If you’re a fan of Trader Joe’s, you’re in good company. The grocery store has quite the following, thanks to its affordable (and delicious!) items. The frozen food section at Trader Joe’s is especially beloved by vegans and non-vegans alike—but is it healthy?
After all, people are buying more food than ever, according to data from the American Frozen Food Institute. In fact, in 2022, the industry earned $72.2 billion, which is $19.4 billion more since 2018.
But as a vegan, you might wonder if the options at Trader Joe’s are worth buying—and, if so, what are the best products. Ahead, registered dietitian SaVanna Shoemaker, RDN outlines the pros and cons of frozen food, plus how to find the most nutritious choices at Trader Joe’s.
Pros of Frozen Food
When it comes to convenience and practicality, frozen foods are a gamechanger. As Shoemaker explains: “Frozen foods have a significantly longer shelf life than fresh food, making them a convenient way to cut down on food waste.” (This is especially helpful if you tend to leave fresh food in the fridge for too long; it happens to the best of us!) Frozen food is also typically less expensive than their fresh counterparts, according to Shoemaker.
Plus, frozen fruits and vegetables can be just as nutritious as their fresh counterparts. According to the Academy of Nutrition Dietetics, frozen fruits and vegetables are picked at their prime, then frozen soon after. This helps retain their color, flavor, and nutrients.
In fact, freezing can prevent fruits and vegetables from losing nutrients, which often happens as fresh produce ripens.
Cons of Frozen Food
Compared to fresh produce, frozen fruits and vegetables can have some major texture differences once thawed or cooked, says Shoemaker. This might be undesirable if the texture is important for a recipe.
As for frozen meals and other processed foods? They tend to be higher in salt, saturated fats, and sugar, which you might need or want to limit, depending on your own health concerns.
To limit or avoid these nutrients, look for frozen meals with minimal (or zero) added salt, saturated fat, and sugar, along with frozen fruits and vegetables that contain no added ingredients.
Are Frozen Foods Healthy?
After considering the pros and cons of frozen foods, you might wonder if frozen foods are good for you.
Here’s the thing: As with most aspects of nutrition, there isn’t one-size-fits-all answer. The category of “frozen food” can include many items, and whether or not it’s healthy depends on many factors, including the type (single ingredient vs. meal), how it’s made, and its nutrition content. The role it play in your overall diet matters too—i.e., is it the only thing you’re eating or is it part of a balanced diet?
Besides, a “healthy diet” isn’t defined by eating (or avoiding) a specific food or type of food. Health is determined by the sum of your lifestyle habits, including diet, exercise, sleep, and more.
All that being said, it is possible for frozen food to be part of a healthy diet, says Shoemaker. “Frozen fruits and vegetables can be mainstays in your kitchen, saving time and money compared to purchasing and preparing fresh produce before it goes bad,” she explains.
Even frozen meals and side dishes can have their place in a healthy freezer, as they’re great to have on hand for busy nights, notes Shoemaker. “They’re also a healthier alternative to other quick meals, like fast food or pizza delivery,” she adds.
Again, the key is to look for items with minimal added salt, fats, and sugar, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables.
Buying Frozen Food at Trader Joe’s
If you think frozen foods can add convenience and variety to your life, you may be tempted to stock up at your next Trader Joe’s trip. Yet, there are a few things to keep in mind.
“Trader Joe’s may have a reputation as a ‘healthier grocery store,’ but that doesn’t mean everything within their walls is healthy,” says Shoemaker. They still sell plenty of items that you may want to eat in moderation, including high-sodium meals and desserts.
To find more nutrition frozen options at TJ’s (or any supermarket), Shoemaker suggests considering two things: the ingredients list and Nutrition Facts panel.
- Ingredients list: When checking the ingredients list, go for frozen products with short lists of real, whole food-based ingredients, explains Shoemaker. In general, the shorter the list, the better. For single-ingredient foods like frozen fruits and vegetables, the specific produce should be the only thing listed.
- Nutrition Facts panel: For frozen meals and other foods, look at the Nutrition Facts panel to make sure it contains some protein, fat, and fiber to keep you full and satisfied, advises Shoemaker. The nutrition profile of single-ingredient foods will vary depending on the item, but again, a fruit or vegetable should have no added salt, saturated fat, and sugar if it’s the only ingredient.
It’s a lot to remember, to say the least—so we’ve gathered the top vegan frozen food meals at Trader Joe’s that check all those boxes, below.
Best Trader Joe’s Frozen Food Meals for Vegans
If you’re looking for an easy breakfast option, this Mango Blueberry Chia Bowl will fit the bill. It’s made with coconut cream (translation: it’s dairy-free), along with mango, chia seeds, and blueberries—all of which are packed with fiber. Simply thaw it in the fridge overnight and enjoy it in the morning.
The Trader Joe’s cauliflower gnocchi is a fan-favorite. The item is made with just five ingredients—cauliflower, cassava flour, potato starch, extra-virgin olive oil, and sea salt—and it contains no dairy or eggs. It also contains no wheat, making it ideal for gluten-free folks. Toss the gnocchi in butter and parsley for a simple meal, or add them to your go-to pasta sauce.
Kids and adults alike will adore these frozen vegan chicken tenders made of soy and whole grains. They feature a crispy crust and work well as a side dish or sandwich ingredient. You can bet we’ll be stocking up on these.
Tahini sauce, sweet potato, and cauliflower—everyone’s favorite cruciferous vegetable—come together in this tasty frozen bowl. It also contains chickpeas and tofu for plant-based protein, which is great for satiety.
For an easy meal, turn to the frozen Vegetable Fried Rice at Trader Joe’s. It features cooked rice studded with veggies like edamame, carrots, and leeks, and it’s flavored with onions, seaweed, and soy sauce. Try serving it with kimchi and tofu for a flavorful dish or using it for a quick stir-fry.
Filled with carrots, peas, potatoes, and onion, these mini vegetable samosas are ideal for parties and quick snacks alike. They’re also the perfect partner for jasmine rice, curries, or lentil salad.
Like the Mango Blueberry Chia Bowl, the frozen Organic Açai Bowl is designed to be thawed overnight or briefly microwaved. It makes for a delicious breakfast or cold snack on hot summer days. And while it tastes great on its own, you can always add more nutritious ingredients like chopped bananas or hemp seeds.
About the Author
Kirsten Nunez is a journalist who focuses on healthy food and cooking. Her vegan and plant-based recipes have appeared on VegNews, eHow, Shape, and more. When she’s not creating vegan recipes for Clean Green Simple, you can find her experimenting in the kitchen and sharing plant-based meals with friends and family. More articles by Kirsten.