It's one of the big reasons that Sandy and I have decided to go on a little experiment with our meals the next couple of weeks. We're going to try to avoid more processed products and make dinners from scratch, and try to stick to healthier sized portions and make healthier choices. We're certainly not experts on the matter but trying to give it the old college heave-ho. A couple nights, though, we're busy enough with stuff that we realize we won't necessarily have the time or energy to cook a full meal, so when making something from a box or bag, we're going to try and make healthier decisions.
Because of this approach we're toeing, I picked up TJ's Shrimp Stir Fry on my last trek to the local shop. Sandy was off babysitting, so I felt a little pressure as I was embarking on this new mission of healthy eating while flying solo. I stuck mostly to the list she scribbled down for me, but for a premade dinner, she just wrote down, "premade dinner." No guidance, and I was going to have to wing it. Lo and behold, a bag of frozen shrimp and vegetables that takes less than 10 minutes to make on a stovetop. Shrimp and vegetables = healthy, low fat, low calories. Check. Quick and easy = check. And since there's nothing but raw frozen shrimp and a variety of veggies, from what I can tell there's a comparative small amount of processing involved - maybe some preservatives, but nothing like any high fructose corn syrup randomly injected in. Oh wait, not even any preservatives, and there's a "gourmet pepper seasoning" packet tossed in too. It definitely seemed to match all the right criteria, so it made for a logical pick-up.
Sandy and I just had it tonight (somewhat ironically, after making an after work trek to the local food co-op and farmer's market for some goodies for other meals), and well, let's say I was higher on it before munching through it than afterwards. I'll start with the positives. The shrimp itself was good - pretty good in fact. It wasn't salty or mushy like what I've had with other frozen brands. Indeed, it was firm and fresh enough tasting, and TJ's tossed in something like 15 of them, so they weren't skimpy on it, either. And it was a pretty good selection of mixed veggies in the bag, too - red peppers, sugar snap peas, broccoli, water chestnuts. Along with some rice I made on the side, Sandy and I had plenty enough for dinner, and enough left over for me to take some rice and veggies to work for lunch. Despite all that, and despite its overall healthiness, it just lacked something, like a good light sauce or seasoning to tie it all together. That gourmet pepper packet? It consists mainly of black pepper and garlic powder, and for whatever reason I was hoping for something more Iron Chef than "first two things I saw on the spice rack" inspired, and there wasn't enough to have it permeate the dish anyways. I don't know if some soy sauce would be the proper response to this. Sandy ended up sprinkling on some crushed red pepper flakes, but for the integrity of this review I trudged through without any further dressing up. I appreciated the fact that a lot of the natural flavor of the shrimp and veggies came through, but I just couldn't shake the notion that something was missing, and neither could Sandy. Also, I know that just by putting in slightly more effort than opening a bag to dump into a skillet, I could have easily made something just as good if not even better, and certainly more tailored to our taste buds.
I think I know why Trader Joe's decided to keep his name on it and not Trader Ming or Trader Joe-San. Ming has brought us too many good things that it'd be a shame for this to sully his reputation, while that Joe-San character has more of a legacy of disappointment which is best not to perpetuate. Big Joe himself has enough of a solid rep that this won't sway it too much one way or the other. For a quick, easy, healthy bag meal, I guess it's not too bad, but it could be better. A lot better, actually. As it comes, it's just too bland for us, but with minor adjustments, I'm sure it could be a tastier dish. Really, just a light sauce or more seasoning, and it could be a bigger winner...But not today. Both Sandy and I give it a 3 and a shrug.
Bottom line: 6 out of 10