I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing | Every Trader Joe's frozen meal I tried was under $5. The famous Cauliflower Gnocchi didn't live up to the hype.

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing

I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing
I tried 7 frozen meals from Trader Joe’s and 2 of the brand’s most popular were highly disappointing
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I tried seven of the most popular Trader Joe's frozen meals to see if they live up to the hype.
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I tried seven of the most popular Trader Joe’s frozen meals to see if they live up to the hype.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

When it comes to Trader Joe’s frozen section, fans of the grocery store chain could debate for days about which of the store’s many products is the best overall.

Trader Joe’s has built its business off of convenience – the chain was previously called Pronto Mart, after all – and focuses on selling store-brand food products that are inexpensive.

New Trader Joe’s items are added every week, a Trader Joe’s representative told Business Insider, meaning fans of the store are constantly given the opportunity to try something new. Convenience and good value seem to culminate most famously within the chilly aisles of the grocery store chain’s freezer section, which boasts dozens of fan-favorite products.

I searched the internet for items Trader Joe’s fanatics swear by in order to try out seven of the retailer’s most popular frozen meals. Five of these items landed in the top rankings of the most popular Trader Joe’s products from 2018, so needless to say, I had high expectations.

All of the products I tried were under $5. Arguably an underdog in the battle of the frozen meals – the Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread – turned out to be the best. On the other hand, two of the brand’s most raved-about meals, the Cauliflower Gnocchi and Sweet Potato Gnocchi, simply didn’t live up to the hype.

Here are seven of the most popular frozen meals from Trader Joe’s, ranked from worst to best.


7. SWEET POTATO GNOCCHI: The chain’s sweet potato gnocchi is not as hyped-up as its cauliflower gnocchi, but it nevertheless landed among customers’ five favorite entrées in 2018.

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Sweet potato gnocchi.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The package had a generous portion, and I hoped to be full after cooking these up.


The bag of sweet potato gnocchi came to $2.99.

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The price was fair.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

I decided to sautée the gnocchi in a stovetop pan with a small amount of butter. This gnocchi absolutely has to be sautéed while completely frozen. Otherwise, the flour coating will become soft and stick to the pan.


I was excited to try this gnocchi out and see if it could potentially be the perfect combination of my two favorite foods — pasta and sweet potato fries.

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The finished product.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

While the texture of the sweet potato gnocchi was good after being sautéed, I was surprised to find that I preferred the flavor of the cauliflower gnocchi.


There wasn’t a recommendation for the gnocchi to be served with sauce, as a butter and sage sauce was supposed to form in the pan.

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The gnocchi felt dry.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

This didn’t happen, and I found the gnocchi to be generally bland and underwhelming. I don’t see myself using this as a pasta alternative like I would with the cauliflower gnocchi.


6. CAULIFLOWER GNOCCHI: One Trader Joe’s frozen item that’s gained a cult-like following is the chain’s cauliflower gnocchi.

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Cauliflower gnocchi.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The highly talked-about product not only won the second-place spot for customers’ favorite entrée in 2018, but it was also voted as customers’ second-favorite product overall.


A bag of cauliflower gnocchi was $2.69 at the Trader Joe’s I bought it from. One cup of gnocchi is 140 calories.

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I was ready to try a different vegetable gnocchi.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Cauliflower gnocchi has been touted as a lower-carb alternative to pasta or potato gnocchi – it has 22 grams of carbs versus 40 grams of carbs found in regular gnocchi. I was excited to see if it could hold up against its pasta predecessors or regular potato gnocchi.


I made the gnocchi by pouring a small amount of water over the small potato-like balls, covered the pan with a lid, and allowed the water to evaporate.

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Cooking up the gnocchi.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It took longer than expected for the water to evaporate, but in about 10 minutes my gnocchi balls were fluffy and ready for sauce. I added in some vodka sauce, which I also found at Trader Joe’s, and gave them a stir to fully coat them in the tomato goodness.

They looked very potato-like in the pan. However, even with some extra time in the pan, they didn’t get as crispy as they appeared in the photo on the front of the bag.


