Pittsburgh Trader Joe's
Pittsburgh Trader Joe's by David Fulmer (CC BY)

Trader Joe's 25 Best Buys for Packing Your Freezer

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Pittsburgh Trader Joe's
Pittsburgh Trader Joe's by David Fulmer (CC BY)

Cold Cuisine

March is National Frozen Food Month, which means there's no better time to check out Trader Joe's much-buzzed-about freezer section. The quirky grocer manages to pack a staggering variety into those few all-important aisles, making it tough for newbies to know which goodies are worth the spend. Our picks are based on personal experience and reviewer recommendations from all over the Internet. (Got room for bulk buys? Check out our favorite frozen-food buys at Costco.)

Related: 15 Best House Wines From Costco, Aldi, and Trader Joe's

Cauliflower Gnocchi
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Cauliflower Gnocchi

Price: $2.69
The people have spoken, and TJ's Cauliflower Gnocchi are the best vegetarian or vegan item the store has to offer, not to mention a runner-up for best entree and overall item. Made in Italy, these versatile little dumplings are also made of cassava flour, potato starch, olive oil and sea salt, which means they're also gluten-free.

Related: Go Gluten-Free Without Busting the Food Budget

Pork Gyoza Potstickers
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Pork Gyoza Potstickers

Price: $3
Serious Eats says Trader Joe's potstickers are "the only one we'd stock in our home freezers" of the store brands they tried. If you want to fancy things up a bit, try TJ's recipe for potsticker soup — you'll need some chicken broth, baby spinach, soy sauce and a mirepoix, among other ingredients.

Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers
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Quinoa Cowboy Veggie Burgers

Price: $3.69
A plant-based burger made partially with quinoa certainly seems buzzy enough to be a new addition to TJ's freezers, but these have been available for several years. Give 'em a whirl if you don't expect a perfect beef clone — as What's Good at Trader Joe's notes, this patty is more zesty, spicy Southwest than Beyond Burger.

Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches
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Sublime Ice Cream Sandwiches

Price: $4.49
These things are just decadent: Creamy vanilla ice cream is sandwiched between chocolate chip cookies, and then more — lots more — chocolate chips are sprinkled along the side for good measure. These frozen treats also made the list of TJ's top 50 products of all time, a list released for the grocer's 50th anniversary.

Mandarin Orange Chicken
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Mandarin Orange Chicken

Price: $5
This frozen dish is a longtime favorite, and customers reaffirmed their love by recently naming it the store's best entree and a runner-up for the best overall item. For a true takeout-like experience, TJ's recommends putting the thawed sauce in a hot pan instead of a microwave before tossing in the baked chicken. Yum.

Related: 21 Takeout Meals Made Cheaper at Home

Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread
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Burrata, Prosciutto, and Arugula Flatbread

Price: $5
If you're a pizza lover who's feeling a little fancy, we can personally vouch that this flatbread is up to the task of wowing your tastebuds. The blend of cheeses, from burrata to fontal, is impressive enough, but layering on the thinly sliced prosciutto puts it over the top. Serve it to guests as an appetizer, or wolf it down yourself with a nice glass of wine.

Cha Siu Bao Chinese Style Pork Buns
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Cha Siu Bao Chinese Style Pork Buns

Price: $3.49
No, they'll never replace the cha siu bao at your favorite dim sum place. But for a quick heat-and-eat snack at home, TJ's pork buns are an admirable stand-in, popping out of the microwave with a properly soft, bready exterior filled with sweet and savory pork. Broke at Trader Joe's agrees, saying they "scratch the itch" for any pork-bun lover.

Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes
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Organic Silver Dollar Pancakes

Price: $2.29
Got kids? Then these miniature treats, a perfect finger food for young kids, are ready to be your morning savior when heating up the griddle is a no-go. All-organic ingredients are just icing on these very convenient (pan)cakes.

Cauliflower Pizza Crust
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Cauliflower Pizza Crust

Price: $4
Whether you want a painless way to pack in your veggies or you're actively trying to avoid gluten, this pizza crust made from cauliflower and corn flour is at your service. And since each serving is fat-free and only 80 calories, that means you can pile all the naughty things you want on top without feeling guilty, right?

Related: From Plain Cheese to Peking Duck: 25 Yummy Pizza Recipes

Chicken Tikka Masala
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Chicken Tikka Masala

Price: $3.69
Another longtime customer favorite, TJ's Chicken Tikka Masala is a single-serve meal that's pretty close to zap-and-eat perfection, fans say. "My only real complaint is that when it's all gone, I always wish I had more," writes food blogger Sometimes Foodie. "But I think that's a good sign that this frozen dinner is definitely doing something right."

