Kathleen Collins / The Daily Meal
After working late, running errands, and picking up the kids from soccer practice, cooking dinner from scratch can certainly be a drag. Thank the heavens above, Trader Joe’s fresh and frozen sections are flowing with fuss-free foods for nights when you’re craving linguine with pesto and tomatoes but only have the energy to make a ham and cheese sandwich.
We rummaged the aisles of our local Trader Joe’s in search of the most delicious and least time-consuming products, all of which take 20 minutes or less to make. Even better, the majority of them cost under $3.99. The highest-ticket items include pre-marinated meats — carne asada, chicken shawarma, rosemary balsamic steak tips — and even then, they’re less than $10 per pound. Who wouldn’t dish out a few extra bucks to skip all that prep?
So fire up the grill, slick a skillet, warm the oven, or just pop open the microwave because your next stress-free meal awaits. Whether you live on your own with a few dozen cats or have multiple hungry bellies to fill, these 26 Trader Joe’s products are guaranteed to save weeknight dinners.
These gigantic shrimp are fished from the waters of Patagonia, and rumor has it the taste and texture is strikingly similar to lobster. This 1-pound bag is sold for $9.99 and comes with 20 to 25 peeled and de-veined frozen shrimp. Once they’re thawed, grill them on skewers, add them to a salad, or toss them with lemon, olive oil, and herbs atop angel hair pasta.
Who says you need to go to a fancy restaurant for decent steak tips? Trader Joe’s are pre-marinated in balsamic vinegar, brown sugar, soy sauce, rosemary, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt, parsley, porcini mushroom, garlic, cornstarch, crushed red pepper, and black pepper — and they’re only $9.99 per pound. In addition to the obvious powerful flavor, this cut is extremely tender. Pan fry, broil, or grill, and just add sides!
Good butternut squash soup can take an hour or more to make from scratch. This slightly nutty, gingery medley takes just minutes to heat on the stove. A 32-fluid-ounce carton costs $2.99 and feeds four. Channel your inner Martha Stewart by adding a dollop of sour cream and diced apple. Butternut squash soup is a fan favorite during fall but can be enjoyed by all year-round.
Trader Joe’s version of this traditional Mexican dish features a fat-trimmed, hand-butterflied beef sirloin pre-marinated in a blend of citrus and spice. It costs $9.49 per pound and takes only minutes to cook on the grill or in a hot pan. Add it to taco shells with peppers, onions, tomato, cheese, and sour cream, or serve with a side of spicy rice or refried beans.
These individually frozen chicken breasts are sold for $6.99 and come boneless and skinless. After thawing, they can be cooked in the oven, on the grill, and apparently even in the microwave. Add some simple seasoning or baste with barbecue sauce and plate with broccoli and potatoes, or chop it up and throw it on a salad.
Trader Joe’s chicken sausages are a gift. They come in so many different flavors and are already cooked, so all you have to do is slice them up and throw them on a pizza, in a hot dog bun, or over roasted spaghetti squash with red sauce. Get a five-pack from the refrigerated meat case for $3.99. The sun-dried tomato variety is our favorite!
This hefty helping of basmati rice is flavored with cilantro, creme fraiche, garlic, ginger, and panca peppers — all of which is inspired by traditional Peruvian chimichurri sauce. Diced tomatoes, peas, and shallots are also present in the mix. Everything is already cooked, so prep takes less than five minutes. One 16-ounce bag costs $2.99 and pairs perfectly with flank steak or chicken.
There’s little to no point in spending extra on fresh produce when the frozen variety is just as nutritious. Trader Joe’s frozen cauliflower is only $2.99 and comes pre-grilled, so there’s no need to fire up the grill. To do this on your own would take anywhere from 20 to 40 minutes and the only cleanup you’ll need to do is chuck the bag. Use it as a side for any meat or toss it with tahini and make it a meal.
Making lasagna can be extremely time consuming. Between boiling the noodles, cooking the meat, preparing the filling, layering it all, and waiting for everything to cook, it could be upwards of two hours before the finished product reaches your plate. Trader Joe’s meat lasagna takes five minutes to microwave or 20 minutes to bake. This $6.49 dinner tray stands on its own as enough to comfortably feed two.
Preparation instructions on this bag suggest defrosting at room temperature, but many find that makes these vegetables mushy. Instead, cook the eggplant, zucchini, and red peppers in a single layer on a baking sheet at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 12 to 15 minutes or until they’re nice and crispy. Use them as a side for the main, atop a pizza, or tossed with noodles and tomato sauce. Misto Alla Griglia $3.99 and can be found in the frozen section.
