Power Hour Meal Prep

How I Prep a Week of Budget-Friendly Vegetarian Dinners for Fall

updated Oct 7, 2022
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Overhead photo of budget-friendly vegetarian meals: curry-roasted cauliflower on sheet pan, sautéed beet greens in a glass bowl, pumpkin soup in a pot, apple oat breakfast squares in a pan, lentils in a bowl
Credit: Photo: Julia Gartland; Food Styling: Jessie YuChen

Grocery prices have been inching higher and higher (you’re feeling it too, right?), so this week — in addition to creating a plant-based meal plan that’s all about cozy fall vibes — I’m spending some extra time looking for food choices that won’t break the bank. To do it, I’m relying on a few smart strategies to keep the grocery bill in check: Sticking with in-season produce, leaning hard on affordable pantry ingredients (remember to shop your pantry before grocery shopping!), making a plan to use up leftovers, and opting for some ingredient swaps (all noted along the way) so you can make use of what you already have and minimize food waste.

In this week’s Power Hour I’ll walk you through planning, shopping, prepping for, and eating a week of budget-friendly, fall-inspired vegetarian meals. In about two hours, you’ll prep and cook a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Let’s get started.

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: An inexpensive, make-ahead breakfast packed with fall vibes (five days).
  • Lunch: A warm, fall-inspired lunch that’s totally prepped in advance (five days).
  • Dinner: Satisfying veggie-heavy mains, with leftovers that keep well, and that won’t kill the weekly food budget (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: Other than sticking with a lineup of vegetarian recipes, no specific nutritional goals this week.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Two people
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Moderate. Light cooking or reheating is required throughout the week, although time in the kitchen will be 20 minutes or less.

Meal Plan

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinners

Shopping List

This week’s shopping list relies on a mix of produce, plus dry and refrigerated pantry basics. Shop your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer before setting foot in the store (or opening your grocery delivery app) to avoid adding items to the cart that you already have on hand. I also used staple ingredients like olive and vegetable oils, kosher salt, and black pepper that are not listed here.

  • Produce: 1 medium apple, 2 medium yellow onions, 1 large yellow onion, 2 heads garlic, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1/2 bunch fresh cilantro, 1 sprig fresh rosemary, 1 medium head cauliflower, 1 lime, 1 large sweet potato, 1 (5-ounce) bag baby spinach, 1 small butternut squash, 2 ounces Tuscan kale
  • Refrigerated & Frozen: 2 large eggs, yogurt of choice, 10 ounces plain, full-fat yogurt, half-and-half (3/4 cup), 12 ounces fresh or frozen cheese tortellini, 8 ounces smoked mozzarella cheese, 1 pound pizza dough
  • Pantry: Old-fashioned rolled oats (5 cups), ground cinnamon (1 tablespoon), ground cumin (1 teaspoon), ground ginger (1/4 teaspoon), cayenne pepper (1/4 teaspoon), yellow curry powder (1 1/2 tablespoons), baking powder, unsweetened applesauce (1 cup), maple syrup (3/4 cup), 2 (15-ounce) cans pumpkin purée (not pie filling), 7 cups low-sodium vegetable broth, green or brown lentils (2/3 cup), dried tart cherries (1/2 cup), honey (1 teaspoon)
  • Bakery: 1 loaf rustic bread 

Power Hour: How to Get the Prep Done

  1. Heat oven. Arrange two oven racks to divide the oven into thirds. Heat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Bake oat bars. Prep the apple-oatmeal breakfast squares according to the recipe instructions. Bake until golden-brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 20 minutes in a metal pan, or up to 30 minutes in a glass or ceramic pan. Cool completely on a wire rack. Cut into squares and refrigerate half in an airtight container. Place the remainder in a freezer bag and freeze for future breakfasts. Meanwhile, increase the oven temperature to 425°F and prep vegetables.
  3. Prep squash and cauliflower. For the pizza: Peel and dice the butternut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. Toss the cubes with a drizzle of olive oil and kosher salt. Spread on a baking sheet in a single layer so the cubes aren’t too crowded. For the Curry-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils: Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper. Prep the cauliflower according to the recipe instructions (you’ll naturally get started on prepping the lentils and yogurt sauce at the same time). Arrange cut-side up on the baking sheet.
  4. Roast vegetables. Roast the cauliflower on the top rack until darkened in color and just fork tender in the core, about 30 minutes. Cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container. Roast the butternut squash on the bottom rack until softened, about 30 minutes, stirring once halfway through. Cool completely, then refrigerate in an airtight container. 
  5. Prep remaining vegetables. For the Curry-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils: Halve and thinly slice 1 large onion. For a double batch of the Pumpkin Soup: Finely chop 2 medium yellow onions and grate 6 garlic cloves. For the Skillet Tortellini: Peel and cut 1 large sweet potato into 1-inch cubes. Refrigerate in a covered container. For the pizza: Wash and dry the kale. Strip the leaves from the stems and tear into small 1/2-inch pieces. Refrigerate in a covered container. 
  6. Cook lentils. Cook the saucy lentils according to the recipe instructions. Cool completely and refrigerate in an airtight container.
  7. Cook pumpkin soup. While the lentils simmer, cook a double batch of the soup according to the recipe instructions, using half-and-half in place of heavy cream. Cool completely and refrigerate in airtight containers.
  8. Assemble yogurt sauce. Mix together the yogurt sauce for the Curry-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils according to the recipe instructions. Refrigerate in a small airtight container.

A Week of Budget-Friendly Vegetarian Meals

Breakfast

  • Apple-Oat Breakfast Squares + yogurt: Enjoy an oatmeal square straight from the heat or heat gently in the microwave. Round out breakfast with some yogurt.

Lunch

  • Pumpkin Soup: Each day heat a portion of the pumpkin soup in the microwave or on the stovetop. Pair with a slice of rustic bread for dunking.

Dinner

  • Monday and Wednesday, Curry-Spiced Roasted Cauliflower with Saucy Lentils: Each night reheat half of the lentils and cauliflower. Divide among bowls and drizzle with yogurt sauce. 
  • Tuesday and Thursday, Creamy Skillet Tortellini with Sweet Potato and Spinach: Remove the chopped sweet potato from the fridge and cook the tortellini skillet on the stovetop according to the recipe instructions. Dinner is ready in about 20 minutes. Enjoy half on Tuesday and reheat the leftovers for dinner on Thursday.
  • Friday, Butternut Squash and Crispy Kale Pizza with Smoked Mozzarella: Remove the pizza dough and roasted squash from the refrigerator about 1 hour before cooking the pizzas. Arrange two racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat the oven to 500°F or as hot as it will go. Meanwhile, slice the smoked mozzarella and assemble the pizzas according to the recipe instructions (omitting the bacon). Bake until the crust is dark golden and cheese is melted, 7 to 10 minutes. Save any leftovers for the weekend.