Some nights — okay, fine, most nights — there’s no way that I’m actually putting a reasonably healthy dinner on the table unless I make take some major (major) shortcuts. At times, that’s been Blue Apron (a service I’ve written about liking before, although I’ll admit, even that isn’t as much of a shortcut as I usually need); sometimes that’s the slow cooker; sometimes it’s relying on a handful of Trader Joe’s go-tos I’ve started keeping around the house as a safeguard from just giving up and ordering noodles. (Because let’s be honest: I’m always just one minuscule mealtime hardship away from just giving up and ordering noodles.) Here, those TJ favorite shortcuts:
This is literally just plain cooked chicken breast, sliced up. Nothing added. Low in salt. Low in fat. Low in flavor, but that’s what makes it so versatile — I’ll season it up and warm it, and toss in salads or soups. I’ll cook it up with a little BBQ sauce or marinade, or toss it into a stir-fry or tacos. I use it for supper, for preschool lunches, for any time I need protein in something but don’t feel like thawing or cooking up a chicken breast. (You can usually find it with the lunch meats or the prepared foods.)
Yes, yes, I know that cauliflower rice has been trend for ages now. But is it possible that I’m the last to know that TJ’s sells fresh and frozen bags of it, already chopped and ready to go? (Yes? Everyone already doing this?) My sister-in-law recently turned me onto this fact, and I will never again not have some of this stuff in the freezer, ready to be the base for a Mexican salad or a “fried rice” dish (I use broccoli, peas, carrots, green and yellow onion, egg and the riced cauliflower with some sesame oil and soy sauce for ours). It’s easier than rice or quinoa, believe it or not, and it also makes me feel virtuous. (Veggies!) For the uninitiated, there are loads and loads of recipes out there for the stuff. (We’re talking pizza, sushi, risotto … makes my simple bowls look bush league!)
Hey, thanks for chopping my veggies, TJ’s! This mirepoix is especially useful during soup and stew season — and I believe that it cuts down waste, as I’m not throwing away half a bag of celery that we didn’t end up using. We eat a lot of Cajun stews in the wintertime, and I just wish they’d also sell a little bucket of holy trinity veggies, too. (What can I say? I’m lazy!)
Southwestern chopped salad mix
Can you tell I don’t love prep work? Before I had children, I made us some sort of salad virtually every night — a green salad, or Greek, or Mexican, or tomato, or some such — and that good habit has taken a hard hit over the past several years, namely because the 15 or 20 minutes that goes into throwing together a good salad is just beyond me many nights. Which is why I love a good ready-made mix like this Southwestern salad — I’ve used it on its own as a pre-prepped salad; I’ve used it to plump up my own green salad; I’ve used it as a burrito bowl filling; I’ve used it on taco night to stuff tacos or to add some veggies to enchiladas (and the kid likes it just fine). It takes prep time from 20 minutes down to 5, and some nights, that’s exactly what we all need, no?
Frozen, microwaveable brown rice
It’s organic, it’s frozen, and it takes two minutes to cook in the microwave. Again, a great soup-and-stew-season helper, because, yes, sometimes I am too lazy/busy/disinterested to spend even 15 minutes boiling rice. So sue me.
Trader Joe’s fresh ravioli
Look, I can’t pretend this is health food, but these little refrigerated packets of ravioli come in a ton of varieties (girasoli ricotta and lemon zest; four cheese; porcini and truffle, to name a few), and they’re nice to have around for a quick kids’ dinner (or grown-up’s, too — they have some very sophisticated flavors). I’ve dressed them with my own tomato sauce, with the jarred stuff, with olive oil, with pesto. They take about 10 minutes to boil, and voila: Supper.
Plain, low-fat Greek yogurt
This is hardly a TJ’s exclusive, but I’ll toss it in here, because we literally buy it on every trip we make, and I find the TJs version slightly smoother and less bitter than some other brands. I use plain Greek yogurt 100 times a day — I mix it with other yogurt we buy for Luke (Stonyfield, fruity Greek yogurt, the TJs banilla), which helps control the sugar being consumed. I also use it as a sub for sour cream; I use it to thicken or cut the spice in stews and soups; I use it in smoothies; I eat it plain with cereal or jam or honey on top. I could not live or feed us without this stuff.