SAMHSA’s National Helpline can help those suffering from depression and other mental health issues.
To me, the best place to shop for seasonal depression meal supplies is, of course, Trader Joe’s. A grocery store that boasts more food products than actual ingredients or produce is ideal in that I can stock my freezer with only the easiest dishes, and it ensures that I won’t have to use any appliance more complicated than a microwave. I’ve created a list of my most favorite Trader Joe’s seasonal depression meals. (Yes, unfortunately, everything on this list has constituted an entire meal for me at some point in my life.) I just hope that you’re reading this for fun and not in the quest for inspiration.
1. Mac and Cheese Bites
There are times when even a bowl of Kraft mac and cheese is just too difficult to make; turning on the stove requires a level of energy I just cannot summon once the temperature drops below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Enter Trader Joe’s mac and cheese bites. Blessedly, they don’t even require a spoon, so you can put off washing the growing pile of dirty silverware sitting in your sink until tomorrow… again.
2. Half a Sleeve of Joe Joe’s
I mean… I think this one speaks for itself. A generous smear of thick, rich cream finds itself nestled in between two chocolate wafers, providing the most luxurious of dining experience for anyone scouring their pantries at 11:45 p.m. between episodes of the same show they’ve watched a dozen times.
3. Chicken Burrito Bowl
Okay but this one is actually in earnest: If you genuinely want a decent meal that contains vegetables (!!) without doing any cooking, Trader Joe’s chicken burrito bowl gets the job done. Does it taste like Chipotle? No. But you won’t have to force yourself to choke it down if you’re sufficiently hungry, which is my benchmark for a good meal when waiting for the microwave to beep seems like an impossible task.
4. Spaghetti Cacio e Pepe
There are some shameful items on this list, but I actually think the spaghetti cacio e pepe from Trader Joe’s is one of the worst. It’s literally frozen spaghetti in a bag. Pasta already seems like an essential seasonal depression meal staple, but TJ’s really outdoes itself by assuming its customers aren’t even going to want to boil a pot of water. (And they’re right.) This cacio e pepe isn’t as good as it is fresh (shocker), but it’s actually pretty solid for a frozen meal.
5. Caramelized Onion Dip
Should you eat Trader Joe’s caramelized onion dip with chips or crackers or just anything else than its own creamy, caramelized goodness? Probably. But I can attest from personal experience that it tastes just as good with a carrier as it does on its own, eaten straight from the tub with a spoon. Yes, this happened during a dark moment, but that moment led me to the bliss of a meal consisting of straight onion dip, so I guess it’s not all bad.
6. Steamed Pork and Ginger Soup Dumplings
Trader Joe’s steamed pork and ginger soup dumplings are pure seasonal depression fuel. They feel special enough to make you forget you haven’t changed out of the same sweatpants you’ve been wearing for a week straight while still presenting diners with the plastic-wrapped, microwavable experience they need when actually steaming a dumpling sounds like an insurmountable task. Admittedly, for frozen dumplings, they’re pretty good on the taste front.
7. Ube Mochi
How could I possibly leave the famous TJ’s ube mochi off this list? I love a good handheld ice cream situation, and this mochi is soft enough that you’ll barely even have to chew—perfect for when basic digestive functions seem like a big ask. This is YAM ice cream surrounded by sweet RICE dough, so it’s basically a meal all on its own.
8. Chicken Pot Pie
Does this one even need an explanation? Has anyone ever eaten a chicken pot pie when they’re not depressed? Luckily, Trader Joes’ is one of the better brands of CPP out there.
9. Chocolate Lava Cakes
Trader Joes’ chocolate lava cakes take me back to a very specific time in history, one in which “molten” chocolate lava cakes were everywhere. And I mean everywhere. It was like the pre-Great Recession dessert of choice, and I’ve always been here for it. I will say that this “meal” is more suited to an emotional breakup with a long-term romantic partner, but it can also do its job on your seventh day without leaving your apartment in the dead of winter.
If there is one food from Trader Joe’s I never, ever want to live without, it’s their little flat hashbrowns. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve eaten four of these things crowded together on a plate in one sitting. It’s important to remember to microwave these bad boys instead of putting them in the oven. Fresh out of the microwave, they’re soggy and oil-soaked: just what you want from a good old seasonal depression meal.
Samantha Maxwell is a food writer and editor based in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @samseating.