Power Hour Meal Prep

How I Prep a Week of Cheap, Easy, and Super-Cozy Pantry Meals

updated Mar 2, 2023
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different meals in prep containers and sheet pans
Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk

Whenever I am stumped about what to cook for the week ahead, I turn to my pantry. Those piled-up boxes of pasta and canned beans are a jumping-off point for a whole slew of winning meals. Plus, since I already have them on hand, I don’t have to head to the grocery store with a full list. It’s the absolute best way to keep your grocery shopping budget-friendly and prevent waste in your kitchen.

This week’s Power Hour celebrates the humble pantry. It makes use of some common ingredients you very well might already have and turns them into a week of satisfying breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Here’s how to tackle this easy meal plan.

Credit: Photo: Christopher Testani; Food Styling: Jesse Szewczyk
Cheap & Easy Pantry Meals

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: A simple option that’s versatile, so you’re not eating the exact same thing every morning (five days).
  • Lunch: One mix-and-match choice plus one option that makes use of dinner leftovers (five days).
  • Dinner: Satisfying meals that require little to no prep time on the weeknights and can be utilized in a few different ways over the course of the week (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: No set goals, but all meals are cozy, well-balanced, and fit for the season.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 2 adults
  • Prep Time: Under 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Moderate (about 10 to 30 minutes of quick cooking per day)

Meal Plan

Breakfast

Lunches

Dinners

Shopping List

This week’s shopping list leans on affordable pantry staples, such as dried pasta, canned beans, and oats and grains. It assumes cooking basics like olive oil, salt, and pepper are already on hand.

  • Produce: 2 lemons, 1 medium shallot, 1 head of garlic, 1 large bunch fresh parsley, 1 small bunch fresh oregano, 1 medium yellow onion, 1 pound cremini mushrooms, 1 (16-ounce) clamshell baby spinach, 1 pint cherry or grape tomatoes
  • Meat: 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • Refrigerated: Dairy or non-dairy milk, yogurt, 8 ounces finely grated or shredded Parmesan cheese, 1/2 dozen large eggs, 16 ounces shredded low-moisture mozzarella cheese
  • Pantry: Rolled oats, wheat bran, ground cinnamon, sliced almonds, raw pecans, raw pepitas, unsweetened coconut flakes, dried apricots, dried cherries, 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, dry breadcrumbs, Italian seasoning, 1 (about 24-ounce) jar marinara sauce, 1 pound dried orzo pasta, 1 (32-ounce) carton low-sodium chicken or vegetable broth, polenta (not instant)
  • Other: 1 loaf of crusty sourdough or country bread

Power Hour: How to Get the Prep Done

  1. Bake the muesli: Arrange 2 racks to divide the oven into thirds and heat to 350°F. Prepare and bake the muesli according to the muesli recipe instructions
  2. Assemble the meatball casserole: While the muesli bakes, assemble the meatball casserole, but do not bake. Tightly wrap the baking dish in plastic wrap and and store it in the refrigerator.
  3. Marinate the white beans: Make the marinated white beans according to recipe instructions. Transfer it to an airtight container and store it in the refrigerator.
  4. Prep the mushrooms and garlic for the orzo. Mince the garlic and slice the mushrooms for the orzo and store them together in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  5. Pack up the muesli. Once the muesli is completely cool, transfer it to an airtight container and store at room temperature.
Credit: Kitchn
Cheap & Easy Pantry Meals
Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

Breakfast

Enjoy the muesli stirred into yogurt, as a cereal with milk poured over it, or simmered with equal parts milk and water to make a quick version of oatmeal.

Lunch 

  • Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday: Pile some marinated white beans on a thick slice of sourdough toast or serve a scoop over baby spinach leaves that you’ve dressed with lemon juice and olive oil.
  • Wednesday and Friday: Rewarm servings of leftover orzo in the microwave or on the stovetop, adding a splash or two of water, as needed, to loosen it up.

Dinner

  • Monday, Cheesy Meatball Casserole: Take the assembled meatball casserole out of the refrigerator; allow the casserole to sit at room temperature briefly while you arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Transfer the casserole to the oven and bake until the cheese is lightly browned, the sauce is bubbling around the edges, and the meatballs are cooked through, 35 to 40 minutes. Serve with crusty bread. Refrigerate the leftovers.
  • Tuesday, One-Pot Creamy Mushroom and Spinach Orzo: Use the prepped mushroom-garlic mixture to make the creamy orzo according to recipe instructions.
  • Wednesday, Crumbled Meatball Toasts: Preheat the oven to 400°F. While it heats up, cut a few thick slices of sourdough bread. Using a fork or spoon, break up some of the leftover meatballs in their sauce and cheese, and pile the mixture on top of the sliced bread. Sprinkle with shredded mozzarella and grated Parmesan cheese, and bake until the cheese is melted and the meatballs are heated through.
  • Thursday, Meatballs over Creamy Polenta: Make the polenta according to recipe instructions. Pour half of the polenta out onto an oiled baking sheet into a circle about 1/3-inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and transfer the baking sheet to the refrigerator. Rewarm the last of the leftover meatballs and serve them over the rest of the hot creamy polenta. 
  • Friday, Polenta Crust Pizza: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 450°F. Take the baking sheet of polenta out of the refrigerator and prepare the pizza according to recipe instructions, using half of the amount of cheeses, tomatoes, and garlic to make a smaller pizza to serve 2 people.

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.