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Trader Joe's - "prepared" foods

So I broke down and stopped at TJ's the other day on my way home from the gym. I'm not a huge fan of the place, but I do like their individual-serving-packaged nuts and dried fruits (the cashew-almond-cranberry combo is divine) and decided to take a stroll around the store and see if anything looked interesting. I've tried some of their "prepared foods" (i.e. marinated, pre-seasoned, etc.) in the past and been less than impressed, but I decided to give them another try and picked up the curry chicken tenders.

What a huge mistake. They smelled OK on the grill, but when eating them, the flavor was harsh and very chemical-ish. They were so bad that even the dog wouldn't eat them, so I basically tossed $6.50 into the garbage can. And I love curry, so it wasn't just that it was a new or unusual flavor for us.

I also bought some frozen garlic chicken stir-fry and some chicken and apple sausages, but now I'm reluctant to even try them. Am I just missing some *gem* that TJ's sells?

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  1. You can take anything back that you don't like for a refund.

    I haven't tried the curry tenders, but I alway keep some of their rice bowls in the freezer for lazy days. I also like the lemongrass spring rolls.

    1. I really like their rice pudding. My wife and kids enjoyed the Risotto with asparagus on a time-strapped dinner night. Other than that, not much success.

      1. I've had mainly bad experiences with their "simmer sauces" and frozen entrees(excepting the minimalist neapolitan pizzas). New-ish products at my locations include carne asada and whole carnitas(not pre-shredded); these are surprisingly decent with the carnitas being my definite favorite. I also sometimes enjoy their roast beef and bleu cheese sandwiches(depends on the quality control of the factory line). However, I've mostly whittled down my TJ's purchases to frozen(un-marinated) fish, milk, juices, very rarely cheeses, two buck chuck, and the odd impulse buy. Okay, impulse buys make up the bulk of my TJ's shopping, but the aforementioned are the core and what gets me in the stores.

        2 Replies
        1. re: aelph

          I've had terrible experiences with my many purchases of their frozen fish and seafood. I've tried many different kinds and forms, and they always turn out bad. They must put extra water in them or something. I would avoid buying their frozen seafood.

          1. re: Jacey

            Depends on how and what you're cooking: the uncooked shrimp is perfectly good(I lament the disappearance of the TJ's rock shrimp from my markets a couple years back...they were perfect for po-boys) and the tilapia(regardless of what you may think of tilapia) fries up wonderfully flaky. I would never buy their scallops or calamari or thicker-fleshed fish including frozen salmon and tuna(who on earth wastes money on those)?

            It also depends on your skill and methods of defrosting and cooking.

        2. I'm not a TJ's diehard either but of their prepared foods I do enjoy their frozen vegetarian pad thai. Had a very bad experience with their fozen spanakopita but was too lazy to bring it back. Have yet to find a "gem" but I just bought a bottle of their olive oil, I'm hoping that will be a gem.

          1 Reply
          1. re: moymoy

            O yeah! That Vegan Pad Thai is the awesomest! I used to buy stacks of them and eat nothing else....
            Its a terrible waste to live near a Trader Joes and not to buy That delicious frozen noodle delight. A terrible shame.

          2. I don't like the frozen rice/noodle bowls--they taste chemical to me, as do the simmer sauces. However, I really like the frozen biryani rice, veg tempura, veg masala burgers, and Tarte d'Alsace "pizzas". My son loves the frozen mac'n'cheese so much I call it crack'n'cheese and only buy one box at a time, otherwise he consumes them in mass quantities!

            I don't like the refrigerated prepared foods either, the wraps are soggy and taste stale. The soups were meh. Those chicken/apple sausages you mention are OK but the Aidell's are better.

            1 Reply
            1. re: coney with everything

              The vegetable masala burgers - a misnomer, they're not imitation burgers but savory Indian-style potato-based vegetable patties - are a big favorite, always have at least one box in my freezer and they don't stay there long.

            2. I can vouch for the frozen spring rolls of coconut chicken, and lemongrass chicken. Vehetable gyoza in green and black pkg are pretty decent too.

              Something like "Frozen garlic chicken stir fry" sounds completely wrong to me. Don't expect some magical presentation of stir fry when the vegetables have been frozen. Freezing vegetables completely changes their texture. The point of stir fry is for the vegetables to retain their crispness. This is an impossibility if frozen.

              1. Their prepared foods are really hit or miss. The hits are awesome and the misses are pretty blah. I get their sausages all the time, but they make two different kinds. The precooked ones are just OK, but the fresh ones in the meat section are pretty good. I'd say a step between Acme and my local butcher. We like the pork and garlic and the chicken with red wine. I'm actually making the chicken sausage with peppers tonight! The chicken breakfast sausage wasn't as good as the dinner ones, though.

