17 Trader Joe's Frozen Dinners, Ranked Worst To Best

When you realize you didn't make dinner plans, always check the freezer. There's bound to be something in there that you can make in a pinch without leaving your home. And if not, the next time you're at the store, make sure to stock up on a few backup meal options — particularly if you're at a Trader Joe's.

While Birdseye and Swanson may have been the frozen dinner industry's trailblazers, in the 21st century, Trader Joe's offers a wide variety of frozen dinners that are ready for a quick spin in the microwave — and voilà — dinner is ready in a snap. However, in our experience, the results are generally better if you opt for some patience with an oven bake or put in some effort to stir the dish on the stovetop. 

Regardless of how you choose to heat your frozen meal, Trader Joe's offers up a wide swath of culinary flavors. You'll find recipes influenced by popular dishes from India, Spain, China, Mexico, Thailand, Korea, and Italy — and that's just to name a few. You'll also encounter some vegetarian and plant-based options. We sampled a variety and are pleased to provide a ranking of our recommendations.

17. Vegetarian Meatless Cheeseburger Pizza

Leave it to Trader Joe's to think of a world where dill pickles should take a turn in the oven. We admit that we bought this frozen pizza on a lark. It seemed like Trader Joe's was sending out a taunting dare with its meatless cheeseburger pizza

We concede that as it's baking, it smells rather appetizing and gets your tummy rumbling. The cheesy aroma was fragrant. Nevertheless, one of our biggest criticisms is that considering it's meatless, there wasn't enough of the faux meat, and what was present was rather bland. Beyond that, if you're picky about the cheese on your 'za, what's here is the opaque, orange-dyed, gooey form that you might associate with nacho cheese from a movie theater. We wouldn't go so far as to say that this was totally inedible, but it's much more appropriate for the Chuck E. Cheese crowd than a snooty gourmand.

16. Cheese Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce

Don't be fooled by Trader Joe's Cheese Filled Fiocchetti with Pink Sauce because the name is quite misleading. When you drop the contents of the packet into the skillet and see a smattering of pink sauce pellets that resemble old-school erasers, the result is more of a yellow hue.

We rank this frozen dinner at mid-tier. It's easy to get lost in the sauce because there's a ton of it; Tomato flavors are faint, and it's heavier on cream. We found this to be much soupier than what was displayed on the package, and it reminded us of tortellini en brodo. The pasta appears shockingly small at first but plumps up by the end of the cooking time (high heat on the stove for about seven minutes, with a bit of water and olive oil, or microwave to shave off a minute or so. And we don't object at all to the cheese blend in the fiocchetti.

The convenience of it being a one-pot dish in under 10 minutes is a major plus for this frozen dinner. The bottom line:  This is a slightly elevated macaroni and cheese.

15. Southwest Style Chicken Quesadillas

We followed the oven instructions to the letter for Trader Joe's Southwest Style Chicken Quesadillas, but perhaps the skillet method suggested on the package (which contains two folded and stuffed tortillas) would have provided better results in terms of texture. While the edges were crunchy, the centers were a bit limp. A touch of oil in a well-heated pan might help improve the crispiness.

The interior content was very mushy. We could detect chicken in there but not hearty chunks or shreds. It was acceptably cheesy courtesy of the Monterey Jack, but overall, this frozen meal needed some extra help. Though it contains some jalapeño peppers, we gave it a good dousing of habanero hot sauce for a much-needed spice boost. We also included a few squeezes of lime juice to add some acidity and threw in some fresh cilantro and avocado for good measure.

14. Beef Birria

Here's an important heads-up. This frozen meal needs 24 hours to defrost in the refrigerator before it takes a spin on the stovetop. You can also microwave it from frozen, but we generally prefer the oven or stovetop methods for a more even cook.

The spice in this is present but not overwhelming. It shouldn't turn off picky palates that don't appreciate a lot of heat. Even though we liked the flavors, we'd rank this a bit lower for being short on content. When we served it, the general reaction was, "That's it?" We recognize that beef is going to come at a higher price, but the package leads you to believe there's more it could offer. It was more soup than meat. Still, we'll concede that you get a lot from the jus. If you're putting it in tacos, don't forget to give them a gentle dip in the consomme.

13. Jamaican Style Beef Patties

In the plus column for these Jamaican Style Beef Patties, we found the puff pastry to be rather nice. We followed the package instructions for the oven (30 minutes at 350 degrees) and found that it was softly chewy but with a lot of pleasant crusty flakiness. It also has an appealing sunny hue thanks to the turmeric in the dough.

The beef stuffing has plenty of spice and flavor thanks to onion, garlic, cumin, and cayenne. But, our biggest knock against this frozen dinner from Trader Joe's, and why we don't rank it higher, is that it's overwhelmed by the amount of pastry compared to the filling. We were hungry for a lot more of that well-seasoned meat to make it feel like an actual dinner. We felt that given the size of the turnovers, they could suffice as a meal. Instead, it reminded us more of an after-school snack.

12. Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice With Kimchi

We're not sure that the Bulgogi Beef Fried Rice With Kimchi would have us coming back for more. For a frozen dinner, it does the job well enough. It's microwave friendly and almost just as quick to make on the stovetop. The beef is well-marinated and has a decent amount of flavor, but the texture is rather tough and chewy. In a non-stick skillet, the rice was nice enough in its tenderness but clung to the bottom of the pan (making clean-up a chore) and didn't offer the crunchy, crispy element that we've come to expect from a Korean fried rice dish.

In general, there wasn't enough of the fermented funkiness that we love about Korean food. We felt this could have had more of a kimchi presence, considering the name on the package, but it didn't seem like it played much of a role. A sunny-side-up fried egg along with sriracha helped make this dish a bit better.

11. Family Style Meat Lasagna

Trader Joe reached out to his cousin Trader Giotto for this Family Style Meat Lasagna. It isn't the most intriguing option in the frozen aisle, but we rank it higher on our list because it's an easy crowd-pleaser and a very good value at $6.49. Most importantly, it's a hefty portion that lives up to the name "family style." Weighing in at two pounds, we found that it easily contains four meaty servings for a dinner meal.

There's plenty of well-seasoned tomato sauce. The lasagna layers are thick sheets of pasta and are not at all flimsy. There is an ample portion of ground beef and a pleasing amount of mozzarella. We prepared ours in the oven, which took over an hour, but you can certainly take the faster route with the microwave and shave off 45 minutes or so. We also topped it with Trader Joe's grated Parmesan and a dash of crushed red pepper to add some extra spice.

10. Carne Asada Burritos

Trader Joe's Carne Asada Burritos are an easy way to serve up a meal for two. These are microwave ready — just cover them with a damp paper towel. We chose to heat them in the oven, covered in foil for 20 minutes at 450 degrees.

The steak is tender and seasoned well enough. There weren't any standout flavors in the filling, but the package indicates onion, roasted poblano chiles, cilantro, and dried garlic as dominant ingredients. And for those reluctant to go near anything containing cilantro, rest assured that this is a subtle addition. The tortilla wrap was the right temperature and texture; It was nicely chewy and had a toasty brown bottom for a bit of crispiness.

That said, this dish is pure meat and tortilla. We thought it could use one or two more ingredients in the filling, like rice, beans, or cheese. If you enjoy spicy food, we recommend having some salsa or hot sauce on the side. If spicy food isn't your thing, this shouldn't offend your palate.

9. Butter Chicken

Trader Joe's Butter Chicken comes with a portion of basmati rice, so with this frozen dinner, you get a two-for-one deal. While it's ready in under 10 minutes, if you give it a spin in the microwave, we opted to let it bake in the oven, which took 35 minutes. That approach may have led to the watery rice we encountered.

Frozen chicken is never going to compare to fresh, and Trader Joe's stands up to the challenge and doesn't fall completely short. It wasn't overly dry, but perhaps more dark meat would be a key improvement. We rank this lower on the list because there aren't as many chicken cutlets as you might want, considering the price point.

As far as flavor, the curry in this butter chicken has some nice heat and is gently tangy because of the tomato base. There's a pleasant and restrained amount of spice. It prevents the dish from tasting bland but also comes forward in a way that doesn't make you want to jump for a glass of water. While the sauce is thick and creamy, we also found there to be a lot more of that than chicken, and we'd recommend grabbing some Trader Joe's frozen garlic naan to stretch the meal a bit further.

8. Vegetable Biryani

It doesn't matter whether or not you're a vegetarian. Trader Joe's Vegetable Biryani frozen meal is a recommended buy.

The vegetable dumplings are pillowy and soft. Beyond the nice balance of flavors, those dumplings are why we keep going back to this item when we're shopping at TJ's. If you follow the microwave instructions, the basmati rice isn't quite al dente, but it's at least not overly mushy. If you have the time to throw this in the oven, you'll get better results. A nice helping of peas and lima beans (and a few cashew nubs) adds additional texture. There are also raisins to add some welcome sweetness.

This biryani dish's seasoning isn't overly heavy on the heat, and we think it will satisfy those who are a bit averse to spices. However, Trader Joe's would be wise to spin this off into a milder version that's kid friendly.

7. Kung Pao Chicken

While the ends justify the means, we wouldn't rank Trader Joe's Kung Pao Chicken in the upper echelons of its frozen dinners. Compared to other options available, making this dish on the stovetop was a bit of a process. And even the microwave instructions involve multiple steps.

For the stove, in addition to what's in the package, you'll need some vegetable oil, a wooden spoon, and a heavy-duty, large non-stick skillet. Once the pan is hot, the chicken requires frequent stirring to prevent it from sticking. After around seven minutes, adding the frozen vegetables (which come in their own mini package) adds moisture that loosens the stir fry for another several minutes of frequent mixing. For some reason, there are two sauce packets to add rather than one, and there's additional stirring while the sauce reduces. The final step is tossing in the packet of peanuts, which after all this time, have defrosted.

The chicken texture turns out well, considering it's frozen. The sauce had some pleasant umami and was slightly vinegar-forward. We found that it makes a better pairing with the vegetables and legumes than the protein. Watch out for the dried chiles. They add heat, but you probably don't want to ingest them.

