Essential Shortcut Ingredients for Busy Parents

We've got a trusty stable of go-to shortcuts that eliminate prep time and make life easier.

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Busy Parent's Best Friends

We're all about the made-from-scratch around here, but also understand that sometimes it's a Tuesday, you just got home from work, and dinner needed to be on the table 5 minutes ago. For that situation (which comes up a lot more than any of us would like to admit), here are the grocery store ingredients that save the day.

Pie Crust and Puff Pastry

Great for desserts and quick snacks for company, but also fantastic for savory pies, hand pies, pot pie crusts, and more. Homemade pie crust almost always edges out store-bought from a flavor perspective, but it’s hard to question the convenience of store-bought. Homemade puff pastry is amazing, but also time-consuming and demanding. An all-butter store-bought kind can be a real lifesaver.

Salad Bar Ingredients

Swing by the salad bar and pick up pre-sliced mushrooms, rings of onion, peppers, shelled edamame, olives or already-shredded cheese. Use them to customize a frozen pizza, saute them and toss with cooked pasta and oil, or use them to set up a burger or taco bar on the fly.

Canned Beans

While there are times (like homemade hummus) that dried beans really make the dish, for the most part, canned beans’ convenience and speed wins the day.

Triple-Washed Baby Spinach

Washing and chopping salad greens takes a few minutes of time that you don't have to spare some weeknights. Bags of baby spinach solve this problem – it's pre-washed, and the small leaves are ready to toss with the rest of your salad ingredients. It's also great sautéed with a little olive oil or butter for a quick two-minute side.

Boxed Stock

Homemade stock really wins this one on the flavor front – especially with beef and vegetable stock. Chicken stock can go either way – box stock is handy; homemade is delicious.

Rotisserie Chicken

Sure, this is an obvious one. Obvious for a reason. It’s a comforting, crowd-pleasing, time-saving, and not-too-expensive solution to many a time crunch.

Spice Blends

These are an ideal shortcut for two reasons: a couple well-chosen blends, lets you get away with buying fewer spices; and they’re an easy way to add complexity to marinades, spice rubs, and sauces. Get a good chili powder, a good seafood seasoning, and one more wildcard: creole seasoning, garam masala, or berbere, depending on your favorite cuisine, and make it a staple.

Coleslaw mix

Think beyond mayo-dressed summer slaw when you pick up a bag of pre-shredded coleslaw mix. It can brighten up and add crunch to any salad or cold noodle dish, and makes a great topping for sandwiches or tacos.

Curry Pastes

Just add meat, veggies, and stock, broth, coconut milk or even water, and you’ve got a homemade curry in minutes. Our favorite pastes are Thai, but check Asian grocery stores for other options.

Frozen Vegetables

They’re always-handy, already-prepped vegetables you can toss a handful of into soups, stews, and pastas. Peas, lima beans, and artichoke hearts are especially handy, as they remove all the cumbersome prep.

Cauliflower Rice

Cauliflower rice is easy to make in a food processor, but cleaning the tool it is a pain, and those tiny cauliflower "grains" end up all over the place. Fortunately, many grocery stores carry bags of pre-made cauliflower rice. All you have to do is saute or steam for a quick, healthy side.

Pizza Dough

The uses for store-bought pizza dough are endless. Make savory turnovers, sweet fruit tarts and hot-out-of-the-oven breadsticks with just a few minutes' prep time. Obviously, it makes homemade pizza a totally doable weeknight dinner, too.

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