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Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese Bites

Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese Bites

These little nuggets are a great party snack, if you can get past the grease

Jane Bruce

These were little balls of cheesy goodness.

Macaroni and cheese is inherently pretty hard to screw up, barring a major disaster. The folks at Trader Joe’s managed to take a very good recipe for the dish, ball it up into little nuggets, bread them, freeze them, and turn it into a very solid snack.

The macaroni and cheese itself is made with Cheddar, mozzarella, Romano, Monterrey Jack, and cream cheese, as well as a dash of hot sauce. It’s rolled in a breadcrumb mixture, and, after about 10 to 15 minutes in a 425-degree oven, they come out piping-hot, oozing a bit, and golden brown.

Our panel of tasters was overall impressed by the bites, although most found it to be overly greasy (it’s recommended you blot them on a paper towel before serving, and we agree). The breading is similar to the crust that you’ll find on a batch of mac and cheese, which is a very nice touch, and the cheese had just the right amount of meltiness. "It’s good in an 'I know this is bad for me' kind of way," said one taster.

Overall, these mac and cheese bites will most likely be a hit should you decide to bust them out at your next gathering. The recipe that they use is of a really high quality, but be warned that they’re not exactly good for you: each bite has 4 grams of fat and about 50 calories.


The Best Frozen Mac And Cheese: Our Taste Test Results (PHOTOS)

We know we say this as a disclaimer to many of our taste tests, but despite our affinity for cooking and good intentions, sometimes we just need dinner in 5 minutes, and we don't have the energy to make it. That's when we thank the food gods that someone invented microwaveable macaroni and cheese. If there's one thing that'll help you de-stress on a rough day, it's comfort food. And if there's a second thing, it's the feeling that someone (ahem, your microwave) made a lovely dinner for you.

So when times are tough and you must turn to the frozen foods aisle, you might as well turn to the best. That's what we're here for. We rounded up 10 popular brands of frozen mac and cheese and conducted a double-blind taste test, judging for qualities such as firmness of pasta, authenticity of cheese flavor, and consistency. (And if you're health conscious, we included nutrition information for you, too.) Of course, none of these can compare to homemade mac and cheese, but a couple of these come in a close second.

[NOTE: Be careful to check serving sizes on each package. Some of these containers are pretty small but contain two servings, while others are meant for one. It can be misleading to make assumptions.]

Check out the slideshow below to see the results. What's your favorite?

As always, this taste test was in no way influenced or sponsored by the brands included.


8 Bite-Sized Trader Joe’s Appetizers That Are Perfect for Safe Holiday Hosting

Skip the (double) dip and grab some of these irresistible frozen appetizers instead.

I don’t know about you, but hors d&aposoeuvres and small bites are my favorite part of any holiday gathering. And while I usually love to make a big charcuterie board and savory dips, enjoying 𠇌ommunal” appetizers isn’t very wise this year. The good news is, Trader Joe’s has endless options that are easy to grab and devour without everyone getting their paws all over them.ਏrom classic finger foods like pigs in a blanket and mac & cheese balls, to vegetarian options like crispy wontons and French onion soup bites, Trader Joe’s (as always) has something for everyone.

For the past few years, I’ve been incorporating some of these frozen appetizers into our holiday celebrations because they truly make hosting so much easier and it allows me to focus on the main course and side dishes. We put together a list of some of our favorites that can be served safely while also satisfying every palette. Just remember to stock up ahead of time, as Trader Joe&aposs won&apost be open on Thanksgiving Day.

No holiday gathering is complete without a tray of pigs in a blanket, and TJ’s version is next level delicious. The combination of savory beef franks with flaky puff pastry and sprinkled parmesan is *chef’s kiss*. Just make sure to buy a few boxes because they’re insanely addicting.

Whether your guests are vegetarian or not, these crispy veggie wontons are an absolute no-brainer. They’re packed with a variety of vegetables like jicama, taro, cabbage, carrots, onions, shiitake mushrooms, and accented with flavors of garlic, soy sauce, ginger, sesame oil, and red chili. Talk about a lil flavor-bomb.


Who Really Makes Trader Joe's Food? (TASTE TEST)

It's no secret that Trader Joe's sells marked-down name-brand products disguised under its own label. What is a secret is which big brands Trader Joe's carries -- when it comes to publicizing that information, TJ's remains mum. The price difference between the Trader Joe's and big brand products is sometimes so big that it sparked our curiosity ($2.99 vs. $5.49 for the same box of cereal?!). Now, we're on a quest to discover who's hiding under those TJ's labels.

If you're wondering how Trader Joe's is able to sell its product so cheaply, a major factor is that the company abstains from advertising or couponing, both of which cost most supermarkets a large chunk of money. (If you've never heard of Trader Joe's until now, that's why.) Secondly, Trader Joe's buys its product directly from the supplier whenever possible, saving even further cost.

