Trader Joe’s is a frozen-food oasis, renowned for the breadth, affordability, and generally consistent quality of its meals, sides, snacks, and desserts. If you wanted to, you could feed yourself entirely from its freezer section, from breakfast to dinner and beyond. Some people undoubtedly do, and who are we to judge? TJ’s frozen foods get a lot of love here at Eater; below, some of our staffers share their tried-and-true favorites.
Thai Vegetable Gyoza
When I lived right near a Trader Joe’s, I’d pick up a bag of the store’s Thai Vegetable Gyoza each time I shopped since I love having a variety of frozen dumplings, pot stickers, and gyoza stocked in my freezer to either prepare as a quick snack or add to a rice or noodle dish I’m making for the week. These vegetable gyoza are stuffed with cabbage, chives, carrots, green onions, ginger, radishes, and several other ingredients that provide a ton of crunch and flavor.
When I moved pretty far from a Trader Joe’s, I assumed that my local grocery store would have some veggie gyoza options as packed with flavor and texture as the Trader Joe’s version. I was wrong. I have tried at least five types of non-Trader Joe’s veggie dumplings, gyoza, and pot stickers, and have determined there is just no replacement. Other brands have not figured out how to make the flavors of the TJ’s version come through. They also fill theirs with mushrooms, beans, and/or vermicelli, which, while all lovely ingredients on their own, make for a mushy, flavorless frozen dumpling. And so I’ve just made it a part of my shopping routine to take an awkward transfer-filled subway ride or a very long walk to Trader Joe’s with the sole purpose of stocking up on five to eight bags of vegetable gyoza at a time. — Terri Ciccone, associate director of audience, analytics, and operations
Despite my best efforts, I can’t predict the future. Sure, I can meal prep and color code a calendar to my heart’s content, but who knows when the mood to do anything but cook will strike? So instead of crystal balls or card readings, I stock up on frozen gnocchi, my freezer’s endlessly adaptable workhorse. I toss them into a pan and let my unpredictable whims determine my dinner, whether that means enjoying the gnocchi at their simplest, straight out of the bag and simmered in whatever sauce or cheese they were frozen in, dressing them up in a sauce of my own making, or roasting them with vegetables. And that agency is worth more to me than the time I’d otherwise spend racking my brain while reading palms. — Jesse Sparks, senior editor
Pastry Bites With Feta Cheese & Caramelized Onions
If you’re throwing a dinner party in a pinch and want to pretend you’ve been planning it for weeks, pop these frozen snacks into your cart. They’re incredibly easy to make — and even come with their own aluminum baking tray — so you can spend your time shaking cocktails and crafting a playlist while these bake for 30 minutes. (I recommend a couple of more minutes for extra crispness.) The aromas of sweet, jammy onion and flaky, buttery pastry will fill your house. Just before your guests arrive, you can swap the baking tray for your prettiest serving platter, and no one will be any the wiser. — Jess Mayhugh, managing editor
When I was a kid, my mother would always do way too much for dinner parties. Every meal had several courses, including salads and soups and a frangipane tart for dessert. But when it came to appetizers, she did indulge in shortcuts — most covered by the Trader Joe’s freezer section. Following in her footsteps, I tend to include several TJ’s standbys in my cocktail party spreads, particularly its rendition of spanakopita. Many frozen spanakopitas lean too heavily on the spinach, which can develop a weird bitterness as it freezes; the Trader Joe’s filling nails the balance of salty cheeses like feta and mizithra, as well as alliums like onions and leeks. Plus, phyllo tends to freeze well, so the spinach pie remains flaky when it emerges from the oven. If I’m feeling fancy, I grab one of Joe’s yogurt-based dips from the cold case to serve as a counterpart. — Brooke Jackson-Glidden, Eater Portland editor
Kung Pao Tempura Cauliflower
I love fried cauliflower, and I like to think I’m pretty good at making it. Still, I don’t always want to deep-fry, and despite the assurances of air fryer enthusiasts, I don’t think the device excels with wet batter. On these occasions, I turn to the frozen kung pao tempura cauliflower, which consists of pre-coated florets and a packet of sauce. As is, it hits the spot when I want an alternative to a Chinese takeout chicken dish. But skip the packet and the options open up — toss the crispy cauliflower in Buffalo or barbecue sauce, for example. You can use the oven to cook them, but like most frozen things, they crisp quickly and cleanly in the air fryer. — Bettina Makalintal, senior reporter
5 Cheese Greek Spiral
The 5 Cheese Greek Spiral is a pastry with five different cheeses: Gouda, kasseri, kefalotyri, blue cheese, and a hard cheese blend. Despite its mystery-ingredient bona fides, it deserves deep respect and admiration because it’s so versatile. It’s sweet, crispy, buttery, and savory and can serve as your breakfast, act as a side for lunch and dinner, and even act as a delicious dessert. Anytime, any day, any occasion. My favorite way to eat it is to lather it in a fruit jam, which is a perfect way to cut its richness. — Drew Blackburn, interim Eater Austin associate editor
Of all the frozen vegetables, frozen green beans are the best. They retain snap and flavor after cooking, and considering how hard and ruddy fresh ones can be off-season, they’re an ideal freezer staple. But the majority of mass-produced frozen green beans look like they’re manufactured with toddlers in mind — pudgy little pre-cut, inch-long morsels made to be grasped by the smallest of hands. But what if I don’t want my green bean side to look like a 1950s casserole? Enter Trader Joe’s frozen green beans, the slenderest, full-length haricots verts that are both elegant and practical and don’t have any of that watery “freezer” taste to them. Do a quick steam, toss them with some butter, garlic, and salt, and you have a fancy-pants veg in five minutes. — Lesley Suter, interim editorial lead
Marylu E. Herrera (she/her) is a Chicago-based Chicana collage, print media, craft, and fiber artist. Her collage work has been featured in the Cut, the Los Angeles Times, Bitch Media, Eater, and Punch.