The 5 Best Dinner Shortcuts We Bought in 2021

published Dec 12, 2021
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Someone straightening cans in kitchen pantry.
Credit: Sarah Crowley

It’s no secret how much we love a shortcut around here. An easy way to halve a bunch of cherry tomatoes at once? A smart hack to peel a dozen cloves of garlic in a few seconds or less? A jarred pasta sauce that tastes like something that simmered on the stovetop for hours? Sign us up for all of these things.

If the last shortcut on this list, the jarred pasta sauce, was the most interesting to you, we’ve got news: We’ve rounded up five of the best time-saving shortcuts we bought at the grocery store this year. These products shaved off prep time in the kitchen and allowed us to eat filling, delicious meals without having to make everything from scratch. These game-changing dinner-savers are so useful that we’ll be buying them well into next year. And the year after that.

Credit: Patty Catalano

1. Rao’s Homemade Jarred Marinara Sauce

We love Rao’s Homemade pasta sauce. We love Costco. And we really, really love the price of their marinara at our favorite big-box store. Honestly, little else can beat boxed pasta and jarred marinara as a speedy-yet-satisfying dinner. The fact that Costco stocks our perennial favorite marinara in XL-sized jars for a great price is just the icing on the cake. Or should we say, the Parmesan on the spaghetti?

Credit: Lauren Masur

2. Trader Joe’s Cauliflower Gnocchi

Cauliflower-haters can skip to the next item, but for everyone else: OMG CAULIFLOWER GNOCCHI! Unlike many cauli-based products, this gluten-free pasta alternative is hearty and satisfying … and it’s a great blank canvas for just about any kind of sauce. This isn’t a new product from TJ’s, but people who discover it tend to become instant fans. Don’t wait until 2022 to become a cauli-gnocchi believer. 

3. Kirkwood Frozen Breaded Chicken Breasts

We discovered these fully-cooked, breaded chicken breast fillets from Aldi in an attempt to recreate Chick-fil-A’s famous sandwich. Spoiler alert: The DIY sandwich comes really close to the real thing. But you don’t have to be a fast-food fan to appreciate this must-buy grocery item. The meat is 100% chicken breast (no Frankennuggets here), and consistently juicy with just the right amount of breading. Plus, you really can’t beat the price: $5.99 for 24 ounces (usually 5 or 6 pieces). These are brilliant candidates for the air fryer, but we’ve had success simply baking them in the oven, too.

Credit: Nicole Rufus

4. Fly by Jing Fire Hot Pot Base

Sichuan-inspired ingredients are the name of the game at Fly by Jing, and while we love them all (the Chili Crisp is a crowd favorite), nothing can beat the Hot Pot Base when it comes to easy dinner solutions. This small-but-mighty packet contains all of the seasoning you’ll need for a DIY hot pot broth that’s satisfyingly spicy. We’ve spent much of 2021 singing its praises, but now that Fly by Jing sells dumplings, we just may have to make room for another new favorite.

5. Ken’s Steak House Creamy Caesar Dressing

Ken’s is a big name in the bottled salad dressing market, and for good reason. Ken, whoever he is, knows what he’s doing. The Creamy Caesar is one of our absolute favorites, thanks to its restaurant-quality taste and real-deal ingredients. (You can actually see the Parmesan cheese!) You may not think of salad dressing as a dinner shortcut, but this stuff makes for a brilliant flavor-booster for chicken.

Did you discover any amazing dinner shortcuts this year? Let us know in the comments below.