Ready-to-eat side dishes that make it easier to get dinner on the table fast. 

TK

Photo: Publix

Our hometown grocery stores and supermarkets used to be the places we’d frequent for ingredients we needed to make dinner at home. Today, those same chains are offering an ideal and satisfying solution for busy bodies, inexperienced cooks, and those of us who are constantly on the go—enter the hot bar and the deli’s ample selection of prepared foods.

Yes, hot bar items and store-bought dishes are the next best thing to cooking from scratch (ahem, in some cases). But you already knew that, right? As we’re sure you’re already familiar with the shortcut magic of rotisserie chicken and pre-cooked pork as part of your weeknight dinner rotation. Now, though, you can find an array of ready-to-eat meals and full seasonal menus at the grocery store that go beyond commonplace meats and desserts, such as cold pasta dishes, pre-made potato salad, and, our personal favorite, warm and gooey mac and cheese that tastes like it came straight from mama’s oven.

From now until Labor Day, you can expect to be invited to plenty of barbecue bashes, picnics, potlucks, and summer parties. If you find yourself wanting to spend less time in the kitchen, but you need to whip up a quick covered dish to bring, fake it till you make it this summer with store-bought sides. No one has to know you didn’t spend all day peeling potatoes to make Mama’s coveted potato salad, especially when your neighborhood grocery store sells delicious substitutes!

When it comes to the following ready-to-heat and, in some cases, just eat as-is sides—convenience is what’s for dinner. Here's the best of our Southern markets' deli section:  

1. Harris Teeter: Redskin Potato Salad

Rather than Yukon Gold or plain white potatoes, this creamy side uses red-skinned potatoes mixed in with hard-boiled eggs, mayo, and the other usual suspects. 

2. Food Lion: Ruth's Pimento Spread

Whether you refer to it as an appetizer or condiment, the cheesy Southern spread is ready for you to grab-and-go at Food Lion. Ah, one less thing you'll have to worry about when picnic-friendly sandwiches are on the menu. Lighter and spicier versions are also available at the low-price retailer. 

3. Harvey's: Reser's Macaroni Salad

You can find crowd-pleasing tubs of cold salads at most Harvey's chains, but the macaroni salad is one of their top sellers. To jazz it up and add a homemade touch, try mixing in different herbs or topping with chopped basil. 

4. Piggly Wiggly: Deviled Eggs

We dig everything about the Pig, money-saving deals included. But if you've never tried a tray of their prepared deviled eggs, you're in for an even bigger treat. Bonus: They've already done the boiling and peeling for you! 

Photo: Winn Dixie, via Facebook

5. Winn-Dixie: Signature Deli Rotisserie Chicken Salad

Perfect for church socials, this store-made chicken salad is made fresh with weeknight staple rotisserie chicken. Order a couple of pounds for large gatherings, and dinner is set! 

6. Kroger: Edamame Caviar Salad

Packed with protein, you can taste every crunchy bite of the three different beans and peppers included in this colorful salad.  

7. Bi-Lo: Apple Waldorf Salad

When you're longing for something a little lighter and more refreshing to pair with grilled entrées, this apple-filled salad will round out your meal. 

8. Fresh Market: Strawberry Spinach Poppyseed Salad

You'll want to swing by the salad bar for this made in-store favorite. 

9. Whole Foods: Smoked Mozzarella Pasta Salad

Penne pasta is combined with mozzarella and roasted bell peppers to make one tasty vegetarian side, which is served fresh from the display case. If you haven't tried it already, their meaty (and healthy) Sonoma Chicken Salad is also pretty appetizing. 

10. Ingles: Gourmet Grape Chicken Salad

The addition of juicy grapes elevates this signature chicken salad that's made fresh daily. 

11. Publix: Grab-and-go Mac & Cheese

You can never go wrong with macaroni and cheese, especially when you don't have to wait all day for it to bake. 

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12. Costco: Mac and Cheese

It's hard to even think of picking a side when pizza is at the ready, but we decided on their mac and cheese. The only thing is that it's made during certain times of the year, so if it's not available, the quinoa salad, tortellini salad, and Allison's Loaded Baked Potato Salad are close runner-ups.