Freezer Week

We Tried 30 Different Frozen Dinners at Trader Joe’s. These Were Our 5 Favorites.

updated Jul 27, 2021
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Credit: Julian Montijo

As the Trader Joe’s Sample King, I figured I should sample every single-serve frozen dinner I could possibly find. (Don’t ask me why.) I shopped and tasted over the course of several weeks, and ended up trying more than 30 meals. There was huge variety among the options available (Thai dishes! Italian pastas! And more!), which made the task all the more behemoth. My goal? To rank top five frozen dinners in the aisle.

How I Judged Each Trader Joe’s Frozen Dinner

In order to keep track of my sampling and to make this ranking as objective as possible, I created four categories for review: flavor, texture, portion size, and a bonus for vegetable inclusion. Out of the four categories for review, flavor scoring was given the largest weight, with a max score of 10. Next was texture, with five additional points; then portion-size, also on a five-point scale. Finally, if there were vegetables in the mix, I added one additional point. In total, there was a maximum point potential of 21 points per meal. 

Although opinions are mostly my own, I recruited my roommate for her thoughts on many of the tastings for a more robust analysis. In all, this was a worthwhile experiment. There are so many frozen items that I had never tried before and will certainly be picking up again for my next freezer stock-up. Now, I present to you the top five frozen TJ’s meals for a single-serve dish at home (plus a few honorable mentions worth giving a try as well).

Credit: Julian Montijo

1. Channa Masala

This meal is my everything: deliciously seasoned, immensely flavorful, and ready with a speedy two-minute zap in the microwave. Of course, pairing with TJ’s garlic naan is essential. (It conveniently sits right next to the chana masala in the frozen aisle’s Indian cuisine section.) Eat this for lunch, eat this for dinner, eat this anytime because this one earned a perfect score. 

Score: 21

Credit: Julian Montijo

2. Ricotta and Spinach Tortelloni with Red Pesto

I cannot believe this frozen pasta dish wasn’t on my radar until now. The tomatoes are fresh and juicy, the tortelloni are flavorful and cheesy. Before I knew it, the whole dish was gone. All in all, this was the perfect anytime meal for one. (Read: I did not share this with my roommate.)

Score: 20

Credit: Julian Montijo

3. Vegetable Panang Curry with Jasmine Rice 

From the very first bite, I knew that I’d be including this meal amongst my favorites, given its wonderful flavor, creamy texture, and robust serving size. The curry is mouthwatering, the vegetables are well-cooked and balanced (read: not mushy), and the portion is extremely filling. What more could you ask for of a heat-and-eat meal? 

Score: 20

Credit: Julian Montijo

4. Spinach Lasagna

I’m not sure why this was such a surprising frontrunner, but it was. Coming in at a solid 20 points, the spinach lasagna provides an incredible portion size and a surprisingly low calorie count (340 for the entire serving). The cheese-to-spinach ratio is ideal. I know this wasn’t a scoring category, but I also love the rustic picture on the packaging.

Score: 20

Credit: Julian Montijo

5. Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese

Trader Joe’s hits it out of the park with this absolutely delightful and cheesy comfort food. For a rainy afternoon or a laid-back quarantine day, this mac and cheese is sure to hit the spot with its gentle-yet-spicy hint of Hatch chile. And in case you were wondering: No, I did not count the hatch chile as a vegetable (otherwise it would have earned another point!). 

Score: 19

Credit: Julian Montijo

Honorable Mentions

  • Spicy Thai Eggplant: This one is so spicy, full of great flavor, and boasts superbly cooked eggplant. It would best be served over rice, which does not come with the pack. Hence, the honorable mention. 
  • Fish Curry: The fish was flaky but not fishy — a pleasant surprise!
  • Gluten Free Mac: To my shock, this gluten-free mac was a standout. It contains a mix of cheeses that are not fully present in this mac’s glutenous sisters, which makes this mac unique. 
  • Mandarin Orange Chicken Bowl: This bowl gets an honorable mention because it can very easily be doctored up and made even more impressive. After sampling, I stir-fried my leftovers with bok choy and sesame oil, which transformed this microwave bowl into a more robust (partially) home-cooked meal.  

The main takeaway from this study is that if Trader Joe’s does one thing really well, it’s their vegetarian frozen dinners. I found these options to be the most consistent in terms of flavor and pleasing texture. I also appreciated the fact that most of them were served with a rice or pasta base, ensuring that I would be fully satiated by the serving size.

See all of my samplings and ratings on Instagram @traderjoesampleking. Do you have a favorite frozen meal from Trader Joe’s? Let us know how many of our top five you have tried!