Grocery Store Shortcuts Are the Key to the 30-Minute Meal

Grocery Store Shortcuts Are the Key to the 30-Minute Meal

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Meghan Splawn
Mar 3, 2017
(Image credit: Forrest Clonts)

You and I both want weeknight dinners done in the time it takes my 5-year-old to take off her jacket and hang it up in the hall (feels like forever, but it takes about 30 minutes of prodding from front door to coat hook), and in that quest we've tried many, many methods. We stock our pantry with shortcuts and use fewer ingredients, but the real countdown clock on cooking dinner should start in our grocery cart.

Kelli's got you covered on what pantry staples you'll need to get dinner on the tables in about 30 minutes, but this post will teach you how to use the various departments of your grocery store to get dinner done faster. These grocery store shortcuts should be in your grocery cart too if you want to master the 30-minute meal.

Why Your Grocery Cart Is Key to 30-Minute Meals

Pantry staples are forever, and they should be the backbone of any recipe you hope to cook in 30 minutes. But if you're going to nail the 30-minute timeline, you've got to partner pantry staples with grocery store shortcuts.

Grocery store shortcuts are items that you buy to skip a step in a recipe. Peeled garlic, pre-cut veggies, meat that's already been sliced — these grocery store shortcuts are often perishable and more expensive, but when you really need them, they're there.

Here are some strategies to use the different departments in the grocery store to help make dinner fast.

Deli Shortcuts for 30-Minute Meals

Browse your deli for cooked proteins — there are way more than just rotisserie chicken (although, to be honest, you should probably snag one of those too). Use deli chopped ham for chef salads; thinly sliced turkey makes incredible melts.

In some stores, the deli will also have a cold case full of cooked vegetables, sides, and salads, but we will cover what to put in your cart there next.

The Salad Bar Lets You Buy What's Just Right

The salad bar in your grocery store is chock-full of sliced and diced vegetables, cleaned salad greens, salad dressing, and cooked grains. Unlike the produce department that also has prepped vegetables and salad greens, you can use the salad bar to get as few chopped onions as you need. Nab a dab of salad dressing if it's just you for dinner. The salad bar is one best places to keep the grocery bill intact when buying convenience foods.

And don't skip the olive bar — some grocery stores have roasted garlic and seasoned oils along with the colorful array of olives.

Pro tip: I avoid the salad bar hard-boiled eggs, as they are almost always overcooked. Check in the produce department for vacuum-sealed hard-cooked eggs instead.

Produce Section Shortcuts

This is your permission slip to utilize the pre-chopped vegetables and fruits in the produce department. I steer clear of "pre-washed lettuce," but the already peeled and cored pineapple goes right in my cart. The prepared ingredients in the produce department are more expensive and therefore require some thoughtful shopping: Always check the best-by dates and then eye the container for any unsullied chopped onions.

Your turn! What are the grocery shortcut staples that help you get dinner on the table in 30 minutes? Share your favorites in the comments!

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