Store-Bought Sauce Is the Secret to Not-Boring, Healthy Weeknight Meals

There’s no shame in opening a bottle, dumping it in the pan, and calling it a day.

StoreBought Sauce Is the Secret to NotBoring Healthy Weeknight Meals

Amanda K Bailey

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I am hardly the first to complain about weeknight dining. (In fact, I’ve done it before.) I’m not the first to ponder a better solution either. At SELF, we’ve offered a good many over the years, but I’d like to propose another: sauce.

Let me explain: I like cooking, but I hate making dinner. You have to decide what to prepare; figure out how and when to obtain the ingredients to make it; and manage your time, often beginning the task the moment you get home from work without a second to breathe (not totally pleasant!). You have to cook—not the worst part, but a part nonetheless—and then you have to clean up. And somewhere in there, presumably—hopefully—you eat.

Even if you find a few recipes that are easy to pull off and keep in your rotation, that can quickly get boring. Meanwhile, elaborate meals—with varied or “interesting” tastes, flavored with something aside from salt, pepper, and garlic powder—can be intimidating, and every time you try a new one, you have to hope it goes well because you’re risking time, money, and energy to get there. Sure, one could point to the seemingly infinite number of recipes online and wonder how my inspiration could ever run low. But in my mind, that’s exactly the problem. Consider the famous jam experiment: Too many choices can lead to overwhelm and decision paralysis, and where does that leave me? Hangry and agog in front of my open refrigerator once again.

Buying a bottle of premade sauce, dumping it in a pan with a few other run-of-the-mill ingredients, and calling it a day is the easiest and most cost-effective way to solve all of the above. You can introduce new flavors to any meal without extensive effort. A solid sauce at your local grocery store can cost anywhere from $4 to $15 (that’s just a ballpark), and one package will likely last you multiple meals. You won’t need to look far for inspiration—just walk the appropriate aisle in your local grocery store and see what you stumble upon. Add it to your go-to protein and carb base, and you’ve got something delightful.

When I originally pitched this story, Rachel Miller, SELF’s editor in chief, told me she was already a believer—she’d even written something similar years ago for Buzzfeed. In “Sauce Theory,” the perfect name for a perfect concept, Rachel and her cowriter Tom Vellner declared:

Why do we believe sauces are The Way, The Truth, and The Light?…. Personally, we don’t want to spend a lot of time stressing about whether we’re going to mess up the chipotle-rubbed grilled skirt steak that a food blogger swears is easy to make, even though it requires you to go to the back alley of a Whole Foods and tell a stranger named Amethyst, “Brittany from Leeks, Laugh, Love sent me” before handing over $17 for a sack of obscure peas.

They’re right. Instead you could, you know, just…buy something that’s ready to use, marinate your steak in it, and throw it on a hot grill. If you are more like me and the idea of even cooking a steak feels like more effort than it’s worth, don’t worry—there are many other fabulous, convenient, and high-reward ways to use store-bought sauce to liven up your meals: Pour it in a wok with cubed chicken breast and a bag of frozen vegetables and you’ve got yourself a stir fry! Mix it into cooked rice! Make a point to always have a few jars or bottles or pouches in your cabinet, pick one based on your mood, and build the rest of your meal from there. (Might we suggest Fly By Jing’s Chengdu Crunch or PF Chang’s Mongolian Style BBQ, both of which won 2024 Pantry Awards)? You can prepare yourself a takeout-comparable dish—one you never even thought to try to replicate at home—by combining one store-bought ingredient (sauce) with items you already have in your pantry, like beans or noodles, or whatever fresh veggies you happen to have in your fridge.

So next time you’re in a meal rut or stressed about dinner, turn to sauce. Let it be your new motto for the rest of 2024: Throw some sauce on it, whatever “it” may be. The results are impeccably satisfying and simple.

Frankies 457

Calabrian Chili Oil (500 ml.)

Rao’s Homemade

Spicy Vodka Arrabbiata Sauce (24 oz.)

P.F. Chang’s

Home Menu Sauce (14 oz.)

Big Fork

Gangster Sauce (8 oz.)


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