Trying Trader Joe’s microwave meals so you don’t have to!

Martha Fishburne

I can’t cook. There, I said it. It’s not for lack of effort either: I’ve helped my mom make dinner multiple times, and am always in the kitchen to lick the spoons when my sister whips up cookie dough. I have put in my 10,000 hours, but somehow every boxed macaroni and cheese I’ve touched is a watery mess, every pot of rice I’ve set on the stove (and promptly forgotten about) has boiled over and every piece of toast I’ve put in the toaster practically comes out fossilized. Let’s just say I’ve earned the last name FishBURNe.

As a result, I was concerned (and rightfully so) about my food prospects in college, so you can imagine my excitement to find out that American University, the school I’m attending in the fall (go Eagles!), has a Trader Joe’s nearby. Perfect for a dorm microwave and easy enough that even I can’t mess them up, the Trader Joe’s microwavable meals are a lifesaver for all the helpless kitchen loiterers like myself. With so many options, though, it’s hard to know which are must-tries and which are better left on the shelf. Armed with my hot sauce, I set off to try some of the meals that piqued my interest. After all, what better way to give back to my community than to brave the front lines of the Trader Joe’s frozen aisle. If the fire alarm going off is just a normal step in your pasta boiling experience as well, read on and let me change your life for the better.


Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

“I would f*ck this mac and cheese,” Sonoma Academy senior Lila Gamble said as she first tasted the Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese.

As both a mac and cheese and a spice lover, I couldn’t resist buying this Hatch Chile Mac & Cheese. Although visually unappealing before heated, the meal came out of the microwave a steaming pile of creamy, cheesy glory. It was love at first bite. The dish was cooked all the way through, with no awkward cold spots in the middle or weird clumps of congealed cheese. As Sonoma Academy senior Lila Gamble said as I took it out of the microwave, “I would f*ck this mac and cheese.” The Hatch Chile flavor was a delightful play on the traditional pasta dish, though it could definitely induce a heart attack. Regardless, I’d happily buy this one again — which I did three days later. Your mouth will be in heaven with this meal, although your arteries may not be as pleased. 


Steamed Pork Buns ⭐️⭐️

I bought the steamed pork buns with high expectations, but their bland flavor and temperature whiplash ruined the dish for me.

After receiving a rave review of this dish from a fellow Barkie and Trader Joe’s employee, I had high hopes for the steamed pork buns. Unfortunately, it seems my excitement was misplaced. Even after I put them in the microwave for extra time, they were hot on the outside with a frozen solid filling. This temperature identity crisis and the fact that the buns were drier than a Burger King biscuit (and rubbery for some reason!) made this a must-miss microwave meal. Admittedly, the poor texture could be due to errors in my “cooking” skills, but a good microwave dish should be easy to prepare. Sure, I’d eat it after a long night out in college, but if you’re planning on eating this in the daytime, do yourself a favor and just pick something else. 


Chicken Shu Mei ⭐️⭐️⭐️

With a satisfying, yet boring, chicken flavor and slightly rubbery consistency, the chicken shu mei were just average.

Not life-changing, but not so bad that I’d spit it out, the chicken shu mei was right in the middle in terms of flavor and texture. The dish came with a packet of ginger soy sauce, which elevated the meal, and is a plus for college students without ample condiments. The shu mei themselves looked a little slimy coming out of the package, but the chicken flavor was delicious and left me full and satisfied. While the pork buns cooked unevenly, giving the diner whiplash through unexpected temperature changes, the shu mei were thoroughly hot, which provided a nice sense of consistency. Overall, nothing really stood out about this dish. It was tasty, nothing more, nothing less.  



Chicken Tikka Masala ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The chicken tikka masala dish smelled so good I had to have a couple bites before I snapped a photo.

Second only to the mac and cheese, the chicken tikka masala is a dish I will definitely be adding to my microwave meal repertoire. The rice was moist and steamy, a feat for having only been cooked in a microwave. Poured over the bed of rice was a rich, tangy chicken tikka masala. The chicken itself tasted fresh, not sketchy, which enhanced my love of the meal. It wasn’t quite as good as the curry from Lotus in San Rafael, but it was pretty close and astronomically cheaper. 


This is my last Bark article. As I prepare to move 2,809.6 miles away from my dog, my friends, my family and, most importantly, my mom’s cooking, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that it’s time for me to grow up and learn how to take care of myself. But until that happens, it’s nice to know that the Trader Joe’s frozen food aisle always has my back.