TJ’s frozen section is a minefield of salt bombs. But there are healthier options.
There’s a widespread conception that anything coming out of Trader Joe’s is fantastic. A big part of the allure to consumers is their high-profile “better-for-you” foods. When I started shopping there, I immediately fell in love with their wide selection of frozen foods, and I just assumed it was all healthy.
But I recently took a minute to stop and look at one of my all-time favorite finds—a frozen burrata, arugula and prosciutto flatbread pizza. It’s a steal at $4.99 and compact enough that I can easily finish off the entire thing.
What I saw nearly stopped my heart: the flatbread clocks in at 670mg of sodium per serving—which is only a third of the pie. This meant I had subconsciously consumed a whopping 2,010mg of sodium in one sitting. The American Heart Association recommends consuming just 1,500mg a day, and sets the very upper limit of sodium intake at 2,300mg. I felt sick to my stomach.
I began inspecting all of the boxes in the frozen food aisle and found, to my horror, that nearly all of these meals had sodium levels that could derail your entire day’s intake. Thankfully there are some hidden gems in there too, and with a little careful thought, I found I could still shop the frozen foods and keep my salt intake under control.
Here are eight of the worst offenders, and eight safer alternatives:
Avoid: All Trader Joe’s Frozen Pizza
Unfortunately, nearly all of Trader Joe’s frozen pizzas clock in at over 1,000mg of sodium for a reasonable serving at mealtime. It’s easy to overlook, but many are portioned out by the quarter or even the slice—yet they are often small enough to be “personal sized.”
Choose instead: If you’re desperate for a frozen pizza at Trader Joe’s, the best option is the Bambino Formaggio mini pizzas—they’re a close cousin to a pizza bagel. While one certainly won’t completely satiate you, each contain a relatively manageable 650mg of salt.
Avoid: Chicken Chile Verde Burrito
The worst offender flies under the radar: these burritos are stuffed with innocent-sounding shredded chicken and chile verde sauce, they will ruin your daily diet with a whopping 2,140mg of sodium.
A better swap: If you’re looking for a ready-to-eat meal infused with Latin flavors, Trader Joe’s Chicken Burrito Bowl is a great alternative. It’s similarly priced at $3.49, and has just 560mg of salt for the entire bowl.
Avoid: Broccoli and Cheddar Quiche
There’s an entire selection of frozen breakfast meals at Trader Joe’s, but this eggy tart isn’t the heart-healthiest choice, with over 900mg of salt.
Switch to: Trader Joe’s frozen wheat & gluten free waffles are a great choice. Two of these waffles contain 400mg of sodium.
Avoid: Chicken and Vegetable Wonton Soup
This frozen starter is loaded with 1,060mg of sodium in one bowl. How could a soup pack so much salt, you might wonder? It’s in the broth.
Switch to: Trader Joe’s chicken cilantro mini wontons. They are just as savory and delicious, and because they’re packaged without broth, you can add them to any sodium-light soup you have in your home. Just four of these wontons adds a mere 150mg of sodium.
Avoid: Low Fat Chicken Chow Mein
It may be low fat, but this frozen entreé contains more than 2,700mg of sodium. And one portion—a third of the package—still chalks up to 920mg.
Give this a try: The butter chicken with basmati rice frozen dinner is a much more appealing option: There is just 637mg of sodium in the entire package.
Avoid: Chicken Pot Pie
It’s a comfort classic, and it may seem to be healthy since the whole pie is petite in comparison to other brands. But this microwavable meal is stuffed with salt—1,460mg to be exact.
Choose Instead: If you’re craving savory chicken, try some comfort food from another country: Trader Joe’s frozen chicken tikka masala has long been a favorite among customers, and with just 580mg of sodium, it’s a much healthier option.
Avoid: Steak and Stout Pie
Cooking Light’s assistant nutrition editor, Jamie Vespa, let out an audible gasp when she picked this product up—it’s even smaller than Trader Joe’s chicken pot pie, yet is a salt pitfall with 2,360mg.
A healthier swap: Trader Joe’s frozen buffalo burgers are a great source of protein and just as meaty as a steak pie. One burger contains 135mg of sodium, which Vespa resoundingly approves of.
Avoid: Family-Style Meat Lasagna
There’s nothing better than a piping hot lasagna, and Trader Joe’s 2-pound tray seems like a fit for an easy family dinner – but what isn’t so great is the astounding 3,680mg of sodium lying dormant in this frozen entreé, with a fourth of this lasagna at 920mg of sodium.
Try instead: The frozen (yet creamy) gorgonzola gnocchi is a much more manageable 390mg for a third of the bag. Looking for a vegetarian option? Trader Joe’s ricotta and spinach ravioli is just under 350mg of salt for a cup’s worth.