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Quick Lunches from Trader Joe's - Please Share Your Favs!

Lately, I seem to be both lacking the time to make my lunches at home and the money to eat out every day - so I have been turning to my neighborhood Trader Joe's for quick lunches that I can stock up on and keep in the fridge/freezer at work. Here are the ones I have tried so far, with my ratings (out of 10):

Mac n' Cheese - 10 (one of the best macs out there, fresh or frozen)
Paneer Masala - 9
Broccoli and Cheese Quiche - 9
Asparagus Risotto -- 8
Pesto Tortellini Bowl - 7
Chicken Tikka Masala - 7
Vegetable Lasagne - 3
California Rolls - 0 (truly terrible)

Please share your recommendations!

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  1. Mildly Spiced Veg Burritos - 7.

    I'm lactose intolerant (though not a vegetarian) so I appreciate that they are vegan and therefore cheeseless. So many of TJ's frozen meals have cheese!

    Chicken Fried Rice + Frozen Organic Peas - 4.
    Chicken Chow Mein + Frozen Organic Peas - 4.

    1 Reply
    1. re: artemis

      The green curry shrimp bowl is delicious - 9.

      1. Panang veg curry - 9.9 (would be a ten except for the calorie count!)

        Butter chicken - 7, good flavor but chicken suspiciously close to mystery meat

        8 Replies
        1. re: coney with everything

          Frozen fettuccine with mushrooms: very big mushroom flavor.

          1. re: SmartCookie

            Green chile cheese tamales. I used to take them to work and everyone wanted to steal them!

            1. re: SmartCookie

              I'm eating this as I type, and I agree - nice mushroom flavor! I also appreciate the texture of the fettucine (as close to al dente as you could get with frozen pasta) and the mushrooms (not too tough). I did find that it cooked down a lot - I only used half the 3-serving package and it's not enough - I would say that the whole package would be more like one restaurant-sized portion.

            2. re: coney with everything

              today i finally had this butter chicken from frig section. deLISH! i am truly delighted. and, VERY unique for me, who always tweaks TrJ products to make them better, I was very happy w/ this product just as it was. wow. "Notary Public!" (we use that expression for when someone makes a startling announcement.) And the chicken was pretty generous and moist and chicken flavored.

              the only odd thing is that i only nuked it for 2 min (it said 3) and then let it sit awhile (maybe 5-8 min.longer than the minute they directed) and when i got it out of the microw., the pkg had warped/collapsed somewhat.
              i am really psyched about this product. don't know who produces it, obviously, or whether they have it in your TJ refrig section, but i highly rec. it.

              and thanks to CH schmoopy that i know of it.

              1. re: opinionatedchef

                OpinionatedChef --

                I also enjoy the butter chicken but I was surprised to find that I like the version that is in the freezer section over the version in the refrigerated section. The refrigerated section chicken while the sauce was great the chicken had a bit of a mealy texture that was offputting -- I found the frozen version to be much better (to me) from a texture/taste standpoint. So much that we try to stock one or two of the butter chicken entrees in the freezer as quick meals when the urge strikes. :o)

                1. re: stomsf

                  I agree- the frozen butter chicken is delicious!

                2. re: opinionatedchef

                  I'm so glad you liked it too! It really is one of my favorites. I also had that happen once with the warped package after microwaving. Don't know what that's all about but it only happened once and I've had it at least ten times now. I'm going to try the one that stomsf recommended from the frozen section too.

                  1. re: schmoopy

                    me too! (the name i gave a babby kitty when i was young)

              2. I like most of their frozen burritos. My favorite was discontinued (sadly) but the green chili chicken enchiladas and the mildly spiced veggie burritos are both tasty.
                I also like to get bags of salad, whole wheat tortillas, and hummus and make salad wraps
                Dolmas are tasty
                LOVE that mac & cheese

                1. It's dinner, but we just shared the pulled chicken packet (with a little cheese, and some chips), and it was a very tasty dinner. Will have to stock up tomorrow before they discontinue!

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: L2k

                    Pesto pasta bowl: spinach leaves, pasta, pine nuts, cherry tomatoes, and the perfect amount of peso. I've tried recreating this at home and it's damn near close. Rating: 7

                  2. Tandoori Style Butter Chicken, with butternut squah, spinach and peppers on rice. It's heat and serve (not frozen) and found in the section where they have the ready made salads, pizza dough, wrap sandwiches, etc. It's amazingly good and the whole thing is only 360 calories in case that's important to you.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: schmoopy

                      that IS important to me, and thanks!!

