If I could cook my own meals every night, I totally would. Cooking your own food is a great way to guarantee what you’re eating is healthy, not to mention an easy way to improve your cooking skills. Most days I'm up for it, but sometimes I’m tired, or I need something in a pinch, or I’m just not in the mood to spend very much time in the kitchen. In these moments, I rely on healthy frozen and premade meals to save time and fill me up.
Store-bought meals (and frozen ones in particular) definitely have a bad rap, which makes sense considering their less-than-healthy TV dinner origins. But they’ve come a long way since the 1950s, and nowadays you can find genuinely delicious premade meals that also happen to be high in protein, packed with veggies, and low in added sugar and sodium. They’re so good, even registered dietitians swear by them for quickie lunches and dinners.
Trader Joe’s is one store that excels in the premade food department, among other things. Their frozen food is some of the most scrumptious around, and much of it is good for you, too! SELF asked registered dietitians which premade and frozen meals they always pick up from the TJ’s fridge and freezer section. Here are their 11 top picks.
1. Yellow Jackfruit Curry With Jasmine Rice
If you’re not already on board with jackfruit, the trendy new meat substitute, Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area, tells SELF this meal will certainly get you there. Packed with eggplant, bell pepper, and lots of spicy flavor, it’s meaty and satisfying while also totally vegan.
2. Chicken Burrito Bowl
Brigitte Zeitlin, M.P.H., R.D., C.D.N., owner of BZ Nutrition, loves this burrito bowl because it has all the flavors you know and love, and is made with great-for-you ingredients like chicken, brown rice, black beans, quinoa, corn, and some chipotle seasoning.
3. Lentil Soup With Ancient Grains
“I love this premade soup option because it is made with simple, whole ingredients like lentils, diced carrots, quinoa, and flaxseeds,” Nora Minno, R.D., C.P.T., an NYC-based registered dietitian, tells SELF. She say that even though it’s totally vegetarian, it’s packed with 9 grams of protein per serving, plus plenty of fiber to keep you truly satisfied.
4. Organic Hearty Minestrone Soup
Zeitlin loves keeping this soup on hand during the colder months. “It’s loaded [with] beans and veggies and totally hits those cozy comfort food feels,” she says. “One serving gives you some fiber and protein, while staying low in sugar.”
5. Turkey Meatballs
Though not a complete meal on their own, just two of these turkey meatballs have 12 grams of protein and are a great way to amp up leftovers or even a quick easy dinners like stir-fries. “These are an absolute freezer staple for me,” says Zeitlin.
6. Kale and Edamame Salad
“This salad combines edamame—a great source of vegetarian protein—with kale, dried cranberries, grape tomatoes, almonds, and green onions,” says Gorin. It’s also vegetarian, yet equally rich in protein and fiber, with 14 and 10 grams, respectively.
7. Superfood Pilaf
“This is a favorite [of mine], because it replicates a meal I’d cook at home from scratch, only it’s ready in a fraction of the time,” Cara Harbstreet, M.S., R.D., L.D., of Street Smart Nutrition, tells SELF. If she has more time to cook, she’ll beef it up even more with extra vegetables or simple proteins.
8. Channa Masala
“This is one of my go-to back-up meals that I keep in the freezer,” Maxine Yeung, M.S., R.D., owner of The Wellness Whisk, tells SELF. She says it’s quick to cook and it tastes as good as a home-cooked meal. Each serving is moderately small—only 180 calories—so consider tossing in some fresh spinach and serving it over a bed of rice or with a side of naan for a full meal.
9. Ricotta and Spinach Tortellini With Red Pesto
Harbstreet says that she’s a big a pasta lover, and this frozen meal definitely scratches that itch. She explains that “it’s more filling and satisfying than other frozen entrees I’ve had,” thanks to protein-rich ingredients like ricotta and nutty pesto. Plus, it reheats well, unlike some other frozen pastas that get a little bit soggy.
10. Salad Palette Turkey Harvest
“All of Trader Joe's salads are tasty, but this is my favorite because it's like a healthier taste of Thanksgiving any time of the year,” says Yeung. Filled with roasted sweet potatoes, brussels sprouts, spinach, kale, turkey, and more, it has protein and fiber to spare.
11. Riced Cauliflower Stir-Fry
Molly Morgan, R.D., C.D.N., owner of Creative Nutrition Solutions, tells SELF that this quickie stir-fry is great for a meal or side dish, especially when served with a side of protein like grilled chicken, steak, or tofu. And if you’re really in a rush, pair it with a premade protein source like shredded rotisserie chicken.