full meals from trader joes and costco
March 26, 2015 8:16 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for product recommendations from Costco and Trader Joes, with some very specific parameters.

First, I'm a regular customer of both, but I usually buy ingredients - I'm not a prepared meal person. So I'm generally familiar with both sores. I'm going to have a temporary but extended period coming up where I do not want to prepare meals. So here are my criteria:

1. Dinners
2. No beef
3. As complete as possible: "turkey burgers" - no. "hearty turkey casserole" - more like that.
4. By that same token, I'd prefer not to HAVE to prepare a side & veg to make it feel like a meal. I need big time shortcuts here.
5. I have an oven, range, and microwave. Any prep method should be fine.
6. Price and healthiness not a huge concern, but trying to keep it more reasonable on both counts than takeout or pizza every night.
7. Not looking for ready-to-eat-immediately stuff, because I'd like to shop once a week at most.

What are your favorites? Thanks!
posted by peep to Food & Drink (31 answers total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
Pot Pies! All in one, you get all the categories of food I like (meat, veg, starch, gravy), and it's just pop it in the oven easy.
posted by xingcat at 8:23 AM on March 26, 2015

From Costco, I really like the frozen potstickers. They cook quickly, and I don't feel like I necessarily need a side. They are also pretty healthy.
posted by TrarNoir at 8:25 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

The TJs frozen risottos in a bag are actually pretty decent. The sauce is frozen into chunks separate from the rice so it avoids the soggy/overcooked issue you'd expect. Off the top of my head, the mushroom and the asparagus ones are both good. Just dump in a skillet and go. TJs does a lot of stuff like this, and so far I've never come across anything terrible. If I were you I'd just walk down the frozen aisle and buy one of every entree that looks interesting.

Costco does a cold couscous salad in their deli section that I like a lot.

You can also find multi-packs of lean cuisine-type frozen dinners at Costco. For when you really don't give a fuck.
posted by phunniemee at 8:27 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

I used to like to do an instant noodle bowl from trader joes and add half a bag of frozen vegetables. Harvest Hodgepodge was my favorite but I'm not sure if they make that anymore. No protein in that I guess, but I did survive having it for dinner on a regular basis.

TJs also has a good canned vegetarian chili - serve with tortilla chips or their precooked rice or something if straight chili is insufficiently meal-like.
posted by mskyle at 8:30 AM on March 26, 2015

I used to get TJ's spinach pie(?) all the time -- it was in the upright freezer in the middle of the row, with a few similar products (lasagna)... They were great to take to work and microwave, and I always felt satisfied afterwards.
posted by DoubleLune at 8:32 AM on March 26, 2015

The chicken chile verde burritos from TJs are great for breakfast, in my opinion.
posted by Juliet Banana at 8:39 AM on March 26, 2015

I've mentioned before that the Trader Joe's Indian Food packets are a part of my disaster recovery strategy: Totally edible, heat and serve, have a shelf-life so they can be kept in the cupboard. I rotate them through our stash by eating them for lunch.
posted by straw at 8:40 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

The Costco that we go to (in Brooklyn NY) has a lot of prepared foods. They are *not* frozen, although maybe you could freeze them when you got home. In any case, my current favorite is their stuffed peppers. So good!
posted by merejane at 8:43 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

TJs Thai chicken wrap with garlic lime dipping sauce is divine and will keep for a few days in the fridge...ditto on their salads (I like the 'Pasadena' or 'pacific' salad (depends on where you shop...in CA it's Pasadena) chicken, crispy rice noodles, salad, yum). Definitely don't skimp on fresh stuff (for at least the few days after you shop)...it will help to make you feel human again.
posted by sexyrobot at 8:45 AM on March 26, 2015

Trader Joe's chicken lasagna
Trader Joe's turkey stuffed peppers

Stab, heat and serve.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:45 AM on March 26, 2015

Chicken Tortilla Soup
Amy's Frozen Lasagna
Butternut Squash Ravioli
posted by doctord at 9:03 AM on March 26, 2015

TJ's frozen polenta with spinach and carrots that's really good. There's no protein in it, though, so I think it might fall a little short of a meal - but even a couple of chicken sausages, microwaved same time, would round it out. (Or I think they have a pre-baked tofu.)

I can't find it on the site now, but they used to have a spanikopita/spinach pie casserole, bake or microwave, and it made for several meals. I would eat some for breakfast with scrambled eggs, or dinner with salad. (On preview, I see I'm not the only one who remembers it.)

Costco discontinued my beloved eggplant parmesan, loaf-size ready-to-bake. But they have other lasagnas, vegetable and meaty, and they're not so large that you can't finish one over a couple of days without burning out. They also have big bags of potsticker and bao-type dumplings, which are good with salad.