                    2. Curried Lentils with Rice - 9
                      Fettucine with Mushrooms - 9
                      Shepherd's Pie - 7

                      1. I'm eating the Chimichurri Rice right now. The flavor is absolutely fantastic, but I'm not as blown away by the texture - it's a bit soggy. I think it could be great if it was made stovetop, but I don't have that option here at work. So for now - 8.

                        1. Turkey Meatloaf Muffins - 8
                          Biryani - 6 (good texture, but something is off in the flavor)

                          1. My two favorites are the Chicken Tikka Masala, which is nearly identical to my favorite Indian restaurant's here in Chicago (best Indian food in the USA!). I'm not even kidding, it tastes so much like what I get in a restaurant, it gets a 9 because there's a tiny amount of chicken in there, but it is sooooo good!
                            Also love the green chile burritos as others have said, but find that they're not very satisfying, so I give those an 8.5. I'm always hungry after, although I suppose that's just the nature of eating something that is mostly tortilla and sauce w/only a little protein.

                            1. We try to keep a good supply of TJ frozen meals on hand as well, for those "occasional" nights when home cooking just is not in the cards.

                              I'll second the Paneer Masala, Pesto Tortellini, and Chicken Tikka Masala. The Vegetable Burritos and Eggplant Parm are also good, but not very filling.

                              One major FAIL is the Soba Noodles. Truly horrific. I also tried a chinese noodle dish that really sucked. To make matters worse, the cooking instructions for both are laughably complex and in both cases failed to cook the dish fully.

                              I'm on the fence about the Pad Thai. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't.

                              Looking at the options cuisine by cuisine, the Indian entrees seem to be the best, followed by the Mexican, Italian, and Thai, with Chinese and Japanese bringing up the rear. However, my kids really have enjoyed some of the asian dumplings, shu mai, etc. It's just the Far Eastern entrees that have been subpar.

                              1. steak burritos. i nuke them and then bake/ crisp them in toaster over. then i cut them in half crossways and stuff them via the open ends- with some defrosted and heated pork adobo or beef carne asada.
                                i also make a chipotle sour cream w/ pureed chipotles, o.j. concentrate, minced garlic, and a little lemon juice.

                                chicken tikka masala which i eat with some baked frozen: samosas, onion naan, or medu wada from my indian store.

                                frozen veg pad thai(I add peanut butter, tamari, lime juice, veggies and chicken.)

                                spinach and feta filo pie (TJs, not other brand)

                                grilled SW chicken patties(we grill them) which we eat on toasted curry naan with cilantro yoghurt sauce

                                tarte d'alsace to which i add: thin layer of sour cream sprinkled w/ cayenne, chopped ham, grated gruyere

                                1. vegetable masala burgers - not really a burger, no bun needed (or wanted), but a savory veggie patty. Frozen; heat and eat.

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: John Francis

                                    Second on this -- these are also great on the grill (once the weather warms up again!)

                                    1. re: John Francis

                                      Third on these! One of my favorite TJ items. These are delicious enough that the bun is not necessary, but I just love a handheld sandwich, so I use one anyway. Tons of flavor.

                                    2. Just thought of another thing that I really enjoy for lunch from TJ's: the Southwestern salad. It's there in the refrigerated section with all the prepared salads and wraps, etc. It's a great combination of lettuce, black beans, corn, red and green peppers, onions and feta cheese. There's something about that combination of black beans, corn and cheese that just does it for me. It comes with a little container of reduced calorie dressing that I don't use (too many horrible "diet" dressings in the 70s... need I say more?). I'd rather have a little really good dressing than a lot of "diet" dressing. Anyway, I bring along my favorite Ina Garten creamy vinaigrette and add a little more butter lettuce and arugula and I'm in heaven. Fast, easy, healthy, delicious. What more could you ask for? ;-)

                                      6 Replies
                                      1. re: schmoopy

                                        that's great to know about too! here's what i'll do to mine:
                                        add greens like you, and chicken and cilantro vinaigrette (homemade) and sunflower seeds. i'm a big girl and i need my protein! one caveat w/ this one(as w/ the butter chicken) is that red pepper goes bad quickly, before the other ingredients, so i can't forget about it in the back corner of the frig.! thnx much for the tip.

