Half-Scratch Cooking

Southwestern Rice Salad
Southwestern Rice Salad – 2 Guiding Stars

I believe home chefs should rely on two basic principles. First, cooking every night is an unachievable goal. This is why I love to focus on meal planning strategies, nextovers, and streamlined menus. Second, home chefs should buy convenient, nutritious products from their local market and use a half-scratch cooking approach whenever possible.

Unfamiliar with half-scratch cooking? It’s an approach where home chefs prepare meals by doing most of the steps, but not all the steps. When combined with meal planning, half-scratch cooking saves time, reduces waste, and helps home chefs create nourishing meals. And there are so many great ways to do it.

Rotisserie Chicken

Use versatile Guiding Stars earning rotisserie chicken in place of roasting your own. It’s perfect for soups, casseroles, one-pot meals, salads, and more.

Quick Cooking Options

Save yourself from prep work or washing another pot. Because some days it’s these extra steps that mean the difference between a meal made at home and takeout. (No judgment zone.) Here are some options to add to your shopping list:

Microwavable, pre-cooked grain pouches: Available in a variety of options including brown or wild rice, quinoa, and an assortment of other grains. If you make more than you need, the remainder can be chilled for a cold grain salad.

Steam-in-bag veggies: Make these a regular fixture in your fridge and freezer. The many options may mean the difference between having vegetables with your meal or missing out altogether. They’re also quite versatile when paired with other ingredients.

Simmer sauces: Interesting ingredients that allow for unique dishes in minutes. So good you may think you did succumb to another takeout order. Simply add your protein of choice and simmer until cooked through (usually in 30 minutes or less).


Buy dips made the way you would…if you had the time. Review ingredient lists and pick products prepared with as few ingredients as possible. Then use them to elevate dishes or save steps in recipes:

Tzatziki: Use store-bought tzatziki for this wrap. Then enjoy what’s left on eggs, alongside falafel, or to make a simple sandwich more interesting.

Hummus: While it’s not hard to make hummus, it’s probably not the best use of your time in the kitchen. Especially when there are so many Guiding Stars earning options in a variety of flavors. Go beyond just dipping and use hummus for a unique cold pizza, warm flatbread, or refreshing appetizer.

Greek yogurt-based dips: By using dips prepared with plain Greek yogurt, you’re likely adding protein to your plate in place of saturated fat. Pair them with anything from fresh veggies to a baked potato or maybe nutritious, homemade chicken nuggets.

Sometimes It’s Just About Saving Steps…

This is pretty much the way I approach every meal. These little helpers mean meals make it to the table quickly, on even the busiest weeknights. In addition to the options below, I recommend mini sweet peppers, grape tomatoes, baby carrots, bagged beans, and other colorful produce that doesn’t require chopping.

Bagged mini potatoes: Prewashed and easy to cut and roast (or steam in the bag). These are a staple on my menu and the leftovers are perfect alongside eggs or paired with another meal.

Boxed greens, lettuces, and kits: There’s no doubt that pre-washed lettuce is a time-saver. It usually means more salads on your plate, more lettuce in your wrap—more greens in your day! Pick up kits with interesting ingredients that serve as a side for a balanced meal.

Pre-made flatbreads and pizza crusts: You’ll find whole grain, gluten-free, and other options that work for you. (And save you the time of rolling out, preparing, and pre-baking your own.) Use pre-made dough to save steps in this unique pizza.

Frozen Foods

Lastly, make frozen foods a regular on your shopping list. Then you’ll have the options on hand to make balanced meals without adding another trip to the market.

Fruits and vegetables: When you have them available, you’ll be more likely to add them to sauces, smoothies, batters, and more. This simply means more color, fiber, and antioxidants in your day.

Edamame: Steam-in-bag frozen edamame (available in shell or out) is an excellent source of plant-based protein. It’s perfect for rounding out a grain dish, bean salad, or any plate that needs more satisfying protein and fiber. (Added bonus: very few calories.)

Avocado: Yes! Your frozen foods section likely has frozen, sliced avocado. Use “as is” in smoothies or defrost to have just enough for your breakfast toast.

Pre-cooked or raw frozen proteins: Have fish filets, shrimp, chicken, and other options on hand in your freezer. This will ensure balanced plates are easy to achieve. While you may prefer to buy and prepare fresh food, some days we just don’t have time. By  choosing products that work for you, you’ll save time and money, and still control the ingredients on your plate.