                I agree that the mac & cheese is out of this world. Love the frozen vegetables, BBQ Chicken Pizza, tomato sauces, and frozen hors d'oeuvres for partys. It's really up to you and your tastes.

                4 Replies
                1. re: jessicheese

                  I like their mini-tacos. So greasy.. but I guess that's what makes them good! In a way they are a little bit like the Jack in the Box variety.

                  1. re: monkuboy

                    I just discovered those(the chicken variety, anyway). I've been pleasantly surprised how tasty they are...compared to the other TJ's "Mexican" products I've tried; some of those are horrendous. I don't even bother deep-frying them(hmm...lotsa frying mentioned in my comments on this thread :), I just pop two or three in the microwave for a late night bite. Those and some El Yucateco kutbil-ik, Herdez salsa, and maybe some TJ's guacomole. Perfect midnight snack.

                    1. re: aelph

                      The beef mini tacos are good too - I bake them in the oven and top with cheese and salsa. I also love their frozen mini chicken empanaditas.

                      1. re: Jeanne

                        I plan on trying the beef mini tacos. Good to hear they get a thumbs up.

                2. The hummus in the refrigerated section is pretty good. I always have some on hand for a quick and healthy dip for veggies. Unlike the national brands sold in the major grocery stores, TJ's doesn't contain any HFCS in its ingredient list. Plus, I think it tastes a lot better, too.

                  1. There are a few very good items in the freezer case: three-cheese pizza, pork potstickers and chicken taquitos come to mind. But most of the prepared foods are pretty dismal. If those chicken and apple sausages are the fresh ones from the meat case, they'll probably be okay. You might want to have a Plan B in mind when cook the frozen garlic chicken stir-fry, though.

                    1. I bought the grilled chicken strips in the prepared area. You can eat them cold or warm them up. They tasted to charred and spoiled faster than I thought they would.

                      1. I stay away from the frozen/prepared foods at TJ's I think the real gems are the basic ingredients, vinegars, oils, grains pastas etc. In another thread I recently mentioned the aged balsamic they have. It's 10 years old and costs 4.99. Anywhere else you are looking at $15 easy

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: tastelikechicken

                          I agree, I like TJ's for staples. Your basic cheddar cheese, sourdough bread, pasta, oils, drinks. Then a smattering of other stuff is good. I like to dress up the organic frozen cheese pizza's. The whole carnitas make good taco filling. It's really about the basics for me though.

                          1. re: tastelikechicken

                            I agree. I actually shop a lot at Trader Joe's, but I like to cook. Their organic ketchup is great and has no HCFS, and I've recently become a convert to their real mayo. We get dairy, olive oil, cheese, juice, wine, WW bread for toast, salsa and their meats are decent.

                            I'm not a big fan of prepared meals anywhere, and TJ's doesn't magically make them tasty. I find that as a general rule, their frozen meals are as good as or better than stuff I get in other stores, but we're starting with a frozen meal baseline. It's not going to replace home cooking.

                            We buy some of their crackers, etc. for my toddler and she's a fan, but in terms of prepared meals we tend to stay simple -- frozen mac and cheese, Tarte D'Alsace and potstickers, and their frozen meatballs are pretty good too.

                            1. re: tastelikechicken

                              I stay away from the frozen/prepared foods at TJ's I think the real gems are the basic ingredients...

                              I agree. Tried some TJ packaged Thai rice stuff. Ugh.

                            2. I've had similarly unimpressive experiences with most of the frozen TJ's entrees I've tried, with one exception: their frozen four-cheese mac 'n cheese. Sublimely cheesy goodness!

                              I was also a huge fan of their hot & sour soup in a jar, which alas they discontinued last year.

                              1. I recently tried the curry chicken tenders and agree that they were nasty. I will definitely not be repurchasing....

                                Here are some of my favorite prepared foods that I keep purchasing...
                                1. All of their goyza (veggie and chicken are my favorites)
                                2. Frozen mandarin orange chicken
                                3. Frozen artichoke spinach dip
                                4. Don't know if this counts but their cabernet pot roast is quite yummy, just discovered this last week and my hubby is already begging for it again

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: ericalee

                                  I also like the (new on the East Coast) egg white chives salad.

                                2. Trader Joes is very hit and miss indeed. Those chicken tenders are utterly repulsive. Your dog was spot on (sorry) in not touching them.

