Would weeknight dinners be easier if meal prep wasn’t so time-consuming? Well, yeah. We all know that prepping ahead of time cuts down on the time needed in the kitchen on cook night, but it can be super challenging to carve out the time to do it. Here’s a little secret, though, almost every grocery store has products that can significantly cut down on prep time if we just take a minute to look more carefully at the grocery store. Here’s a list of the 5 types of shortcuts that will help simplify meal prep. And, if you’d prefer to listen and watch, that’s an option, too.
You can find a TON of foods to use as ingredients to help simplify your favorite, and most complicated recipes. From already chopped veggies to frozen veggie mixes and even sauces, you can significantly decrease the time spent washing, slicing, dicing, and mixing by shopping for the parts of your recipes. And, if you’re really in a pinch and only need one diced celery stalk, get it from the salad bar and eliminate the extra cost and waste when you buy more than you need.
You can also buy some foods that are ready (or pretty darn close) to cook or even eat! Consider veggies like cauliflower rice or kale salad that are quick to throw together. I also love using already cut veggies like broccoli, butternut squash and baby carrots for roasting. All I need to do is rinse, season, and pop them in the oven. Don’t forget the prepared section of the store, as well, as many stores have tasty side dishes and salads already prepared. Consider the time and the number of ingredients it would take to make a similar side from scratch if you’re having a hard time deciding if ‘shortcutting’ is the way to go for your family.
Main dish starters
There are so many great options to speed up the main course! Between rotisserie chickens, which can be used for ANYTHING, to cooked chicken strips, already seasoned BBQ, stir-fry mixes and meatballs, there is no good reason to spend hours in the kitchen 5 nights a week…unless you love it. Which, I actually don’t. I’d rather throw together a quick + healthy meal in under 30 minutes so that I’m not exhausted when I sit down and so that I have energy left AFTER dinner to connect with my family. So, I may heat up meatballs to add some pizazz to pasta night. I WILL shred a rotisserie chicken to use in enchiladas. And, for sure, I will buy a fresh or frozen stir-fry mix to make my night a bit easier.
Full-on main dishes
Now, some nights, you just might want to have every part of the dinner done for you. And, lucky enough, you can find those, as well. You can serve a rotisserie chicken as is. These days, you can even find ready-to-cook OR ready-to-eat meals at many stores. And, for sure, the frozen foods section has upped its game, as well, offering much healthier and more wholesome options than in years past.
What about extending the ‘life’ of a weeknight meal? Often, I hear mamas tell me that their family doesn’t like leftovers. What that often ends up meaning is that they don’t like eating the same thing on Thursday that they ate on Tuesday. BUT, if the pork shoulder that was served as BBQ on Tuesday is served as carnitas tacos on Thursday, then I’d bet money that the family would be singing a different tune. Soooo, it’s time to get well-versed in how to ‘repurpose’ leftovers.
Most stores have a great selection of Naan (Indian flatbread), pizza crusts, or pizza dough that you can use to make flatbreads, pizzas or calzones out of. Just take the leftover main dish, add a sauce, some veggies and maybe some cheese and you’ve got a meal that looks nothing like the original version. We always keep flour and corn tortillas on hand for a taco or wrap reincarnation. And, salad mixes, rice, and grains are perfect bases for a leftover night.
How to find shortcuts in YOUR store?
So, where are these lifesavers hiding in the store? EVERYWHERE. Next time you go to the store (sans children), make an effort to do a bit of browsing. I know, you’re busy and your time at the store is limited. But, the time spent learning the shortcuts at your store will ultimately save you tons of time in the kitchen. Before you head to to the store, do a bit of recon and browse through the store magazine. The flyer is helpful, but many stores like Kroger and Wegman’s mail out full-on magazines that offer recipes and highlight their products. So, browse through those to get an idea of what the store offers.
Then, take a nice stroll through the produce section, focusing on the perimeter where they house cut veggies and salad mixes. Walk around the deli counter, butcher area, and prepared food sections looking for side dish and main dish shortcuts or ready-to-cook meals. Finally, be sure to gaze around the frozen foods sections looking around the veggies and frozen meals area. You can also try the frozen section within the all-natural department if there is a separate freezer or fridge area there.
How to implement these shortcuts into a meal plan?
This all sounds great, but you might be wondering how to include these in a plan. First, go ahead and write out your regular meal plan. Then, look at each day’s plan and identify the MOST complicated part. Consider which of the grocery store shortcuts mentioned can help you un-complicate THAT one part. Add that shortcut to your list and leave it at that. That’s it. Start small. As you start to do this weekly, you’ll get a better idea of which shortcuts work for you and your family. Another great option is to leave a meal unassigned on your weekly meal plan. Then, when you get to the store, shop the shortcuts and choose items to fill in as that night’s meal.
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