Power Hour Meal Prep

Meal Prep Plan: How I Cook a Week of Family Meals for $75

updated Jun 9, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Here’s the thing: Even if you’re on a budget, meal prep does not have to be boring or basic. Getting creative with wallet-friendly ingredients — like staple grains and fresh produce — can give you a week of easy meals for less than $75.

My family recently tightened our grocery budget and long gone are the weeks of prepping whatever meals strike my fancy. Instead, by streamlining breakfast, lunch, and dinner options, I can now focus on meal prep that won’t break the bank. Here’s how I prep a week of meals — breakfasts and lunches for two, dinners for four — for my family.

(Image credit: The Kitchn)
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Grocery budgeting doesn’t have to be complex — starting with what is already in your pantry and kitchen is the best first step. This Meal Prep Power Hour was really built off of things in my pantry and freezer, but the staples are ingredients you probably have too — like rice and oats. At the grocery store, I’m choosing inexpensive proteins like chicken thighs and ground beef, and cheap vegetables like cabbage, canned tomatoes, and cucumbers.

While this prep plan focuses on variety at lunch and dinner (with breakfast being the same recipe for the whole week), you could easily pivot to use the same technique for lunch or dinner basics. By repeating one recipe for a single meal, you can cut down on meal costs for the week. This meal plan covers breakfasts and lunches for two people, and (most) dinners for four people, but similarly, you could adjust to feed more or less depending on your family’s needs.

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: A no-brainer breakfast that I can reheat and eat all week long.
  • Lunch: Lunch is the one meal I get to eat by myself, so lots of vegetables and flavor is the ultimate goal.
  • Dinner: Big-batch meals that we can reheat and eat for 4 meals during the week.
  • Nutritional Goals: My family eats a varied whole foods-focused diet with no restrictions or allergies.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 1 to 2 adults for breakfast and lunch. Plus dinners that can be stretched to feed more at dinner.
  • Prep Time: 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: 80% no heavy weeknight cooking and no weekend meals.
  • Weeknight Cooking Required: A few quesadillas might need to be thrown together for kid dinners, but otherwise minimal weeknight cooking.

My Meals This Week




(Image credit: The Kitchn)
(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

My Shopping List

Here’s where you really need to pay attention to keep that budget in check: Buy single-item produce whenever possible (i.e., a head of romaine, not the 3-pack of romaine hearts) and shop the bulk bins for just what you need of dry goods like rice and oats.

  • Produce: 3 limes, 1 small head purple cabbage, 1 head romaine lettuce, 2 medium carrots, 1 medium English cucumber, 1 bunch fresh cilantro, 2 stalks celery, 2 small yellow onions, 1 medium red onion, 1 medium red bell pepper, 1 head garlic, 1 medium tomato, 2 large sweet potatoes
  • Meat & Seafood: 1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 1 pound ground beef, 2 pounds bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
  • Refrigerated: 1 1/2 cups shredded mild cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese, Greek yogurt or sour cream
  • Pantry: Steel-cut oats, creamy peanut butter, toasted sesame oil, 1 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup unsalted roasted peanuts, 1 cup dried red lentils, 1 (15-ounce) can pinto beans (or dried beans), 2 tablespoons tomato paste, 15 ounces tomato salsa, 1 can chipotles in adobo, tortilla chips and/or taco shells.
(Image credit: The Kitchn)
(Image credit: Meghan Splawn)

Power Hour: How I Get Prep Done

Getting the most out of this Power Hour’s budget also means putting a little more time into cooking, instead of buying prepped ingredients or shortcuts.

  1. Start barley for Power Bowls (oven): Baked barley takes about 40 minutes, so get it going first and it’ll be ready about the same time as the chicken is cooked and the bowls are ready to be built. Alternatively you can cook a pot of quinoa if you’re following the Power Bowl recipe to a T.
  2. Cook steel-cut oats (stovetop): The best way to cook steel-cut oats for reheating is to bring them to a boil, cover, and remove to rest off the heat. If you find yourself needing the stovetop space, move the pot to a trivet elsewhere.
  3. Cook the Red Lentil Soup (stovetop): You’ll have to get this started and then keep an eye on it as you continue to prep the chicken and casseroles next.
  4. Roast Whole30 chicken thighs (oven): And their potatoes and red onions! The beauty of this recipe is it takes just a few minutes and is totally hands-off.
  5. Cook chicken for Power Bowls (stovetop): This quick sauté of the thighs can be done without the peanut sauce for the bowls, so the meat can be used with different dressing later in the week. Now is also a good time to mix up said peanut sauce.
  6. Cook beef and beans for Taco Casserole (stovetop): Wipe out the pan you used for the chicken thighs and use this same pan for the casserole components for one fewer dish to wash.
  7. Grate carrots for Power Bowls and Cheese for casserole: Grate the carrots first and you can simply wipe the grater clean before doing the cheese for the casserole.
  8. Chop veggies for Power Bowl and clean greens for salads: Having extra salad components on hand means that I can turn either the Whole30 chicken OR the Power bowls into salads throughout the week.
  9. Portion oats, add berries, build salad and bowls: Putting it all together — you can use up bits and bobs from the pantry to make the oats different each day or just stick with frozen berries and a splash of milk. I packed a few Power Bowls, but left the rest of the components as salad options.
(Image credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez)
(Image credit: The Kitchn)

A Budget Power Hour Under $75


I chose to make just a single recipe for breakfast both as a way to keep my budget in check and streamline prep. While varying the toppings kept things interesting, next time I’d budget for some savory toppings and a few eggs so I can alternate between a fruity breakfast and an eggy one while still keeping oats as the base.


This was my most favorite lunch week to date, maybe ever! I mentioned earlier that because I have small children and work from home, lunch is the one meal I get to eat alone. Having colorful Power Bowls and a bright soup to eat all week gave me a little midday boost and felt like the most glorious (but also really basic) self-care.


We alternated between eating salads topped with Whole30 chicken and variations on the Taco Casserole (the adults ate as salads, while the kids ate it in taco shells). We actually ended up with enough leftover components to have dinner (albeit everyone eating something slightly different) on Friday, too, an unplanned boon.

All in all, this meal plan didn’t feel basic even though it was budget (read: it didn’t feel like we were eating beans and rice and ramen all week to save a few dollars). It also reminded me of the financial power of shopping my pantry first, and that meal prep is a practical way to reduce stress both by keeping our food budget in check and feeding us well during the week.

Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.