While not all pre-prepped ingredients are of superior quality, these seven shortcuts won't let you down.

By Betty Gold
March 19, 2021
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Wait, have you guys heard that it's officially been an entire year since the pandemic started? (Asked no one ever.)

Indeed, we're all well aware that we've been sitting inside and staring at the same four walls for more than 12 months now. We're *quite* conscious of the fact that we haven't traveled, gone to a gym, worked in an office that wasn't five feet from our bedrooms, or stood in a crowd of people in a year. There's no way we haven't noticed that we haven't seen our families in a distressingly long time. Oh, and I'm very certain that I haven't changed out of leggings since last March. Still, the most noticeable ~sign of the times~ for most? The incessant, unrelenting, unavoidable need to shop for, prepare, and cook food for your entire household, day in and day out.

We get it—even the most fervent cooks aren't coddling sourdough starter and painstakingly cranking out from-scratch pasta anymore. To fall back in love with cooking (or at least simplify the process enough so that dinnertime sparks joy once again), start by reading our guide to curing your kitchen burnout. Next, stock up on some of these shortcut foods that will make meal prepping fuss-free. Why? Because half-scratch is still technically homemade, and if buying pre-cut produce quells your anxiety, inspires you to eat more veggies, or gives you more time to finally binge-watch Bridgerton, we're here for it. While many pre-prepped meal shortcut are lacking in quality, these options are a store-bought no-brainer (especially in times of stress) and won't let you or your chef-starved palette down.

Hummus
Credit: Greg DuPree

Hummus

Making hummus from scratch is a lot easier than you assume—just toss chickpeas, tahini, lemon juice, garlic, and spices into a blender and give them a whirl—but it’s also pretty unnecessary, particularly when you’re in a pinch. Even true hummus addicts agree that many of the brands you’ll find at the grocery store, from Sabra to Ithaca Hummus, taste on par with homemade.

Giant Crudité Platter
Credit: Rachael Weiner

Pre-Cut Vegetables and Bagged Lettuce

My theory on this: If there is a shortcut that helps you eat more fresh produce, you should take it. Hate cutting carrots, shredding cabbage, or dicing onions? Buy them pre-cut. Despise washing, drying, and chopping romaine? Seek out the bagged caesar kit. It’s not always the most economical option, but if it means you’re getting your recommended serving of veggies, it’s a smart purchase. Just make sure you're following proper protocol for keeping your bagged salad fresh so you don't end up tossing it before you get the chance to serve it.

Basic Pie Crust
Credit: Johnny Miller

Pie Crust

I personally think rolling out pie crust is pretty soothing, but you don’t always have the time or patience for it, especially if guests are on the way and you’ve got the rest of the meal to worry about. Trust me: If you serve hot apple pie topped with vanilla ice cream to a crowd, no one will complain (whether the crust was made from scratch or not).

winter-spaghetti-0219foo
Credit: Jennifer Causey

Jarred Tomato Sauce

Nothing (nothing) is better than homemade ‘gravy,’ but if you know what to look for, you’ll discover that there are jarred tomato sauces that are shockingly decent. The secret? Look for products from Rao’s or Lucini. Their tomato sauces are consistently high-quality and delicious. Next time you’re stressed about serving dinner to a crowd, stir up some spaghetti noodles with one of these shortcuts for the ultimate easy crowd-pleasing meal. 

Chicken broth in bowls.
Credit: fortyforks/Getty Images

Chicken Stock

Unless you’ve got a bunch of chicken bones, mirepoix, and parmesan rinds hangin’ around that need a home, I would recommend purchasing stock or both rather than going the DIY route. It'll save you tons of time, plus store-bought stock won't do too much damage on your wallet. 

Double Roasted Chicken Recipe
Credit: Caitlin Bensel

Rotisserie Chicken

It’s the darling of meal prep for a reason: Store-bought rotisserie chickens can be used in just about every dish imaginable. And once you shred the chicken, toss it with enchilada sauce, and bake it into cheese-topped tortillas in the oven, you won’t taste the difference.  

Gluten-Free Pizza Crust
Credit: Greg DuPree

Pizza (Especially Gluten-Free Options)

Is it just me, or have frozen pizza options gone from mediocre to shockingly good? Particularly for those who follow a gluten-free diet, some of the new offerings in the frozen pizza section of your supermarket are life-changing. (Anyone who has ever tried to DIY GF pizza crust knows it's no simple task.) Gluten-free options like Caulipower and Banza are so good—the crust is crazy-crisp—you'd never know you were eating something so packed with protein and fiber. For those who can tolerate gluten, look out for products from American Flatbread and save that homemade pizza project for a leisurely weekend.