                                        don't know if it might be helpful to you, but here's my long post about tweaking TrJ products towards greatness!:

                                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/755890

                                        1. re: opinionatedchef

                                          Thanks for the link to your post about "tweaking". I'm definitely going to try your suggestion for the Ham and Cheese Croissant! You're right too that red pepper can go bad sooner than the other things in that salad. That's why I always search around for the ones towards the back that have a later "use by" date on them. Your cilantro vinaigrette sounds yummy on that salad. Is it easy to make? Would you mind sharing the recipe? Thanks!

                                          1. re: schmoopy

                                            Cool! btw, the 2nd time i did that croissant tweaking, the fondue type stuff was not horrid, so i kept some of it in, but still added the gruyere and canad bacon.

                                            i make a basic red wine vinaigrette(garlic, dijon, red wine vinegar, evoo, s and p) but w/a MIX of lime juice and red wine vinegar- in place of the straight vinegar. then i add cilantro pesto(cilantro, garlic, toasted pine nuts, finely ground quality parm, evoo).Our Whole Foods also carries an excellent cilantro pesto from Bear Pond Farm and Cibo(these also freeze well and it's easy to remove a few spoonful equivalents when frozen). I think i remember not really liking the TrJ low fat cilantro dressing, though I really like their cilantro yoghurt spread which i spread on their curry tandoor naan bread , and then top w/ grilled chicken or beef or lamb and quartered grape tomatoes...!

                                            Another good vinaigrette for that salad is a Chipotle Orange Vinaigrette :basic red wine vinaigrette w/ addition of: lime juice, oj concentrate, chipotle puree and optional sour cream.
                                            Frozen Chipotle puree works the same way as that cilantro pesto- for removing small amounts.

                                            1. re: opinionatedchef

                                              Thanks for the suggestions! I'll give them a try.

                                        2. re: schmoopy

                                          schmoops, had the salad for the first time today and thought it was great, so thnx so much. btw, the dressing seems like it might be a chipotle mayo kind of thing; defntly NOT diet, and tasty too. for me, that is.

                                          1. re: opinionatedchef

                                            Glad you liked the salad! It sounds like you got one of the regular Southwestern salads, and you're right - the dressing that comes with it is pretty good. The TJ's I go to only has the reduced calorie ones anymore. The salad is the same but the dressing is the low calorie one that I just can't stand. They used to carry both kinds. (But that's a whole other post... "things you love that Trader Joe's has discontinued"). :-)

                                        3. Okay, I really love the Wine Country Chicken Salad (has cranberries and I think almonds or some other nuts, can't remember exactly and don't have any on hand at the moment). So here's how I do my sandwich, all stuff you can get at TJ's (or elsewhere, except for the chicken salad):

                                          Whatever bread I have around. As far as what's at TJ's, I prefer the whole wheat hamburger buns actually. A crusty bread doesn't really go IMO.

                                          Slice of muenster cheese

                                          Arugula, the real secret weapon in this one.

                                          And some of the chicken salad.

                                          Now I might have to go get some tomorrow. ;-)

                                          1. So many people love the fresh and the frozen Butter Chicken.So far, i love the former and haven't tried the frozen yet, but will. Here's one comment for those who care about protein:
                                            coked ...uh cooked...chicken has roughly 8 gms of protein per ounce. The frozen and the fresh, if you eat the whole pkg., have about the same ou. of protein. The calories are 360 for the fresh and 270 for the frozen. What a delicious product. the thing that really floors me about it is that the chicken is not dry, but moist and lovely, w/ perfect amount of robust flavor from the sauce. and i really do like the texture and taste presence of the winter squash and spinach and peppers.
                                            Thanks so much to you CHs for directing me to it!

                                            1. OMG! I have to warn everyone about the AWFUL frozen chicken satay.dry/spongey/nasty. and did i say nasty? ( note to self: circle item on receipt to take for refund.)

                                              1. I just tried the Shitake Mushrooms and Tofu with Rice frozen meal. It was awful. By the time the mushroom portion of the divided plastic tray was hot, the rice was hard as a rock, and the mushroom-tofu itself tasted awful. I ended up throwing much of it out and eating an emergency granola bar.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. re: artemis

                                                  hope you will ask for credit the next time you shop there; it is certainly your right and will make you feel better about them as well.
                                                  and thanks for saving us the agony of a bad experiment!