French Vanilla Ice Cream
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French Vanilla Ice Cream

Price: $6
Who needs name-brand ice cream when you have Trader Joe's? That's the consensus of several expert taste testers, including our own. Setting it apart from the competition: A custardy texture that makes for a richer taste and feel. TJ's also brags that you'll still actually get a half-gallon of this stuff for the price, even while other manufacturers have shrunk their containers.

Mini Chicken Tacos
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Mini Chicken Tacos

Price: $4.49
TJ's freezer section is arguably better at Asian food than Mexican, but among your best south-of-the-border bets are these scrumptious little two-bite wonders. Each tiny corn tortilla holds a mix of chicken, green chile tomatillo sauce, and jalapeno. Pair them with your favorite salsa and some sour cream for a Taco Tuesday-worthy snack any day of the week.

Carrot Spirals
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Carrot Spirals

Price: $2
Zucchini may be a more popular noodle stand-in, and yes, Trader Joe's also carries Zucchini Spirals. But we recommend taking a chance on carrots. As What's Good At Trader Joe's enthuses, "something magical happens to carrots when they're sliced into noodle-esque spirals. They become more delicious and more fun to eat." Bonus: Plenty of Vitamin A.

Reduced Guilt Macaroni and Cheese
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Reduced Guilt Macaroni and Cheese

Price: $2
A light version of mac and cheese may seem a little beside the point of this indulgent dish, but we have to say that TJ's gets it right. The generous single-serve portion is still plenty cheesy and creamy, but it has only 270 calories and 6 grams of fat — not bad — plus a surprising 15 grams of protein.

Shakshuka Starter
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Gone Bananas!
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Gone Bananas!

Price: $2
Sometimes it's the simple things that really hit the spot, and so it is with these frozen, chocolate-dipped bananas. The price is right, and it's easy to grab just a couple when you want just a little something sweet without too much guilt. Prefer strawberries? Check out Gone Berry Crazy! instead.

Vegetable Fried Rice
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Vegetable Fried Rice

Price: $2.49
Whether you choose this or TJ's equally tasty Chicken Fried Rice, you'll have a ready side for the Mandarin Orange Chicken we know you won't be able to resist. Cook it on the stovetop if you want those crispier grains, but we've zapped it enough times in the microwave to know it's plenty flavorful that way, too.

Steak and Stout Pies
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Steak and Stout Pies

Price: $7
Despite being among the freezer section's pricier buys, Steak and Stout Pies have endured for several years at TJ's. Granted, this particular item won't win any health awards (hello, high fat and sodium content) but the hearty chunks of steak, carrots, and potatoes bathed in an indulgent gravy will certainly fit the bill as comfort food on a cold day.

Gnocchi al Gorgonzola
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Gnocchi al Gorgonzola

Price: $3
These fluffy gnocchi filled with a gorgonzola sauce are this author's favorite — just be warned that one package is supposed to serve two, but you'll want it all to yourself. Don't take my word for it: Reviewers at Freezer Meal Frenzy also give it plenty of love, though they recommend adding a dash of pepper.

Jumbo Sea Scallops
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Jumbo Sea Scallops

Price: $18
No, even Trader Joe's can't somehow magically sell quality scallops on the cheap, but considering we could pay $25 for a pound of scallops at Whole Foods, we won't complain too loudly. TJ's reviewer Become Betty says "they were just about on the same level as my local seafood shop," and commenters agree, so spend with confidence here.

Berry Medley
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Berry Medley

Price: $3
Nothing earth-shattering to see or taste here, but if you're a smoothie lover, you'll always appreciate a bag of frozen berries sold at a good price. Your final price works out to around 19 cents an ounce from TJ's, while Kroger charges 25 cents for a similar blend.

Chocolate Lava Cakes
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Chocolate Lava Cakes

Price: $3
This decadent desert, a standby on the menu of practically every chain restaurant in the country, is one of those things that you want to make at home, but probably never will. TJ's version is convincing enough to pass off as homemade, according to The Daily Meal. Pair it with ice cream and a few sliced strawberries for the ultimate convincing flourish.

Turkey Meatballs
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Turkey Meatballs

Price: $4
TJ's frozen turkey meatballs are among The Kitchn's favorite timesavers from the chain, and we agree: On a sandwich, in some pasta, or served plain with a side of fruit for picky kids, they've saved our tired behinds many a night.

Mushroom Risotto
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Mushroom Risotto

Price: $3.29
Any would-be chef knows that making risotto can be a major time suck, and if you're not about to babysit a simmering pot on a busy weeknight, we hear you. Five minutes of stirring is all it takes for this easy side.

Spinach Artichoke Dip
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Spinach Artichoke Dip

Price: $3
Nothing ground-breaking here: This microwavable dip is a perennial crowd pleaser that's great for those before-dinner or during-the-game nibbles. If you're feeling fancy, put it in a bread bowl or serve it with some crostini. Otherwise, grab a bag of tortilla chips and go to town.