But wait, why would big brands be okay with Trader Joe's marking down their products and selling them under a different name? It's actually pretty simple: If you were General Mills, would you want your customers finding out they can buy the same box of $4.99 Cheerios at Trader Joe's for $1.99? The secrecy prevents the big brands' customers from fleeing traditional supermarkets in favor of buying the cheaper Trader Joe's version. And thus, the big brands are willing to operate under Trader Joe's cloak of secrecy, under which the "vendor shall not publicize its business relationship with TJ's in any manner."

And so our taste test begins. This week, we selected 10 Trader Joe's products and their rumored big-brand matches and tasted them with a panel of judges. We conducted a blind tasting and tried our hardest to detect any similarities and differences. Then, we came up with a final verdict.

Here's the main thing we can't get over: For the major price difference between TJ's and its big brand matches, the difference in taste and quality is so slight that it's almost nonexistent. We're reeling with regret over all the money we've spent on the big brands in the past.

Check out the results of our taste test below, and then be sure to check out the results of our second installment of Trader Joe's taste tests!

[Note: If you think you don't have access to a Trader Joe's, you might be closer to one than you think. There are now more than 350 locations nationwide.]

As always, this post is in no way influenced or sponsored by any of the brands involved -- especially not Trader Joe's.

Trader Joe's $2.49, Pacific $4.69

Aside from a slight difference in color and thickness (the Trader Joe's version may have been a bit thicker and darker colored), there was no discernible difference in taste between these two products, leading us to believe.

They're probably the same product.

Trader Joe's $1.49, Annie's $3.29

There's no denying this one. From the packaging to the shape of the shells and the contents of the flavor packet …

These are the same product.

Upon first tasting, there's no difference between these two products. So we took a closer look and noticed a few differences in the amount of tomato chunks and the level of spice, but they're such slight differences that the same could be found among any two cans of the same product. And then, the kicker: After the blind tasting, we looked at the cans and noticed the chili images on each label were identical, convincing us that …

They're probably the same product.

Trader Joe's $2.19, Snack Factory $3.69

The Trader Joe's product comes in small, broken pieces, but appears to be just a broken version of Snack Factory. All of our tasters agreed that the flavor and crunch factor of both products are identical.

These are probably the same product, but we're guessing Trader Joe's sells the broken leftover pieces from Snack Factory to TJ's at a discounted price.

There is no question that these two products look different. The Trader Joe's version is darker brown and tastes a bit maltier, while Post tastes sweeter and more "cardboard-like." Overall, our tasters preferred the Trader Joe's version. …

These are different products. (But you may want to save some cash and try the Trader Joe's version.)

Trader Joe's $1.99, Cheerios $4.99

Trader Joe's O's are paler and have a milder taste, whereas Cheerios are darker and have more depth of flavor. This leads us to believe that …

There is a difference in the quality of these two products, and they're probably not from the same manufacturer.

Trader Joe's $2.49, Cheerios $6.49

This is the exact same case as the traditional Joe's O's vs. Cheerios. Trader Joe's product is paler and milder in flavor, whereas Cheerios are darker and wheatier. There's not much of a discernible difference in fundamental flavors.

These appear to be slightly different, but they're so similar that we probably wouldn't notice if someone swapped them out on us. (And wow, look at the difference in price.)

Trader Joe's $2.79, Jules Destrooper $4.69

These look different, but taste exactly the same. Not only is the color slightly off, but the shape is different enough that it makes us wonder whether they can possibly be related.

These are probably not the same product, but the flavor is so similar that no one would notice the difference if you swapped them.

Trader Joe's $1.99, Stacy's $3.99

There is absolutely no question here. We're not even going to waste your time. …

These are the same product.

Trader Joe's $3.99 (.44/ounce), Anna's $2.75 (.52/ounce)

From looking at these products, they're clearly not the same. Visually, the scalloped edges are different sizes and the Trader Joe's packaging includes twice as many cookies as Anna's. In terms of flavor, our judges preferred Trader Joe's -- it exhibited more of a spicy flavor and a stronger ginger kick.

These are not the same. (And Trader Joe's is the preferred product.)

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Baked Mac-and-Cheese Bites

Some pairings just make sense. Case in point: mac and cheese. And what&rsquos better than mac and cheese? These mini baked mac-and-cheese bites. They&rsquore crispy on top yet nice and chewy on the inside. Yes, your kids are going to love them, whether for lunch or as an after-school snack. But they also make quite the crowd-pleasing party appetizer (serve them hot or at room temperature). Plus they&rsquore small, so you have our permission to eat as many as you would like.

1 pound small elbow pasta

3 tablespoons unsalted butter

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups grated white cheddar cheese

2 cups grated yellow cheddar cheese, divided

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Grease two mini-muffin pans with nonstick cooking spray.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the elbow pasta and cook according to the package instructions, about 7 to 9 minutes. Drain.

3. In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, 1 minute more.

4. Sprinkle the flour into the pot and stir to combine. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly.

5. Add the milk and whisk well to combine. Bring the mixture to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally.

6. Season the sauce with the cayenne pepper (if using), salt and pepper. Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the white cheddar and 1½ cups of the yellow cheddar. Stir until the mixture is melted.

