried it yet, prepare to be obsessed.