I have found that any bag salad that isn't tender lettuces will keep a week+ in the fridge. Costco has broccoli slaw (which you can just put dressing of your choice on, and you can also stir a handful into leftovers/microwave meals and get a little extra nutrition and roughage), and they also have that Superfoods Salad with kale, brussels sprouts, and other things, and it will keep without getting slimy.

Costco usually carries two Tasty Bite Indian packet varieties (usually the palak paneer and the chana masala or the lentils) and you can put those over frozen rice. Trader Joe's might actually have a broader variety, but the multi-packs at Costco are generally the better deal. My one quasi-complaint about the Tasty Bite is that though I love spicy food I don't actually have a huge tolerance, and all their varieties are of the nose-blowing persuasion. As long as you're okay with that.

I think both stores have frozen/refrigerated ready-to-heat meat like pulled pork, shredded BBQ chicken, carnitas, etc. That might be an easy way to protein up otherwise all-veg options (particularly those frozen starch+vegetable options at TJ's, or over salad) as I think they're generally around 12 ounces, so that's 4 meals of protein.

For Shopping Day cooking and the next day, Costco has non-frozen ready-to-heat stuff that's pretty good. Though my traditional Costco Day dinner is one of their enormous pizzas, which makes leftovers for days.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:03 AM on March 26, 2015

TJ's Tomato and Roasted Red Pepper soup (comes in quart container) is quite good. Add a dollop of pesto or sprinkle of shredded Parmesan to make it better.
posted by chaoticgood at 9:04 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Some of my current Trader Joe's staples include:

- The brie and asparagus pasta

- The tamales (my current is to steam them, add some sour cream, salsa, and avocado or guacamole, for extra vegetables. Slightly more prep, but not much if you do all three out of prepped containers.)

- The frozen Indian meals are all decent in my experience.

- Several of the varieties of pizza and flatbread are fairly veggie heavy in good ways.

- The various dumplings all do well.

- Their hummus (and other dips, for that matter) fill gaps nicely.

- One of my fall backs for 'I really don't want to cook' is frozen shrimp and a decent tomato-based sauce in large amounts. Ditto pita bread, tzatiki, and some diced up tomatos. Small amount of prep, but a nice break when I get sick of other things.
posted by modernhypatia at 9:08 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Oh my god yes to the Costco superfoods salad as a go-to side. It keeps forever in the fridge.
posted by town of cats at 9:20 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

From Trader Joe's:

- I love the various "stir fry in a bag" options. The best IMO are the Kung Pao chicken and the Thai shrimp fried rice. You may want rice for the chicken, but you can buy frozen cooked rice at TJs too! In addition to the frozen risotto mentioned above, pretty much all the frozen pasta in a bag dishes are pretty decent.
- The Indian meals are all pretty decent. Not amazing, but solid.
- I LOVE the chicken and green chile tamales. Sold in the refrigerated aisle but you can freeze them. So good. You can just microwave them for a couple of minutes before eating.

A lot of people like the foil packets of Indian food from TJs (I'm pretty sure they're repackaged Tasty Bites) but to me they just taste like metal. YMMV.

When I'm in the middle of a busy time, I try to keep enough of the following around to have a healthyish "snacky meal" (all are sold at Trader Joe's): pre-cut veggies, hummus, crackers, cheese (I love TJs little mini-wheels of brie), grapes, cured salami. I can mix and match a few of those things for a snack or meal and not have to worry about cooking.
posted by lunasol at 9:23 AM on March 26, 2015

Our TJ has a frozen entree that has chickpeas, couscous (or maybe quinoa), kale, etc. in a peanut-y/slightly spicy sauce. It's a perfect small meal for me, and if I remember correctly, decent in protein for a veggie entree.
posted by snowymorninblues at 9:27 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

Nthing the Costco superfood salad. I often get that along with their preseasoned St Louis pork ribs for dinner two or three nights in a row.
posted by sapere aude at 9:50 AM on March 26, 2015

When I'm in these circumstances, I depend heavily on what we call Suburban MRE's at Costco: the pre-prepped entrees in foil pans with lids with instructions on them. The stuffed peppers are good, as mentioned above; there's a "ravioli lasagna" that my kids love too. Some of the options are decidedly light on the vegetables, like the chicken alfredo penne, but if you can stretch yourself enough to throw something in the microwave, I like those Steamfresh nuke-in-the-bag vegetables. They aren't all great, but they're all OK.