“Multigrain Blend” sounds a little boring, but we promise you it’s not. This $2.99 crowd pleaser contains barley, corn, a variety of rice, peas, carrots, zucchini, onion, and spices. The different tastes and textures are what make this side dish a party in a bag. Everything comes fully cooked, so all you have to do is let it defrost. You can also heat it in the microwave or on the stove top if you’d rather enjoy it hot.
This pre-marinated meat is sliced scallop-style, so it cooks very quickly — approximately three to four minutes per side on the grill or in a frying pan. When it’s finished, you’ll have a terrifically tender pesto chicken ready to be eaten on its own or enjoyed with fusilli pasta. Find it in the meat case for $4.99 per pound.
Trader Joe’s Pollo Asado comes with butterflied chicken breasts in a slightly spicy marinade. To prep, grill over high heat for four to five minutes, then add to tortilla shells with avocado, pico de gallo, cilantro, and sour cream for quick and easy tacos. One package will cost you roughly $6 depending on the weight.
The Rustico Pomodoro pasta sauce tastes strikingly similar to Rao’s famous marinara, but only costs $2.99. After a quick reheat on the stovetop, pour it over gnocchi, butternut squash, or spaghetti. The simple Italian recipe is delicious on its own, but can be complimented by ground chicken, turkey, or beef.
Gone are the days of quinoa sticking to the bottom of your sauce pan. The contents of this bag — a “duo” of red and white quinoa plus cubed zucchini and sweet potato — cook via microwave or sauce pan for six to seven minutes. Add spinach, onion, avocado, peppers, and parsley to make a trendy vegetable bowl. The Quinoa Duo costs $3.99 and can be found in the freezer section.
$2.79 will buy you two fully cooked chicken patties. They’re perfect on their own with a side of veggies, on top of a salad, in pasta, or between burger buns. This product can be microwaved, but we don’t recommend that. For a more tender, juicier, and slightly charred outcome, heat it on the grill or in a skillet.
Slicing peppers and onions is light work, but chopping potatoes is a nightmare. Forget the prep. Why dirty a cutting board and chef’s knife when you can just reheat this medley in an oven or skillet? Salt, rosemary, and garlic are prominent in these crispy spuds, which will undoubtedly become a staple in your freezer.
Chicken shawarma might just be the hottest ticket item at Trader Joe’s because of its delicious marinade made with onion, garlic, sea salt, cumin, cinnamon, coriander, paprika, turmeric, and parsley. Get it for $4.49 per pound, then take it home and throw it on the grill or in the oven. Pair it with flatbread, yogurt sauce, and cucumber slices. You’ll never be the same again.
Trader Joe’s sockeye salmon fillets are wild-caught in Alaska and cost $10.99 per pound. Before you head to work, take the vacuum pack out of the freezer, peel a corner back, and thaw in the fridge for eight to 10 hours. When you get home, grill, bake, or poach it for four to five minutes per side and serve with a lime wedge and asparagus.
Stuffed peppers can seem intimidating to assemble if you don’t spend much time experimenting in the kitchen. Trader Joe’s sells a ready-to-eat pack with pepper halves that are filled with ground turkey and chicken breast, white rice, and Parmesan cheese in tomato sauce. One two-pack will set you back $5.99.
This isn’t your average frozen pizza. This artisan-style pie features cute twisted pastry dough topped with brie cheese, creme fraiche, cherry tomatoes, and basil. There’s no red sauce, but it’s not needed. This fancy-pants pizza cooks in just 10 minutes. The only downfall is that you can’t put it in the microwave, but bread is crispier in the oven anyway.
Tikka vegetables are new at Trader Joe’s. The pack — which includes carrots, potatoes, onions, and green peas in a moderately spicy tomato and cream sauce — does not need to be refrigerated, and the extent of cooking goes a little something like this: Cut a 2-inch slit in the top and microwave for one minute. Pour it over chicken or enjoy it on its own — a super last-minute meal done right.
No spiralizer? No problem! Save time and nix carbs with Trader Joe’s pre-spiraled zucchini noodles. They’re just $2.99 and take only nine minutes to cook in a covered skillet. Season with salt, pepper, and olive oil, or add tomato or cream sauce. You can even add the turkey meatballs and a sprinkle of Parmesan cheese to make the ultimate faux spaghetti.
Now that you know what to pick up from Trader Joe’s for easy weeknight meals, check out these 18 things you should never buy from the California-based grocery chain.
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