Last Updated on May 22, 2023 by Michael Brockbank
Trader Joe’s is a great place to shop, even if you’re on a budget. I can usually stick close to my $2 per meal budget by portioning out the food correctly. For instance, it doesn’t cost much more than a can of Progress Soup to eat some mandarin chicken and chicken fried rice for lunch.
I have an affinity for Asian cuisine, and Trader Joe’s has a great selection of my favorites. It’s all in a matter of how you serve it that makes a difference, especially in cost.
Taking the Time to Cook
When standing in the kitchen cooking, you can burn nearly twice the calories than simply sitting in a chair. For me, this means up to 3.1 calories per minute as opposed to 1.4.
It doesn’t take a long time to whip up a batch of mandarin orange chicken and chicken fried rice, either. By spending 15 to 20 minutes preparing both bags from Trader Joe’s, you can easily make around five complete meals.
Don’t go by the number of servings on the bag. I have yet to see any manufacturer stick to this outside of soup makers.
This is all done by hand as I measure out eat portion during preparation.
Portioning Out the Mandarin Chicken and Fried Rice
According to the bag of mandarin orange chicken, one serving is about one cup. This is roughly the equivalent of 320 calories. However, you’ll only need to worry about 160 calories if you take it down to 1/2 cup.
The bag of chicken fried rice is the same way. One serving is one and 1/3 cup at 230 calories. But take it to 2/3 cup and you only have 115 calories.
Combined, you get one and 1/3 cup of food by using half portions of each product. And it only reaches about 275 calories for having what appears to be a decent-sized lunch.
The Nutritional Value
Half servings of both mandarin chicken and chicken fried rice make for a good meal in many regards. However, what’s the nutritional value when combining the two?
- Calories: 275
- Carbs: 33 grams
- Fat: 10 grams
- Cholesterol: 58 mg
- Sodium: 520 mg
- Protein: 15 grams
The one thing I like most about this meal is the low-sodium content. This is roughly half of what I normally eat even when dining on Progresso Soup. If you’re watching your sodium intake, this is a good alternative to a lot of different foods out there.
The carbs are a bit higher than I’d like, but this is easily offset by being more physically active and burning them off. Since I play the Xbox Kinect often, I can absorb the carbs without really putting myself into dire straits in terms of weight.
What About the Left Overs?
Because I cook for one, I need to store the remaining food. Instead of tossing it into plastic-ware and forgetting about it in the refrigerator, I use freezer and microwave safe containers.
These containers let me store the mandarin chicken dishes in the freezer which gives them longevity and makes it easy to pop them in the microwave throughout the week.
In reality, it’s no different from buying Lean Cuisines. It’s all prepared food that you simply have to reheat to eat. And for those who are busy like myself, frozen dishes don’t take a long time to prepare later.
Freezing the Food
I bought 12 microwave safe containers with lids that are freezer-friendly. I can’t remember off-hand how much they cost, but the containers were well worth the investment.
I can portion the food out into separate areas within the plastic-ware and freeze it as soon as I am done cooking.
Once it’s time to eat, the preparation only takes a couple of minutes. Pull the containers out of the fridge, pop off the lid and microwave it for two minutes. Then, stir up the food and microwave it for another minute.
In about three and a half minutes, I have a nice lunch or dinner of mandarin chicken and chicken fried rice.
How Much Does it Cost?
In my area, a bag of Trader Joe’s chicken fried rice costs $2.99. As it can portion out to five dishes at 2/3 cups, this means it contributes to $0.60 of the meal.
The Mandarin Chicken is $4.99 and I can serve out seven helpings at one-half cup. Yes, this means I have two extra servings that I will either combine with more rice or find something else to go with it. As a result, it adds $0.71 to the cost.
In the end, I pay about $1.31 for each meal of mandarin chicken and chicken fried rice. Even paying the taxes when buying it from the store doesn’t really tack on a lot, so it’s probably closer to $1.45 or so.
Is this Enough Food?
For those looking to lose some weight, this is a decent amount of food. It’s not overly fatty, contains a great deal of protein and provides an array of vitamins.
Personally, I find this and many other Trader Joe’s products to be filling when you only scoop half-portions and combine to make meals. It’s also the most cost effective way to get some Asian cuisine without going to places like Panda Express.
As for calories, this meal is pretty close to what I already eat from various foods like Lean Cuisine and Progresso. Eventually, I would like to put up a side-by-side comparison of foods.
But from personal experience, the amount of food you get from mandarin chicken and chicken fried rice is par to keep your belly from grumbling.
Why Freeze the Leftovers?
If you sit the containers in the fridge, the clock begins ticking. Fridge leftovers have a very short timeline and can go bad quickly, depending on what you cook.
Freezing the meals expands their lifespan of being edible. While you’ll still have to worry about freezer burnt food, this gives you a several weeks to eat the mandarin chicken as opposed to several days.
Besides, I have far more room in my deep freezer than I do in the fridge.
Another aspect of freezing is I can add different meals throughout the week without the pressure of eating something that is about to go bad in the fridge. For example, after tonight I will have mandarin chicken, shitake mushroom chicken and kung pao chicken all in containers in the freezer.
Yes, I have a thing for chicken.
Saving Money While Eating Healthier
In most manufactured products, or even fast food restaurants, you pay dearly for convenience. Just by making my own frozen dinners, I cut the cost in half as opposed to dishes prepared by Lean Cuisine or Weight Watchers.
Mostly this is because of properly portioning out your groceries. Most of us are extremely overfed without realizing it. And once you get used to eating proper portion sizes, trying to consume as much as you did in the past becomes difficult.
I know because a recent pizza put me in the hurt locker by eating way too much.
Prepare it Yourself
You can save a lot of money and time by preparing your own meals. The mandarin chicken dish above is just one example of sticking to a low-calorie diet and having good food to boot. For the most part, is just takes a bit of effort and microwave-safe containers. For $50, one person can easily eat lunch and dinner for more than two weeks.