Real Simplepicked 37 of the best-tasting grocery store items that can be prepared in a flash.

By Jane Kirby
Updated August 24, 2004
Olive oil, pasta, peas, lemon, garlic, and jalapenos
| Credit: Anna Williams

For the Refrigerator or Freezer

  • Pillsbury refrigerated prepared piecrusts: You'll find them packaged two to a box in your supermarket's dairy case, not pressed into an aluminum-foil pie plate. Each piecrust is perfectly rolled and folded so you can shape it or drape it into your favorite dish.
  • Cooked chicken wings: Here's the single-serving equivalent of a whole roast chicken. Great in recipes or for teenage parties and little-kid lunches.
  • Shady Brook Farms Turkey Meatballs: Beefless, with a fresh (not powdered) garlic flavor.
  • Shredded Jack cheese: The convenience of grated hard cheeses (like Parmesan) isn't worth the compromise in flavor, but buying preshredded semi-soft cheeses makes sense.
  • Packaged washed baby spinach: So it costs a lot more than the kind you trim and wash yourself. You'll also eat more of it this way.
  • Prepped vegetables: Now that producers are bagging shredded carrots, broccoli florets, and pre-washed lettuces, salads take no time (so no excuses).
  • Frozen cooked shrimp: Having cooked, peeled shrimp in the freezer is as handy as having a can of tuna in the pantry.
  • Fillo Factory Spanakopita (a.k.a. spinach-and-cheese appetizers): These flaky pastry pillows are perfect for party starters or as part of a light lunch or brunch; for stores.
  • Nancy's Petite Quiche: You should keep these amazingly flaky, professional-quality mini pastries in your freezer; many caterers do. Available at Costco warehouse store; for stores.
  • Minh Egg Rolls: Add some chicken wings, dumplings, and meatballs and you've got an instant pupu platter. Available at Sam's Club.
  • Boston Market Frozen Cinnamon Apples: These ultraconvenient apples make a great (if sweet) pie filling. Available at supermarkets.
  • Pepperidge Farms Puff Pastry: Fold it, and pat it, and mark it with an E for easy.
  • Belgium Chef Waffles: Put away the waffle iron and stay in bed a little longer on Sunday morning. The kids can pop these better-than-frozen-tasting frozen waffles in the toaster. They make an excellent base for a last-minute ice cream sundae, too. Call 800-350-5016 for store locations.

For the Pantry

  • Buitoni Focaccia Bread Mix: The next best thing to an Italian bakery in the neighborhood is a supermarket that carries this mix. Stir it, ignore it while it rises, bake it, and call it your own. Substitute fresh rosemary and coarse salt for the seasoning packet.
  • Barilla no-boil lasagna noodles: Supermarket staple Barilla has made assembling lasagna so easy, you don't have to wait for a rainy Sunday to make a batch.
  • Barilla Pasta Sauce: Of all the jarred sauces, these nongoopy, not-too-sweet, just-the-right-garlic formulas in the blue-labeled jars are best.
  • Pastene Pesto: No basil leaves to wash, no food processor to clean. Toss it with frozen tortellini or fold it into scrambled eggs. Spread it on baguettes instead of mustard. In supermarkets; for stores.
  • Annie's Homegrown macaroni and cheese: Annie's makes the only acceptable boxed macaroni and cheese. The Organic Shells & White Cheddar is a Real Simple favorite―no Day-Glo orange in this box. In grocery stores and at
  • Alessi Risotto: A bit salty but convenient. Try Porcini Mushrooms or Sun Dried Tomato. Sold in supermarkets, or call 800-282-4130 for store locations.
  • Goya Spanish Style Yellow Rice: The entire Goya line is a winner. Mix the rice with raisins and nuts for a novel side dish.
  • Eden Organic Canned Beans: The adzuki beans and the soybeans, as well as all the usual black and white ones, are tasty and organic. In supermarkets; for stores.
  • Roasted red pepper: The jarred version tastes like fresh peppers you blacken under the broiler, steam, peel, core, seed, and slice―if you have time for all that. And who does?
  • Canned whole chilies: See roasted red peppers, above.
  • California Harvest Portabella Mushroom Tapenade: You can spread it on toast, dab it on broiled chicken breasts, use it on sandwiches, and dollop it on pizzas. In supermarkets.
  • Swanson Natural Goodness low-sodium, fat-free chicken broth: Really chickeny and the only big-name brand that doesn't have a throat-coating aftertaste.
  • More Than Gourmet Demi-Glace Gold Classic French beef stock: You'll never settle for canned beef broth again. Reduced and spiked with sherry, this stock makes a no-stress sauce for meat;
  • Dried rice noodles: Rice pasta may be the noodle of the new millennium. (Wheat is so last century.) Most kinds need just a dip in hot water to soften.
  • Vong Tamarind Sauce: The tamarind is good, but the peanut is a knockout, too. Toss a pound of slivered chicken breasts with ½ cup of the sauce, then skewer and grill. Sold in specialty stores.
  • A Taste of Thai Green Curry Mix: Fire-extinguisher hot. Dish up this curry base with jasmine rice. At supermarkets and
  • Thai Kitchen dried lemongrass: Fresh lemongrass is easy to find in most big markets, but with a jar of dried lemongrass, you can add a lemony sparkle to dressings, marinades, or soup on the spur of the moment. At supermarkets and
  • Thai Kitchen Spicy Peanut Satay Sauce: Serve it with skewered shrimp, chicken, and beef at cocktail parties. Toss it on noodles for a light entree, or serve it instead of the usual mayonnaise-based dip for crudites. At supermarkets and
  • Tasty Bite Indian meals: Fabulous Indian dinners with a hokey name. They're sold boxed in pouches that you heat in boiling water;
  • McCann's Quick Cooking Irish Oatmeal: This stir-and-serve cereal has a nutty chewiness and an authenticity that used to come only after an hour on the stove. At supermarkets.
  • Vermont Gold pancake mix: Try the blueberry or apple cinnamon (and make it with apple juice instead of water);
  • Ghirardelli Double-Chocolate Muffin Mix and Ghirardelli Brownie Mix: Because they are made with world-famous Ghirardelli chocolate, these muffins and brownies taste as if they came from an expensive coffeehouse.