Power Hour Meal Prep

Meal Prep Plan: How I Prep a Week of Budget-Friendly Family Meals

updated Oct 3, 2019
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn
Credit: The Kitchn

Meal planning and prepping are some of the best ways to avoid spending extra money on food. With a solid plan in place and a significant amount of the food already prepped, you’re less likely to stop at the grocery store after work (which often involves splurgy impulse buys) or order takeout mid-week.

Budget-friendly meals can be just as delicious and inspired as expensive ones. By combining common pantry items with grocery store smarts, you can eat well for less — I promise. In this week’s Power Hour, I’ll show you how I prep a week of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for my family of four for less than $75.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

You’ll be surprised at how much money you can save with a few simple strategies. The first step, and probably the most important: shop your kitchen before you step foot out the door. Look in your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for proteins, pastas, spices, and vegetables that you already have (and that need to be used up!).

When you get to the grocery store, check the circular and pay attention to sale signs. Cheese is on the list for two dinners this week, but since block (not shredded) was on sale, I pick up the blocks and add the quick task of grating to my prep list. We’re stopping by the butcher counter for just one meal this week, and serving canned tuna and beans for other dinners since meat can weigh down the wallet.

I used to think I had to make a different breakfast and lunch every day for my kids, but I’ve learned repeating meals can be comforting and reliable. The expectation is set, and there are no more breakfast battles before hopping on the school bus. We finish the day with a variety of dinners that fill our bellies with colorful veggies and lean proteins, but won’t empty our bank account. By working the grocery store, checking sales, and making smart food choices, serving a week of budget-friendly meals is anything but boring.

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: A heat-and-eat breakfast that’s fitting for fall (five days).
  • Lunch: A brothy veggie-packed lunch that will last the week (five days).
  • Dinner: Cozy dinners full of lean proteins and a variety of vegetables (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: This week’s meal plan is all about making wholesome, homemade meals that won’t break the bank.
Credit: The Kitchn

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 2 adults and 2 kids for breakfast and dinner, and 2 adults for lunch
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Moderate. Ingredients are prepped and dinners take 30 minutes or less to cook.

My Meal Plan




Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Patty Catalano

My Shopping List

I organize my list by grocery department to avoid criss-crossing the store to retrieve a forgotten item. Before I leave home, I check the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry for ingredients I already have, especially spices, root vegetables, and staples like olive and vegetable oils, kosher salt, and black pepper.

When grocery shopping on a budget, I avoid impulse buys by using a grocery list, but I’ll make substitutions based on in-store deals or coupons I see while shopping. If blocks of cheese are on sale and grated cheeses are full-price, choose the block and grate it yourself during the Power Hour. There’s always one brand of broth or pasta on sale each week at the grocery store, so when budget is the most important factor, forget brand loyalty and buy what’s on sale. Cooking with alcohol, like the wine for the vegetable soup, adds flavor but is also pricey. Instead of buying a whole bottle, look for individual cans of wine when you only need a small amount.

  • Bakery: 1 loaf crusty bread
  • Dry Goods: 1 1/2 cups steel-cut oats, Dijon mustard, maple syrup, pizza sauce, active dry yeast, all-purpose flour, 1 cinnamon stick, dried thyme, ground cloves, ground cumin, ground ginger, ground nutmeg, paprika, vanilla extract, 8 corn tortillas, 1 (1-pound) box orzo pasta, 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, 1 (15-ounce) can black beans, 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes, 2 (32-ounce) cartons low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, 1 (15-ounce) can low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, 1 (5- to7-ounce) can tuna, 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée
  • Produce: 1 package fresh basil, 10 garlic cloves, 1 small red onion, 2 yellow onions, 2 shallots, 1 3/4 pounds broccoli, 1 (2-pound) butternut squash, 3 carrots, 1 celery root, 3 celery stalks, 3 leeks, 1 bunch cilantro, 3 parsnips, 1 pound small red potatoes
  • Meat: 1 1/2 pounds skin-on chicken thighs
  • Dairy: 4 ounces Pepper Jack cheese, 8 ounces low-moisture mozzarella cheese, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1/2 stick unsalted butter, 1 quart whole milk
  • Alcohol: 3/4 cup dry white wine
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