7. Stir in the cooked pasta and mix until it is evenly coated with the sauce. Scoop 1½ to 2 tablespoons of the mac-and-cheese mixture into each cavity of the prepared pans.

8. Sprinkle a few pieces of yellow cheddar on top of each mac-and-cheese bite and then transfer the pans to the oven. Bake until the cheese is melted and the bites become golden, 17 to 20 minutes.

9. Let the bites cool for 15 minutes before unmolding and serving. Serve hot or at room temperature. Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two days.


1. Brazilian Cheese Bread

air fryer fries. For this recipe, place the fries in the air fryer basket or in a silicone basket. Spray the fries with a little oil, mix together, then add a seasoning of your choice. I did cinnamon and sugar with a little salt. You might also enjoy a garlic and onion powder seasoning. Mix in your seasonings, then cook at 320˚F for 15 minutes- making sure to stir halfway through.


Taste Test: Trader Joe’s Mac and Cheese Bites - Recipes

It was a good night for making something easy. As usually happens in these cases, I relied on a couple of Trader Joe's appetizers: one I've had before many times, one I've never tried.

Trader Joe's - or rather, I should say, "Trader Ming's" - Cha Siu Bao Chinese Style Pork Buns are something I noticed about a month ago and have eaten no fewer than a half-dozen times since then. They may not be confused with pork buns at Empress Pavilion, but they are delicious, inexpensive, and easy to make. (I hate to admit this but I lost my bamboo steamer last year and have yet to get a new one I make these in the microwave, which is certainly not ideal.)

I mixed up a sauce of sweet-hot mustard, chipotle, and Persian lime olive oil and drizzled it over the buns and the plate. It was a great complement to the dough and pork.

They were very good, just as they have always been. Obviously, they will be gone within a few months, never to appear again, in grand Trader Joe's style.

The mac & cheese bites are something I picked up the other day when I saw them for the first time. Over the last few years I've had fried mac & cheese at a few different restaurants it's not one of my favorite things (I usually find it pretty bland) but it's never really bad. These were right in line with that: they were good but nothing special. They taste like halfway decent pieces of mac & cheese that have been unnecessarily breaded and fried. Which, of course, is what they are.

I had some leftover tomato and roasted red pepper soup in the fridge, which I heated up and spooned over the plate. I had planned to add some chopped basil, not only because I thought it would be tasty but because I thought the color green would look good on the plate. But all of my basil had wilted. So I used the only green thing available: gummi bears.

"What's wrong with you?" Elizabeth asked.

UPDATE, 11:05: My buddy Phil sent me this picture this morning. I inquired why he had it he explained that he came across it a while back and saved it because "you never know when that pic might come in handy. "


The bruschetta sauce reminded me of a fancy appetizer, but it was difficult to enjoy as a stand-alone dip

One of my favorite appetizers to order at Italian-style restaurants is bruschetta, an ambrosial mix of fresh tomatoes, basil, salt, and olive oil on top of crispy, sliced bread.

As someone who hates chopping tomatoes, this premade option was like a dream come true. Because of this, I will be forever thankful to Trader Joe's for giving me a version I can enjoy at home without having to do any preparation.

This bruschetta-style dip comes with perfectly even, bite-sized tomato pieces doused in olive oil, garlic, and basil.

The sauce's fresh, tomato-heavy taste and robust olive-oil and garlic overtones made it easy to fall in love with.

But although it's located in Trader Joe's refrigerated dip display case, this product is technically classified as a sauce. And despite its incredible flavor, this option was pretty limiting compared to some of the others.

It was too liquidy to really be scooped without the help of a spoon and too oily for most chips and crackers, let alone carrots, which earned it a much lower ranking in my book.

VERDICT: Ultimately, the bruschetta sauce is worth trying at least once, but it's probably best suited for a setting with utensils.


Right when you think there isn’t anything to make for dinner, you'll remember there are meatballs in the freezer and a bag of pasta or a cup of rice ready to boil. With a stash of these minis on hand, it’s also easy to heat up a portion for a side of protein whenever a little diner needs it. Pair it with Trader Joe’s Island Soyaki for an easy dinner sensation. Toothpicks always make fun mealtime props for kids, too.


Some of the runner-ups were absolutely amazing, but I can see why the orange chicken is a 7-time winner

Trader Joe's orange chicken has held its top spot seven years running for a reason.

Although the cauliflower gnocchi is a worthy competitor, it still requires a little something extra to make it taste great. Moreover, the equally flavorful chicken Tikka masala and macaroni and cheese entrées are only portioned out for one-to-two people, so they're not as good of a deal.

If anything comes close to potentially cracking the pedestal where Trader Joe's fans hold this dish, it's the sweet-potato gnocchi.

But even then, I'm still not sure it can compete with a product that's so well-loved by people of all ages.

Maybe it's the glazed sauce that tastes like a symphony of citrus and sweetness. Or perhaps it's the perfectly crispy-on-the-outside, juicy-on-the-inside chicken.

Whatever the reason for its popularity, it's clear the Mandarin orange chicken is a winner.


Watch the video: Trader Joes: Reduced Guilt Mac u0026 Cheese Review (December 2021).