The only real downside is that each one is large enough to feed like six to eight people, so leftovers management becomes a Thing. But if you're feeding just yourself, or just yourself and another adult, and if you're willing to eat leftovers for lunch, you can do a staggered overlap: Get three things, let's say chicken pot pie, chicken alfredo penne, and enchiladas. Monday you make the pot pie, and take leftovers for lunch Tuesday. Tuesday you make the penne, and take leftovers for lunch Wednesday. Wednesday you have pot pie again, and finish it off for Thursday lunch. Thursday you make the enchiladas, but take the PENNE leftovers for Friday lunch, and then Friday you finish off the enchiladas. Over the weekend, you eat whatever isn't gone. You do have to be careful to get three things with a pretty different flavor profile if you get bored quickly, but I find that it works out.
posted by KathrynT at 9:59 AM on March 26, 2015 [3 favorites]

The Costco stuffed peppers have beef (but are tasty). Also in the deli: their chicken enchiladas are perfectly good, probably freeze well, and I'd feel comfortable calling them a complete meal. They have a Salmon Milano that I used to love until they switched to farmed fish and now I don't buy it, but if that doesn't bother you then you should give it a try.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:01 AM on March 26, 2015

My single meal standbys from Trader Joe's are:
- Mushroom ravioli with asparagus (found with the salads and sushi)
- Cold salad of healthy 8 chopped veggies + baked tofu or chickpea (or your preferred pre-cooked protein) + salad dressing
- Cheese and spinach farfalle microwaved and mixed with additional fresh spinach
- Eggplant parmesan (frozen)
posted by esoterrica at 10:04 AM on March 26, 2015

Any TJ's pizza/flatbread (bake) plus any frozen veg (melange trio, misto ala grigio, etc.; microwave).

"Japanese" fried rice (stir fry in skillet or microwave); add microwave pork buns for more protein.

I bought a case of Tasty Bite lentils at Costco, because they can easily complete a lot of meals.
posted by wintersweet at 10:29 AM on March 26, 2015

The shelf-stable Indian meals TJ's sells, esp. the Madras Lentils and the Punjab Choley, are mainstays for me. They also make a whole-wheat naan which is often in the baked goods section, which you can totally just put in the freezer and keep indefinitely (I just put mine in the toaster oven for a while to revive them and they come out shockingly well). Technically a two-part meal, but there's no "assembly," you just plonk down the naan next to the curry.

That amount of calories can be a little low for me sometimes (I think it's only like 500 all together for one of each, which is about half of what I would normally eat for dinner) but I'm also a 6'1" dude, so YMMV.
posted by en forme de poire at 10:44 AM on March 26, 2015 [1 favorite]

Ajinimoto Vegetable Yakisoba is in the Costco freezer section. The package looks like this. It's Japanese "pan fried" savory noodles with vegetables.
posted by spec80 at 10:57 AM on March 26, 2015

Nthing Trader Joe's Indian foods, both the frozen and the shelf-stable ones. You can microwave two and have your own buffet! I've also liked th frozen tamales and the chicken chile verde burritos.

Other mindlessly easy, relatively not-bad-for-you Trader Joe's products I like: Japanese Style Fried Rice, Quinoa Duo with Vegetable Melange, Organic Lentil Vegetable Soup.
posted by Metroid Baby at 11:15 AM on March 26, 2015 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks everybody! I'm making lists & hitting both places after work!
posted by peep at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2015

I roast up a pork shoulder, shred it, and freeze in 1/2 cup quantities. Then add to any TJ thing in the world. Favorites: Japanese fried rice, linguini with pesto and tomatoes, confetti rice, veggie chili.
posted by Malla at 3:57 PM on March 26, 2015

If you shop at Costco near enough to dinner, you can always pick up a hot rotisserie chicken to go with a less-complete frozen vegetable side. Likewise, Costco may have multi-packs of retort-packed rice (white or brown), which heat quickly in the microwave, and go with any frozen stir-fry or Trader Joe's gyoza.
posted by WasabiFlux at 5:29 PM on March 26, 2015

Trader Joe's Chimchurri Rice and Cuban Style Black Beans is very good with a little cumin and lime juice and nutritional yeast if you are feeling dangerous.

If you are up to branching out to a rice cooker, I combine the brown rice from TJ's and quinoa and mason jar the batch in the fridge for the week. It makes the Indian meals from there go further as well as butter, honey, and mixed nuts for breakfast gruel.
posted by worlddisciple at 4:59 AM on March 27, 2015

Trader Joe's Curried White Chicken Deli Salad atop fresh spinach. healthy & good.

i've compared Costco frozen potstickers & Trader Joe's (shrimp) gyoza potstickers--Trader Joe's are much better imo.
posted by JBD at 5:32 PM on March 30, 2015

Costco is carrying quiche in the refrigerator section right now. Quiche freezes extremely well. You can cut it into slices like a pie before you freeze, and then just pull out a slice as needed rather than warming the whole thing if you are disinclined to do so.
posted by vignettist at 3:47 PM on April 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

« Older How to improve energy levels to reverse declining...   |   Day trip near Marco Island Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.