  1. Roast vegetables for vegetable soup: Turn on the oven first thing so it has time to reach 400°F. Prep the vegetables according to this recipe. You may need to use two baking sheets to give the veggies room to brown. Deglaze the pans with wine. Refrigerate in an airtight container. Transfer vegetable scraps to a zip-top bag to save for making broth for future meals.
  2. Make the One-Pot Tomato Chickpeas & Orzo: Follow this recipe to make Monday’s dinner in entirety. Chop 1 small onion; sauté in olive oil in a Dutch oven until soft. Add orzo, 2 cloves minced garlic, salt, and pepper. Once orzo and garlic are fragrant, stir in 4 cups chicken broth, crushed tomatoes, and drained chickpeas. Cook until orzo is al dente, stirring frequently so the orzo doesn’t stick. Remove from heat, cool, and transfer to an airtight container.
  3. Assemble black bean filling for tacos: Cooking dry beans from scratch is the most budget-friendly way to make beans, but since I’m also budgeting my time, I used one can of black beans for Tuesday’s tacos. Combine drained and rinsed black beans with 1/2 cup finely chopped red onion, chopped cilantro, ground cumin, paprika, and salt. Mash lightly with a fork, transfer to a container, and refrigerate. If you purchased a block of cheese, grate it now.
  4. Chop vegetables for tuna casserole and sheet pan chicken: Stovetop Tuna Orzo Casserole with Broccoli: Finely chop 1 onion and place in a storage container with 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Cut 1 (12-ounce) crown broccoli into 1/2-inch florets, and place in a storage container. Sheet Pan Chicken and Roasted Vegetables: Trim broccoli, cut into 1-inch florets, and place in a storage container.
  5. Make pizza dough: Use this recipe to make the pizza dough for Friday’s dinner. After kneading it, coat the dough with oil to prevent a skin from forming; transfer to an oiled container. Refrigerate until the end of the week.
  6. Debone chicken thighs: This recipe calls for skin-on boneless chicken thighs. The most budget-friendly way to buy chicken thighs is with both the skin and bones intact. I use a pair of sharp kitchen shears to remove the bone from the thigh meat. Don’t discard the bones; instead add them to a zip-top bag and freeze for making stock or bone broth.
  7. Make slow cooker oatmeal: Follow this recipe to make breakfast for the week. Toasting the oats may seem tedious, but it gives the oats a nutty flavor and helps keep them from overcooking, even in the slow cooker. Start this at the end of Power Hour, so that it can cook overnight (about 8 hours).
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn


Wake up to steamy Slow Cooker Creamy Pumpkin Spice Oatmeal served straight from the slow cooker on Monday morning. If the oats and pumpkin purée have separated, stir to combine before scooping into bowls. Transfer the remaining oatmeal to the refrigerator to serve later in the week. The oatmeal thickens upon chilled refrigerator storage, so reheat it with a splash of milk or cream to loosen it up and top with maple syrup and cinnamon.


Lunch this week is Roasted Fall Vegetable Soup with a slice of crusty bread. In the morning, pour about 1 cup broth into a leak-proof travel container and fill with a few scoops of roasted vegetables. When it is time to eat, pour into a bowl (or heat directly in the travel container, if it is microwave-safe) and heat in the microwave until hot.


  • Monday, One-Pot Tomato Chickpeas and Orzo: Reheat the chickpeas and orzo with a splash of water or broth until warm. Stir in the Parmesan cheese, then scoop into bowls and top with basil and more cheese, if desired.
  • Tuesday, Crunchy Black Bean Tacos: Heat oil in a skillet and warm one corn tortilla. Spoon black bean filling over one half of the tortilla and sprinkle with cheese. Fold the tortilla and press down so it holds its shape. Continue cooking until all tacos are cooked.
  • Wednesday, Stovetop Tuna Orzo Casserole with Broccoli: Melt butter in a Dutch oven. Sauté the prepared container of onion, dried thyme, and salt. Add orzo and cook for 1 minute until it smells toasty, then stir in milk, water, and remaining salt and pepper. Simmer until orzo is cooked, about 15 minutes, adding the broccoli during the last 3 minutes. Stir in tuna and Parmesan.
  • Thursday, Sheet Pan Chicken and Roasted Vegetables: Place a baking sheet in the oven and heat to 400°F. Halve the potatoes, then season the chicken and potatoes with salt. Cook according to this recipe until the chicken and potatoes are crisp and the broccoli is tender.
  • Friday, Stovetop Skillet Pizza: Remove the dough from the refrigerator at least an hour before you plan to cook dinner. While you wait, shred mozzarella, if necessary, and get sauce and any other toppings ready. Leftover roasted vegetables or chicken would be great on a pizza, but also check your freezer or pantry for toppings. Divide the dough in half and roll into rounds. Cook the pizzas according to this recipe.

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.