We Asked Trader Joe’s Employees for Their Least Favorite Freezer Finds — Here’s What They Said (and What You Should Get Instead)

updated Apr 29, 2021
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Credit: Lauren Masur

It wasn’t long ago that I was sampling every frozen dinner in the frozen aisle to compile an official list of the best frozen meals that Trader Joe’s has to offer. Along the way, I spent zero time writing about the items that didn’t quite hit the mark. That’s because, honestly, stumbling upon a less favorable Trader Joe’s item happens only once in a blue moon. Of course it does happen. But everyone has their own set of likes and dislikes — something one person can’t stand might just be another person’s very favorite item in the store!

You know who would agree with me on that? TJ’s crew members — my personal favorite resource for product recommendations. Have you ever encountered a crew member who validated your choices (or made alternate recommendations) in the checkout aisle? For me, it happens all the time.

Thus, I reached out to TJ’s employees on a quest to find out what frozen items they could do without. Understandably, I was met with some uncertainty. “But what if I love everything?” said one crew member. (Relatable.) A few employees I spoke to were willing to share a few items that they, personally, would pass on buying again. Of course, I know plenty of people would go to bat for so many of the things on this list.

Here’s what came up — and what we suggest getting instead! Definitely discuss in the comments at the end, too!

1. French Vanilla Ice Cream

“The French Vanilla Ice Cream was oddly too milky — that’s the best way to describe it. I had it with apple pie and it wasn’t great. There are much creamier and sweeter options available,” said one crew member.

What to get instead: Hold the Cone! Vanilla Mini Ice Cream Cones 

2. Big Soft Pretzels

“These are a little too tedious to make. The salt comes included, but I found that it falls off easily and doesn’t stick well to the pretzel. I much prefer pretzels baked fresh (not heated from frozen) — especially ones with compliant salt,” said a crew member from upstate New York.

What to get instead: Mini Croissants

3. Frozen Beef Pho

“The broth is more watery than flavorful and I found the amount of beef to be lacking. I felt it needed something extra, but the package didn’t imply that it was any sort of starter kit,” said the same employee.

What to get instead: Honestly, get the pho anyway! Just doctor it up with fresh basil and thinly sliced jalapeños, which is what’s recommended in the Fearless Flyer.

4. Cauliflower and Broccoli Veggie Patties

“These are a bit too mealy and didn’t crisp up how I hoped they would. They also weren’t a huge hit with my kids. This vegetarian alternative left me unimpressed,” said another crew member.

What to get instead: Cauliflower Pancakes

5. Vanilla Bon Bons

As far as desserts go, it seems like TJ’s hasn’t nailed all things vanilla yet! “The chocolate coating isn’t rich enough and the overall flavor isn’t anything to write home about, in my opinion,” said a different employee.

What to get instead: Mini Cheesecake Cones

6. Steak and Stout Pies

“These are loaded with salt and you can easily make these yourself — with ingredients from Trader Joe’s” said one crew member.

What to get instead: Mandarin Orange Chicken

7. Handsome Cut French Fries

“They were a bit too soggy and didn’t have much flavor for them,” said another staffer. The good news is that there are lots of other frozen potato offerings to choose from. I personally recommend trying the hash browns — they’re divine.

What to get instead: Hash Brown Patties

8. Kale Gnocchi

Prepare to be stunned by this confession: “I found the kale gnocchi to be bland and left much to be desired. This is an unpopular opinion but I felt the same way about the cauliflower gnocchi too.”

What to get instead: Sweet Potato Gnocchi

9. Spinach Lasagna

“When I cooked this, the edges got too crispy and hard — and I followed the heating directions closely. The cheese also burnt and didn’t melt nicely.” If you’re looking for a starter guide to TJ’s frozen pasta, here‘s what to try instead.

10. Frozen Butternut Squash Risotto

“I don’t have many items that I can say I definitely don’t like, but one I wouldn’t buy again is the Butternut Squash Risotto. It was way too soggy and bland for what it was supposed to be,” said another crew member in California.

Do you disagree with anything on this list? Have anything else to add? Discuss in the comments below!