The gnocchi were soft, pillowy, and slightly resembled a pasta dish. However, I was overall underwhelmed after the immense hype I had heard about this frozen meal.

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I was ready to dig in.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The gnocchi themselves had little to no flavor, and the texture bordered on gummy. Next time, I plan to lightly sautée them with either oil or a little butter, like I did when I taste-tested the chocolate lava gnocchi, to see if they get a little crispier and more flavorful.

While this is undeniably a good pasta or potato gnocchi for people trying to live a little healthier or cut back on heavy starches in their diets, the cauliflower gnocchi simply didn’t live up to the expectations I had for it.


5. CHICKEN TIKKA MASALA: Trader Joe’s chicken tikka masala has been hailed across the internet as one of the grocery store chain’s best items. However, it didn’t impress me as much as some of the other items I tried.

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Chicken tikka masala.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

In Trader Joe’s 10th Annual Customer Choice Awards, the dish was ranked as customers’ third-favorite entrée, but I found the dish to be middle-of-the-road.


A box of chicken tikka masala was $3.69 at the Trader Joe’s location we went to.

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The box was cute too.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The box claimed that the dish was an “authentic Indian recipe.” The meal was described as “roasted chicken breast in a robust cream sauce with cumin-flavored rice.”


The ratio of chicken to rice and sauce was balanced, and the pieces of chicken were moist and well sized. I could see why people liked this item.

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when I opened it, I was impressed.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Among the items I tried, this dish was also the easiest to make and tasted delicious even out of the microwave. For a microwaved meal, it also looked surprisingly delicious.

The long grains of rice looked fresh and large chunks of chicken breast could be seen emerging from the pool of red, spicy sauce.


The sauce was creamy and the perfect level of spiciness. It had just enough kick to replicate the dish but wasn’t so hot that you’d have to have a high spice threshold to enjoy it.

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The seasoning was just right.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The chunks of white meat chicken were juicy and flavorful. Despite being a relatively small and low-in-calorie dinner option – the whole thing comes to 360 calories – I found the dish to be very filling.

It wasn’t the best chicken tikka masala dish I’ve ever tried, and even takeout versions of the dish could definitely best it, but for a cheap, frozen version, I couldn’t see it getting much better.


4. KUNG PAO CHICKEN: Trader Joe’s kung pao chicken is another popular frozen meal I knew I had to try.

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Kung pao chicken.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

It was voted by customers as their fifth-favorite frozen entrée in Trader Joe’s Annual Customer Choice Awards.


At the Trader Joe’s we bought it from, the item rang up $4.99.

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I hoped it would come out looking just like the photo.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Included in each bag is chicken, vegetables, sauce, and a packet of peanuts. Directions say you can make this dish in the microwave, but in order to get the best possible results, I decided to try it on top of the stove stir-fry style.


As far as flavor goes, this dish definitely had a lot going on in the best way.

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I garnished the dish with peanuts.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The green and red bell peppers and onions added freshness, while the peanuts provided a crunchy texture that balanced out the thick, savory sauce.


However, compared to the mandarin orange chicken, I thought the pieces of meat in the kung pao chicken were small.

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The serving itself was a bit of a letdown.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

You would definitely need to eat more of this frozen meal to be full, making me question its value. I preferred the crunchier breading of the mandarin orange chicken but found this dish to be more flavorful overall, due to the sauce, vegetables, and crunchy peanuts. In the end, the texture prevented this dish from coming out on top.


3. PORK GYOZA POTSTICKERS: The pork gyoza potstickers are another mainstay in the grocer’s freezer section.

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Pork gyoza potstickers.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Ranked by The Daily Meal as their favorite frozen Trader Joe’s appetizer, these gyoza dumplings can also function as a dinner.


A bag of them costs $2.99. Each bag contains three servings of seven potstickers.

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The price was low considering how many servings you could get.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

To achieve the perfect level of doughiness on top and crispiness on the bottom, I sautéed them in oil in a stovetop pan and then lightly steamed them by following the directions listed on the back of the package.