6. Outside In Stuffed Gnocchi

Outside In Stuffed Gnocchi from Trader Joe's is a bit of a gimmick concept both in description and execution, but it passes the taste test, and we rank it on the higher end of their frozen meals. Let's be honest. It's pretty hard to say no to a cheese-filled potato dumpling. The dumplings are doughy and soft, and the mozzarella filling is very obvious. As far as tomatoes being part of the interior, we didn't detect much of a presence. Depending on how much of a fan you are of tomatoes, this could be viewed as a plus or a minus.

We tossed this with a basic marinara, but it could easily pair well with whatever sauce you prefer — creamy alfredo, herbaceous pesto, or spicy arrabbiata. We'd also opt for this instead of the shelf-stable dried gnocchi that Trader Joe's sells. The next time we make it, we've made a note to brown it a little longer during the first phase of cooking to give it some extra texture.

5. Shrimp Boom Bah

There are a few ways to heat this fried shrimp dish from Trader Joe's. And if you're a fan of using an air fryer, we've got good news for you because the package has specific directions for heating these tasty crustaceans. This is the only frozen meal from Trader Joe's that we came across that ventures into air fryer territory. You can also bake the shrimp in the oven or deep fry them in hot oil, but be sure to leave some room on the range for a medium-sized skillet to heat the sauce that's included in the package. Unfortunately, after the shrimp was tossed with the sauce, it wasn't as crispy as we wanted. That's why it's not at the top of our ranking. 

The sauce was quite good, but have some napkins on hand because it has an intense amount of heat, and your eyes will water. The spice level reminds us a bit of Nashville hot chicken. That might be a plus or a minus, depending on your inclination toward spice. There's some nice sweetness as well to cool your tongue.

4. Seafood Paella

Trader Joe's Seafood Paella gets bonus points for being quick and easy to make. We followed the instructions on the package and were pretty happy with the results. There's no need to defrost. Take it straight from the freezer, and pour the contents into a wide heavy-duty skillet over high heat. Cook it covered for about four minutes, then another two minutes uncovered.

The arborio rice was cooked to satisfaction and provided some creaminess. We missed the socarrat crunchiness you would get from a restaurant paella, but that's hard to pull off at home. Visually, it's appealing, with turmeric being a key ingredient, and the saffron flavors come through. Overall, we thought it needed just a touch more seasoning or maybe more bell peppers. As far as the seafood, there's an even disbursement of calamari, mussels, and baby shrimp. The tenderness of the calamari and mussels were a surprise. We found them to be tender and not overly chewy. The shrimp came out a bit overcooked and was the weakest link.

Our verdict? Trader Joe's Seafood Paella is enough for dinner for two but might be better as an easy side dish to pair with a hearty steak or fish filet.

3. Spicy Thai Shrimp Fried Rice

Trader Joe's Spicy Thai Fried Rice contains plenty of ingredients, including spices like red chilies and white pepper, and a bounty of vegetables. Baby corn, green peas, carrot, ginger, and green onion fill out the roster.

There's a notable amount of heat, and the dish lives up to the promise in its name. Sometimes, frozen meals fall flat compared to what you'd get from restaurant takeout, and we miss some of the fermented funk that you usually find in Thai dishes. The consistency of the rice is a bit mushy, but that's expected from an entree cooked from frozen.

Ultimately, we rank this on the higher side. Preparation is a convenient three-step process. Add oil to a non-stick pan, heat, stir the shrimp until it turns pink, then add the rice. Easy peasy. The only downside is that despite the oil, we found that a lot of the rice ended up sticking to the pan, which needed an overnight soak for cleanup.

2. Mandarin Orange Chicken

We rank Trader Joe's Mandarin Orange Chicken high on the list because, for starters, we've had it plenty of times in the past and keep coming back for more. It holds up well compared to its fast food and takeout competitors. To make this purchase even better, it comes at a value price point, and you can have it on hand in your kitchen for emergency, last-minute meals without having to leave the house.

Wait for your oven to warm up, and place the chicken nuggets on a baking sheet. The sauce that's included in the package provides all of the umami, sweetness, and delicate spice you crave. That sauce packet only needs a quick spin in the microwave before you give it a nice toss it with the chicken after it's hot from the oven. If you factor in rice and a side of veggies, we've found there's enough to feed four with one bag.

1. Burrata, Prosciutto & Arugula Flatbread

This is one of our favorite frozen dinners from Trader Joe's for a few reasons. While burrata gets marquee status on the label, it's quarterbacking a deep roster of other cheeses, including mozzarella, fontal, mascarpone, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pecorino romano.

The arugula doesn't add much in terms of flavor but does provide a nice pop of color to make the dish visually appealing. When it comes to the crust, we'll cut this pizza some slack. Frozen is never going to compete with fresh dough.

The prosciutto doesn't go onto the pizza until after it's out of the oven. While the oven preheats and the pizza bakes, the package defrosts. When the pizza reaches melted perfection and has had a chance to cool a bit, you can tear the prosciutto by hand and add it as the final touch. We've found that the roughly 30 minutes it takes from the freezer to your dinner plate is ample time for the cured meat to get to room temperature.