Kitchen Shortcuts We All Secretly Use

We all get busy, and we have to make time where we can. So trust us when we tell you that you really don't need to be beating yourself up for cutting a corner or two in the kitchen. We've all done it. In fact, the vast majority of us do, because it makes life just that much easier. So don't ever go feeling guilty about taking these particular shortcuts.

Seasoning packets

There's certainly a strong argument to be made for mixing your own seasonings and spices for the dishes that require them (tacos, fajitas, curries and that sort of thing), and nobody can deny there's a significant savings in cost if you make it yourself — but that doesn't mean you should shrug off the idea of using seasoning packets altogether. For one, they're tried and tested, meaning you know what they'll taste like. Apart from that they're just so easy — and, of course, often sold to match whichever dish you're planning on preparing. Convenience-wise, you can hardly do better. 

If the guilt (or the cost) is getting to you though, you could always consider taking some time to make your own seasoning mixes for future use. You'll get the quality and freedom of making your own mix without ever losing the convenience and ease of having those seasonings on-hand.

Pre-sliced vegetables

For many of us, chopping vegetables is probably the least enjoyable part of the cooking experience. It's tedious, and it puts you at risk of cutting yourself. Sadly, however, it's often necessary, and few dishes can work at all without the inclusion of at least a bit of veg.

Mercifully, supermarkets have had this figured out for a while now, and sales of so-called 'value-added' produce have hit the roof in the last few years — and, let's face it, it's always nice to not have to get the knife out.

Jarred sauces

Like seasoning packets, jarred sauces can prove to be incredible time savers when it comes to cooking. Creating a sauce from scratch requires forethought of ingredients, chopping if you're including vegetables, and a lot more time in the kitchen. Whacking a sauce into a pan and heating for a few minutes, however, is as easy as it gets. 

Of course, while you're fairly restricted to using what the store will sell you, you could always spruce up your jar of sauce by adding in a pinch of whatever suitable seasonings you have around in the kitchen. Not just convenience, but also the opportunity to innovate: it's a win-win.

Just try not to indulge in this shortcut too much, though — many brands of ready-made sauces are extremely high in fat, salt and sugar.

Grated cheese

Grating cheese, especially if you need a lot of it, can be a downright hassle. Apart from taking up time, it's menial to the point of soullessness and adds another item to the washing up pile to boot. Is it not far easier to duck into the fridge, grab a bag of stuff that's already grated or shredded, and just use that instead? It definitely can't hurt that some brands include multiple types of cheese in one packet, proving even more helpful to cooks in a rush. 

But don't forget that the usual caveats still apply. Pre-shredded cheese can contain a host of ingredients you won't find in a block, including powdered cellulose, natamycin and potato starch.

Instant rice

For those of us who haven't been blessed with a rice cooker, boiling rice is usually just another one of those frustrating hassles. At least with cutting vegetables (or even grating cheese), some might make an argument for it being enjoyable in a sort of cathartic, therapeutic way. Not so with rice, the cooking of which rarely amounts to any more than an impossibly dull waiting game.

Instant rice, however, will cut at least 15-20 minutes from your total cooking time. With a microwave, you can have it on your plate in five minutes or less. Unsurprisingly, it's also more expensive, less nutritious and less flavorsome, but some might consider that a fair trade for time saved, as least once in a while.

Pre-made pizza dough

A significant amount of the pizza-making process is quick, easy and fun. You throw on your tomato sauce, sprinkle a bit of mozzarella then go wild with whatever toppings you like. It's just such a shame that everything is slowed down so much by the need to make the dough. Kneading, rolling and forming the stuff isn't exactly absurdly difficult, but it is a hassle — so you can't blame anybody for wanting to ease up a little and get some pre-made dough to use. Pizza should always be easy, after all. 

If you're still feeling a little guilty about getting the store-bought stuff, however, and want to add a twist to your homemade pizza without having to put in any more effort, you could always try using an alternative base, such as naan bread. It's honestly as good as dough.

Frozen pie crusts

This is basically the same as using pre-made pizza dough — only it covers dessert baking, too! The advantages are what you'd expect them to be: they're tremendously easy to use, freezer-friendly, and they save you a ton of time in the kitchen. The same goes for the disadvantages: it's obviously more expensive than making your own, the quality will never quite be as high and, yes, they're less healthy. 

If you are going to use them, you've also got the benefit of choice, so make sure you don't go choosing the wrong brands — some, of course, are far better than others.

Jarred minced garlic

Garlic is a dream. In fact, certain authorities (us, basically) might even go as far as to suggest that it's the best spice of them all. Chopping garlic, however, is a unique breed of nightmare. It's impossible to peel, sticky as hell and generally makes a bit of a mess. Who wouldn't be tempted by the idea of skipping all the palaver and taking it straight from the jar? Inevitably, you're still going to have a few problems — minced garlic is less flavorsome and full of additives, for example — but sometimes you've got to follow your heart, and sometimes you heart just can't be bothered. 

Frozen vegetables

Another vegetable-based shortcut here, and one that's just as convenient and effective as the fresh or sliced versions. Frozen vegetables have all the benefits of sliced vegetables (that is, you save yourself the time and risk of chopping them yourself) with the added bonus of longevity, considering the frozen stuff isn't going to go rotten any time soon.

That's not all, though. Certain studies have also suggested frozen vegetables can contain more nutrients than when they come fresh, because the act of freezing them deactivates enzymes such as trypsin and chymotrypsin which are otherwise cause a loss of flavor and nutrients when they're sold fresh. This isn't quite true for all vegetables, but it's enough of a bonus that you really shouldn't feel bad about buying them frozen.

Ready-made meals

Ah, the nuclear option. For those days where you just don't want to do anything at all, when the very notion of chopping a single vegetable or using a single pan makes you want to curl up in the fetal position and weep. Many of us have been there — more than you'll find admitting it, considering mass consumption of ready meals is increasing — and there's nothing inherently wrong with throwing in the towel occasionally, but let's not pretend this is something we should be doing often.

They're almost devoid of nutrients, high in fat, salt and sugar, and contain a whole host of nasty sounding chemicals such as advanced glycation endproducts. They shouldn't be your go-to, but if you really want to get one very now and then, go for it. We won't judge you.