The potstickers were relatively small but stuffed full of pork filling.

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They looked full of flavor too.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

This was by far the easiest frozen meal to make – it only took about five or six minutes for the small doughy dumplings to be done.


The bottom sides got crispy quickly in the pan, and the dough was thick enough to prevent any tears or breaks.

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They held up well.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The dumplings looked similar to ones I’ve gotten from takeout restaurants, but I was anxious to see how their taste compared.


I was honestly split on whether these dumplings were good or not. The pork filling was quite bland and the texture of the casing bordered on rubbery.

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My first bite didn’t give me a clear conclusion.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

However, once I dipped the small pork-filled potstickers into some soy sauce, I was much more impressed. These definitely could use a little seasoning or added flavor – and they still don’t compare to homemade or even most takeout dumplings – but I would definitely buy them again for a quick, easy dinner or pack lunch.


2. MANDARIN ORANGE CHICKEN: In 2018 customers voted Trader Joe’s mandarin orange chicken as the overall best product sold by the grocery chain. Therefore, I had high hopes for the Chinese food-inspired chicken dish.

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Mandarin orange chicken.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

Orange chicken can be tricky to make from scratch, so I was eager to find an easy frozen alternative.


The 22-ounce bag of mandarin orange chicken came to $4.99.

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The mandarin chicken looked tasty in the printed photo.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

On the bag, it’s described as “a savory dish of tender battered chicken with mandarin orange ginger sauce.”


Coated in thick, gooey sauce, the chicken was undeniably decadent and perfectly crispy.

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My entire kitchen smelled amazing.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The ginger added zest, and the sauce added a strong soy flavor to the chicken. I found that the sauce wasn’t too salty, but added the perfect amount of flavor to the dish.


The breading on the chicken became perfectly crispy in the oven, but the meat inside remained juicy.

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The texture was spot on.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

This was better than any takeout orange chicken I’ve tried. I definitely recommend baking the chicken in the oven to ensure that the breading doesn’t get soggy, as the balance of textures between the thick sauce, juicy chicken, and crispy breading was truly great.


1. BURRATA, PROSCIUTTO, AND ARUGULA FLATBREAD: As a NYC resident, I’m pretty picky when it comes to pizza. However, I was impressed by the look of the Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread.

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Burrata, prosciutto, and arugula flatbread.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread is well known among fans of Trader Joe’s frozen section.

Reviews online tout the flatbread as one of the chain’s best items and according to the Trader Joe’s website, the flour used in this fancier take on a frozen pizza comes from “an ancient town near central Italy’s Mount Sibillini National Park.”

Prosciutto and burrata are both relatively upscale ingredients, so I was excited to see how this frozen pizza would turn out.


The flatbread pizza has three servings in every box and is priced at $4.99.

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The flatbread looked like a dish I would be served at a restaurant.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

To cook the pizza, the directions say to remove the plastic wrapping and set the prosciutto aside before popping the plain pizza in the oven.


Pulling the pizza from the oven, I was greeted by the smell of gooey cheese.

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I was impressed with the size too.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The crust looked perfectly done after the recommended 12 minutes in the oven, with bubbles of browned, crispy dough lining the edges. The cheese had an almost aged smell to it.

While many cheaper store-bought kinds of cheese have an almost artificial smell to them, this cheese smelled authentic. The excitement to dig in was growing.


I layered folds of prosciutto, which came packaged separately, on top of the bubbling pools of melted burrata.

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My first bite blew me away.
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Erin McDowell/Business Insider

The prosciutto was delightfully salty. Biting in, the fat of the cheese mixed with the saltiness of the prosciutto. The bottom of the flatbread was perfectly crispy, but the inner layers of the flatbread had just a touch of softness – something I don’t mind when it comes to pizza.

The slices were slightly oily, though I wouldn’t say the pizza was necessarily greasy. This small criticism didn’t take away from the pizza being highly impressive – especially for coming out of the freezer.

It’s fancy enough to serve at a party, but lowkey enough for a Tuesday night in front of the TV. Served with a little Two Buck Chuck, what’s not to love?

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