It's that time of year when you need to think about how to get those weeknight dinners on the table night after night, and you could use all the help you can get. Quick and easy recipes are our friends, but there are nights where we could use a little extra help. A package of excellent ravioli, a great jar of sauce to add to the pasta, some pre-marinated chicken breasts, vegetables cut up and ready to go either in the refrigerated section or in the freezer: These delicious and helpful... store-bought products are great to have on hand, or keep in mind, when time gets tight.
And besides dinner prep, these convenient stores also have a solid supply of snacks for those lunch boxes, items to make breakfast a breeze, and much more. Sometimes it really pays to think outside the supermarket!
01 of 05
Wellsley Farms is the store brand for BJ’s Wholesale Club and their wide selection of offerings keeps growing.
For snacks, pick up the variety pack of snack nuts in on-the-go pouches, or little bags of trail mix made with real M&M’s (which of course make them a total kid-pleaser).
If you like NutriGrain bars, try the Wellsley cereal bars, which are made with real fruit, no artificial flavors and have 8 grams of whole grains per bar. They come in 3 flavors: Strawberry, Apple & Cinnamon and Blueberry. Or for a more traditional granola bar, pick up the 60-pack of the small Chewy Chocolate Chip Granola Bars which have just 110 calories per bar and no high fructose corn syrup or artificial flavors.
Come dinnertime, a little help is always welcome, and my family really loved the Grilled White Chicken Ravioli, made with mozzarella cheese, as well as the Margherita Lasagna, which can be microwaved and on the table in less than 10 minutes, or prepared in a conventional oven. Both can be found in the refrigerated sections of the store.
Big bags of frozen vegetables, like a quinoa and kale mix, are economical if you have the freezer space, and great to have on hand to make meal prep go faster.
02 of 05
Whole Foods always has dinner solutions for when we are in a pinch. You can start by feeling good about the way they source their meat, fish, produce and other products, which is their big claim to fame.
And while many stores have rotisserie chicken ready to go, Whole Foods now has their GAP animal welfare rated rotisserie chickens not just in plain and herb roasted versions, but they also feature monthly signature flavors. They come with suggested sides ($1 off if bought together). You might find a tequila lime chicken with chipotle roasted squash, or a chimichurri version with salsa verde quinoa, black beans and hominy. The offerings rotate so you can always find a new twist.
If you want to cook your own chicken, but don’t have time to marinate, try one of Whole Foods’ house brand 365 marinated chicken breast grab-and-go packages, in flavors like chimichurri, Meyer lemon, or jerk. And you will find all sorts of pre-prepared and marinated items at their seafood and butcher counter.
And there are great mealtime hacks to be found both in the salad bar and in their vegetable department. You can find a wide assortment of diced, sliced, spiralized and shredded vegetables to give you a leg up on your mealtime prep. Spiralized turnips and golden cauliflower rice, anyone?
Different stores offer different products, based on regional taste and availability. My New York Whole Foods had 6 versions of empanadas as of this writing.
In the snack department, Whole Foods has a brand new exclusive collaboration with Wild Kratts (maybe your kids are fans?) including juice boxes, cereals, cookies, cheese puffs and coming momentarily, Fruit Snacks in the shape of various animals.
03 of 05
Did you know that Target has a whole line of food products in their Simply Basics Line? Well-priced and aimed to make life easier, these items lean into ingredients and flavors that are on-trend. And Target just announced that by 2018, all Simply Basics children’s items will be free of artificial flavors, preservatives, sweeteners and colors, artificial trans fats and high fructose corn syrup.
Start your day with Organic Multigrain Oatmeal With Cranberries and Apples, or Steel Cut Instant Oatmeal in an Apple Cinnamon flavor (just add water and microwave, or add boiling water and let steam). Cranberry Chocolate Flax Granola and Vanilla Bean Granola (a favorite in my house) are just two of the flavors of their Simply Balanced organic bagged granolas.
Snacks include fruit strips in compact 45 calorie single serve packets, in flavors like fruit & vegetable berry blend and pomegrante. The Simply Balanced Really Seedy Rolled Tortilla Chips are fantastic–the texture and crunch of the rolled up chips are, in a word, addicting.
When dinner rolls around, products like their Garlic and Olive Oil Quinoa or Whole Grain Garlic 6 Grain Blend mean that you don’t have to worry about the side dish for a night. Stick to the main, and use your microwave or a skillet to heat up these fiber-filled sides.
04 of 05
Trader Joe’s has earned a reputation for amazing store brand foods–from ingredients to dry goods (like crackers and cereal) to frozen ingredients to prepared foods–for very good reason. Here are some of the newer offerings so far for the year.
On a night when you don’t have time to cook (and you know there will be one of those every week), having a prepared family meal tucked into the fridge or freezer is key in a clinch. Trader Joe’s has tons of frozen offerings, but there are some items in the refrigerated section that you shouldn’t miss, and they will last for at least a week in the fridge so you they be called in duty whenever you need a back up.
A fresh package of refrigerated enchiladas is a great solution, and Trader Joe’s has Cheese Enchiladas Rojo or their Chicken Enchiladas Verde, both fairly new on the shelves, to choose from. Both are excellent, and can be made in a conventional oven or a microwave. Just add a salad to round out the meal, and you are all set.
They also have some new stuffed pastas in the refrigerated section, items such as Porcini Mushroom and Truffle Triangoli (this might be slightly more advanced for some kids, but it’s a great treat and a great value for sophisticated eaters!) and Roasted Cauliflower and Cheese Mezzeluna. Speaking of cauliflower, head over to the freezer section where they have introduced frozen mashed cauliflower, which is very much on trend and a great healthy change from mashed potatoes. Whether you want to try and trick the kids is up to you!
The turkey meatloaf is another hit, feeding a family of four nicely.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
05 of 05
You may think of this high end store for quality cookware and beautiful tabletop, but don’t overlook their various food products. One great item for busy parents is their line of breakfast items, which might allow you to get pancakes or waffles on the table even on a school day.
They make a whole series of Pancake and Waffle Mixes, in varieties such as Peanut Butter, Golden Malted Pancake and Waffle Mix, Chocolate Chip, Blackberry-Lemon, and Blueberry. Add milk, butter and eggs, and you are on your way to a very civilized and special breakfast or brunch.
And then in the evening, on one of those too-busy-to-cook nights, boil up some pasta and reach for one of their excellent new sauces from Food Network Star Giada DeLaurentiis. Shake up the pasta routine with sauces like Parmesan Pomodoro, Calabrian Chili Pomodoro (my favorite), Vegetable Bolognese, Butternut Squash Basil, and Pumpkin Alfredo. Great seasonal flavors for the colder months.