I am a big fan of Trader Joe’s. While I might not be as dedicated as the couple who recently got engaged at Trader Joe’s, I do buy all of my groceries there.
I especially love their frozen food options, and I never leave without my staples: a bag of frozen fire roasted bell peppers and onions for tacos, stir-fry vegetables for grain bowls, açai packets for açai bowls, and frozen fruit for smoothies.
However, not all of TJ's frozen offerings are must-haves: some of their pre-made food is downright disappointing. We spoke with the authorities on Trader Joe's food, the creators of Instagram accounts @TraderJoesVegan, @TraderJoesList, and @KnottEnoughSriracha, and scoured the unofficial Trader Joe’s review site What’s Good at Trader Joe’s to find out what frozen foods to give the cold shoulder.
1. Frozen Carrot Noodles
“There are just some things in life that are meant to be bought fresh, and spiralized vegetables should definitely be one of them," says Molly Knott, creator of @Knottenoughsriracha. "When frozen, the veggies often become soggy and lack major flavor.” Instead recommends buying a sprializer to make your own spiralized veggies quickly and easily. Our favorite is the Vegetti ($10); Knott's has become her favorite kitchen tool.
2. Vegetable Pad Thai
You're better off ordering takeout when your Thai craving hits. “I found the noodles a bit chewy and the dish is a little heavy on the sprout to noodle and tofu ratio. I also think the dish could use far more sauce and flavor as well," says Melissa Brewer, the creator of @TraderJoesVegan Instagram which has 126k followers. "I wouldn't say this dish is terrible but it's not one I've purchased more than once."
3. Hi-Protein Veggie Burger
What’s Good at Trader Joe’s cofounder Nathan M. Rodgers found the exterior of these veggie burgers to be crispy and dry, but the inside was disappointingly soft and mushy. Although the main ingredient is a pea protein blend, “there's something nutty about the taste, but you can also taste the black beans and a hint of garlic," he says. "The overall effect isn't particularly taste-tacular... some might even say ‘bland.'"
4. Frozen Falafel
“I found the frozen falafel dry and fairly flavorless,” says Brewer. Luckily, there are some remedies for the issue. She recommends using TJ's new falafel dry mix instead, or dousing the frozen ones with TJ's Zhoug sauce or hummus to add more flavor and combat the dryness of the chickpea balls.
5. Shrimp Tacos
Stick to making fresh tacos for Taco Tuesday. “If you follow the directions they are soggy and sad,” says Natasha Fischer, creator of @TraderJoesList which boasts 534k followers. “As a self-proclaimed taco aficionado, I didn’t think a sad taco could exist until now.” Say no to sad tacos—instead, try my approach and use Trader Joe's frozen fire roasted bell peppers and onions to amp up your homemade tacos.
6. Frozen Mushroom Medley
Fischer was excited about these marinated mushrooms. "I am a huge fan of Trader Joe’s and [usually] love all their products," she says, adding she thought this dish would save time and meal prep hassle. But after tasting this dish, she says, “turns out, it tastes bland and looks like something found in the gutters after a winter storm." Yikes. Better off sautéing your own mushrooms.
7. Chicken and Vegetable Wonton Soup
This soup is a hard pass. “The thin broth tastes soapy and the limp wontons resemble wet, balled-up used tissue," humor writer Anna Goldfarb writes. "The veggies are so lackluster it is like they’re actors hired to imitate actual vegetables."
8. Macaroni and Cheese
TJ's frozen mac and cheese is just fine, but their boxed stuff beats it out by a long shot. “Of course it tastes good, but part of what makes mac and cheese special is that all it needs is water and that magical traffic cone-colored powder,” says Fischer. The preheat and bake time doesn't save any time, either: stick with creating this comfort food the (semi) old-fashioned way.
9. Grilled Jerk Chicken Thigh Skewers
The texture of these chicken chunks is off-putting. “The chicken was super soft," says Rodgers. "There was the suggestion that the chicken was processed along with a good bit of fat, gristle, and skin, and wasn't just traditional dark meat thigh pieces.” He also says the flavor isn't as intense as Jamaican jerk chicken should be.
10. Thai Sweet Chili Veggie Burger
“One of my favorite condiments blended with one of my favorite meatless patties! What can go wrong?," asks Goldfarb. "Answer: literally everything.” Her take? The world does not need a sweet burger—especially not this one.