Because the most sought-after aisle at Trader Joe’s is the frozen aisle, I, the Trader Joe’s Sample King, sampled every single-serve frozen dinner I could find over the course of several weeks, amounting to over 30 meals. There was huge variety among the options available, from Thai dishes to Italian pastas, 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).
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.
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.)
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?
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.
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!).
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!