                                  1. BBQ Roast Pork. Comes in a bag. It's really quite good and I generally don't care for TJs prepared items. This is flavorful and a snap to heat up. I served it with some roasted potatoes and sauteed kale. YUM.

                                    1. I tried both the teriyaki chicken and another kind of chicken (I think it was lemon-pepper). Both were so-o-o salty from the marinade that I couldn't eat them. This from a person who loves salty things.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Gigi007

                                        I love the cornmeal crust pizza... I get at least one a week.

                                        I also love the frozen chicken Quesadillas... they taste homemade!

                                      2. the one almost always safe frozen foods are their desserts. the cakes and pies are for the most part good and reasonably priced. while many ppl like their mexican food,i have not had good luck with them. frozen pizzas are decent and jams and other basics

                                        1. we just tried the pre-marinated chicken asada for the first time. verdict was "meh". will not repurchase, but will eat the leftovers. also bought the burgundy marinated lamb tips(?) but didn't cook them yet.
                                          I love the gyoza, the fiber bread... agree it's hit and miss.

                                          1. Frozen foods I like:
                                            Korean kalbi (cooked them on my indoor grill)
                                            Beef tamales
                                            Chicken empanaditas
                                            Tarte d'Alsace

                                            Some of the other items I've tried have been dismal. I also like the Chicken Breakfast Sausages (meat section).

                                            1. I too was very disappointed with the chicken curry tenders, did not taste as good as making chicken and a jar of their Korma sauce.

                                              I do like the pasta dishes that come in a cardbox box from the non-refrigerated shelves. In some cases it's whole wheat pasta too, which is all I can eat these days.

                                              1. What do people think of the egg white chives salad in the prepared food section. I tried this out from TJ's when I was out on the West Coast and loved it. I kept on buying it when I was out there. However, when it finally became available on the East Coast, I'm not a fan. For some reason it tastes different and the portion seems not as generous, even though it appears to be exactly the same.

                                                3 Replies
                                                1. re: Jacey

                                                  As a big fan of even simple egg salad, I've tried it. You're right, they sure don't give you much, and it's a bit bland, despite the chives.

                                                  1. re: MsDiPesto

                                                    It aint cheap, too! I don't get why the one in LA was so much tastier.

                                                    1. re: Jacey

                                                      I've noticed great variation in taste with TJ's prepared and packaged foods. Their unsliced "loin" of smoked salmon, for example - someone brought one to my house and it was fantastic, smoky and flavorful. When I bought one for myself a few weeks later (same exact packaging) it was boring and bland.

                                                      It may be related to what I've heard about Two- (or here on the East Coset, Three-) Buck Chuck, they they get a variety of different wines from different producers but sell them all under the same label, so one batch may be wildly different from another.

                                                2. I've enjoyed a lot of their frozen items, including:

                                                  mac 'n cheese
                                                  pot pies
                                                  tarte d'alsace
                                                  gnocchi with gorgonzola sauce
                                                  chicken chili verde enchiladas

                                                  1 Reply
                                                  1. re: operagirl

                                                    I could eat a whole tarte d'alsace by myself. I overcook it (according to the directions) and it comes out spectacular.

                                                    Their Polenta Provencal is a staple in my house. I add ground turkey and asparagus. It makes life easy when I'm just getting home from work at 6 and have to leave the house again at 7 for a show. I can rest easy that my kid's eating something somewhat good.

                                                  2. I went in tonight and got the chicken chili verde burritos. It was pretty good, but not great. My big problem with their frozen and prepared foods is the high calorie and fat content and small portions. Even if I leave caution to the wind the caloric intake seems to be a little too much. Like others have said the staples are great and a good value. I do love the green bean crisps. Even better if you add extra salt.

                                                    2 Replies
                                                    1. re: free sample addict aka Tracy L

                                                      I like the gorgonzola gnocchi, the gzoyas, and the chicken/lime burgers. Far and away the best thing they sell, IMO, is the frozen chocolate croissants.

                                                      1. re: Emm

                                                        I adore the chocolate croissants. They are great for a lazy Sunday breakfast with a cup of coffee!

                                                        Some of my favorite TJ prepared items are:
                                                        Vegetable Masala Burgers
                                                        Pork and Vegetable Potstickers (my 6yo son would eat these everyday if I let him)
                                                        Quattro Formaggi Pizza
                                                        Spicy Ranchero Egg White Salad
                                                        Sweet & Sour Tempura Chicken
                                                        Frozen Butter Chicken
                                                        Frozen Chana Masala
                                                        Frozen Paneer Masala

                                                        We are Punjabi, and frozen indian products are some of the best we've had.