Stock up on these crew member picks for lunch, dinner and dessert.

By Karla Walsh
February 18, 2021
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Since the early pandemic stock-up-palooza of March 2020, frozen food sales have been going strong. With more Americans cooking at home (rather than dining out) and shopping less frequently, frozen food sales jumped more than 17% year over year, according to statistics from the International Dairy Deli Bakery Association (IDDBA).

And as we learned from the top pick in the recently announced 2021 Trader Joe's Customer Choice Awards, this trend certainly rings true at Trader Joe's.

"Overall frozen has seen great growth," says Mary Ann, the category manager for frozen at Trader Joe's.

She joined Tara Miller, marketing director, and Matt Sloan, vice president of marketing, this week on the latest episode of the Inside Trader Joe's podcast to talk about the best of the best items on ice.

Below, discover 10 of the many frozen foods that earned rave reviews on Monday's 26-minute episode.

10 Best Frozen Foods at Trader Joe's, According to Employees

1. Mandarin Orange Chicken.

Echoing its trophy as "Favorite Entrée" and "Favorite Overall," when pressed to pick their top frozen food at Trader Joe's nearly every crew member that chatted with Sloan and Miller answered that it has to be the Mandarin Orange Chicken. Baked in the oven, cooked in a skillet or crisped up in an air fryer—there's no wrong way to prep this takeout-inspired meal, the employees say. Pair with rice and a side salad for a balanced, easy meal.

2. French Onion Soup.

For Miller, this starter is, "kind of synonymous with our freezer case at this point." Sales really jumped after a Fearless Flyer article (their internal brand publication that highlights new and bestselling products) described it as an architectural marvel due to its construction with different layers that are frozen together into a puck that you just need to pop in the oven oven or the microwave, "and you get this perfect French Onion Soup and talk about restaurant quality," she says.

3. Cacio e Pepe.

Similar to that easy, cheesy soup, comfort foods like Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe sell well and are hits among the staff members, Mary Ann says. "Many of our entrées are doing quite well." This Italian option is especially handy for weeknight meals since it requires simply sautéing the noodles, sauce packet and 2 tablespoons of water in a skillet for less than 10 minutes.

4. Penne Arrabbiata.

Jon Bassalone, Trader Joe's president of stores, admits that he always has at least three or four bags of this heat-and-eat pasta entrée in his freezer. "Then when we're shopping in the store, you know, we should probably buy another bag. Last thing we want to do is run out of it...Usually we cut up some chicken Italian sausage or...grilled chicken to toss in there for some protein and it's great," he says.

5. Breaded Chicken Tenderloin Breasts.

Nikki, a crew member from the customer relations department, has a tasty-sounding semi-homemade dinner idea for this chicken product. She par-bakes the chicken, then, "I take our Hawaiian rolls [found in the fresh bread aisle]. I slice them long-way in half and I add my favorite Trader Joe's Marinara Sauce...whatever you have," Nikki explains. Place the partially cooked chicken on top of the marinara, add a layer of Parmesan cheese "and just like a little sprinkle of more marinara sauce." Set the Hawaiian roll layer on top, brush with melted butter and bake for 10 minutes at 350° F. Remove them from the oven and slice into individual rolls for Chicken Parmesan Sliders.

6. Cauliflower Gnocchi.

"I think for dinner tonight is going to be Cauliflower Gnocchi," says crew member Alex. "We keep like five or six bags of those in the freezer at all times. And if you're anything like me, I love tossing them in the air fryer…they come out so crispy when you air fry them... I mean, who doesn't love a big bite of crispy cauliflower goodness?" Try to keep them in a single layer for the crispiest results, he suggests, then toss with your favorite sauce and protein.

7. Uncooked Grass-Fed Angus Beef Burgers.

Bassalone is also a big fan of these affordable burgers, especially since he's shopping less often and likes to stock up in advance for family meals. "It's $5.99 a pound, which in my opinion is awesome. You don't find [grass-fed] beef at that value at many other places, if at all. And because it's frozen in these awesome blocks, they stack really nice in my freezer. So I buy sometimes like five or six at a time."

8. Branzino Fillets.

And in other surprisingly budget-friendly protein buys, crew member Rollyn believes far too many customers swim on past the four-pack of Branzino Fillets, which she says are, "an amazing value. It's $9.99 for four filets in the bag." Her husband adds a little oil to a skillet set over high heat, then sears the skin until it's crispy and dark, then flips it and bakes in the oven for the final few minutes. "They're not very thick so it makes it really easy to cook because you don't have to worry too much about it being undercooked," Rollyn says.

9. Garlic Naan.

Among the many Indian-inspired items mentioned on the episode (others earning top marks include the Butter Chicken, Palak Paneer, Channa Masala, Fiery Chicken Curry, Vegan Tikka Masala and Malabari Paratha), the Garlic Naan from India is one of Miller's family faves. "I can tell you, there's a neighborhood Indian restaurant that we patronize relatively often, but everyone in my family likes the naan at Trader Joe's better than the naan from our favorite Indian restaurant."

10. Chocolate Non-Dairy Frozen Dessert.

"Our ice cream is amazing," says crew member Ben. In addition to the vanilla half gallon that he says is "so rich" and "one of the best quality ice creams, I think for the price," he was surprised how much he enjoyed this vegan frozen dessert. "I personally really, really liked the...Coconut Chocolate Ice Cream, the small pint. It's just, it's a very, very good non-dairy product."

This story originally appeared on eatingwell.com