The Internet and our grandmothers' recipe boxes are stuffed with quick-fix recipes that go something like this: "Pour a can of cream of mushroom soup over chicken breasts. Bake one hour."
For most of my childhood, that style of dish was one of my favorite things to make. I felt like a real cook, preparing dinner all by myself, yet doing it so quickly and simply. As I get older, I crave the simplicity of those recipes, but without the preservatives and tinny, canned flavor. Here are eight convenience ingredients I stock up on because they help me create wholesome yet easy meals.
You don't have to buy highly processed meals to enjoy more convenient meal-making. I've learned that convenience is possible with whole foods and wholesome ingredients. I can shop in a way that lends itself toward "quick and easy" while still sticking to foods that are right for me and my family.
8 Store-Bought Shortcuts for Wholesome Dinners
Here are some of my favorite real food "cheats" to buy at the store:
1. Frozen chicken pieces
I know, I was a skeptic once too. My sister told me she bought these regularly at Trader Joe's. They're flash-frozen, ice-glazed chicken pieces sold in a bag. Once I gave them a shot, I was hooked. Not only can I cook the exact number of pieces I want, but the resulting chicken dish is always full of flavor. I buy the tenders, which are also easily and quickly chopped; just cut crosswise.
2. Pre-washed baby spinach and other greens
I am not ashamed of opening a bag of salad. I make my own dressings, but the convenience of pre-washed baby greens and spinach makes salads so easy!
3. Shredded cheese
We've been buying the big bags at Costco for years. Just divvy one up into smaller bags and freeze for longer shelf life. Taco Tuesday comes together in a flash.
4. Pre-cooked bacon
My in-laws are responsible for this current infatuation. No mess, no fuss, no splatters all over the stove! Bonus: I can add just a slice of bacon or two to any dish for a smidgen of smoky flavor without the hassle.
5. Peeled and deveined shrimp
Making a shrimp dish — like this pesto shrimp linguine salad — feels so fancy to me, but it doesn't take long to make when I buy a bag of shrimp all ready to go.
6. Crushed garlic in a jar
I've tried a few different brands for this; some are better than others. Now I always keep a jar of Trader Joe's crushed garlic in the fridge for quick flavor without having to wash that darn garlic press.
7. Chopped frozen vegetables
While I try to keep the vegetable drawer stocked, it's nice to be able to reach into the freezer for a bag of vegetables and give the cutting board the night off. Dishes come together quickly while still featuring the rainbow.
8. Broth and stock
It's not hard or expensive to make your own stocks and broths, but sometimes you just don't have the time. Keeping stock on hand can be a lifesaver when making quick and delicious soups and pilafs.
When I have these eight ingredients on hand, I can make a dozen different meals quickly and easily, especially if I've got rice and pasta in the pantry.
While farmers market finds are certainly healthy and delicious, sometimes we need a little help — a few tricks in the freezer, fridge, or cupboard to help us eat at home without taking an hour. These are the ones I love. I'd love to hear about the healthiest, most wholesome convenience items you keep on hand.