Trader Joe’s “Meatloaf Muffins”: Predictably Unpredictable

Trader Joe's Turkey

Trader Joe's Turkey "Meatloaf Muffins"

I Paid: $5.99 for four muffins (prices may vary by region)

Taste: 1 stars

Marketing: 4 stars

Review mass-marketed food for even a short period of time and you learn that you can't ever judge a frozen meal by its cover—quality of ingredients, balance of seasonings, and performance under heat are all difficult to control, and impossible to quantify in a box-top photograph.

But even by the unpredictable standards of the genre, guessing at the quality of Trader Joe's food is a game of Russian roulette. Entrées come and go seemingly at random, and good theories sometimes yield poor results.

Case in point: The oddly appealing-looking Turkey "Meatloaf Muffins." At 220 calories a pop, these big-snack-/small-meal-sized frozen entrées look like a terrific balance of relatively healthy ingredients: a small amount of mashed potatoes plus spinach plus a lean turkey meatloaf, stacked into a muffin shape to be microwaved or oven-baked back to warm, hearty goodness.

No such luck, however. The spinach is everything you remember about not liking spinach as a kid: soggy, metallic, and unpleasant, squished under a mound of slightly gluey and underseasoned potatoes. A real kick of heat or spice or anything (fruit? salt and/or pepper? bacon? kimchi? Doesn't matter!) would have saved the turkey meatloaf, which was bland and slightly depressing in a hospital-food sort of way.

A for concept, C-minus/D-plus for execution, and another object lesson in the impossibility of predicting what you'll get at TJ's.

James Norton edits the Upper Midwestern food journal Heavy Table. He's also the coauthor of a book on Wisconsin's master cheesemakers. Follow CHOW on Twitter, and become a fan on Facebook.