Power Hour Meal Prep

Here’s How I’m Prepping 25+ Family Meals from My Pantry

updated Mar 20, 2020
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Credit: Meghan Splawn

Daily life has shifted rapidly, even from just one week ago. Our children’s school closed, our spring break trip was canceled, and our farmer’s market has pushed back their opening by months. We had planned to share a Power Hour Meal Prep Plan to welcome spring this week, but seeing as many of us are facing uncertainties over everyday grocery store staples, it didn’t make sense to write about asparagus and fresh strawberries.

Like so many of you, I’m faced with working from home with my husband and two children for the foreseeable future, which has turned into cooking (and cleaning up) three meals, plus snacks multiple times a day. This was fine for the first few days of our social distancing. We didn’t plan meals, instead eating what is easy or comforting as the news changes each day — so yes, lots of Annie’s Boxed Mac and Cheese and english muffin pizzas.

But today, I’m taking control over one of the few things I can: making a meal plan and prepping for the week ahead. I inventoried our pantry, fridge, and freezer and took a hard look at the food I panic-bought the week before schools closed. Here’s what I’m prepping and cooking for my family of four from our pantry and freezer as we enter our second week of social distancing at home.

My Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: For now, we don’t need any grab-and-go breakfast options, but my husband asked for some easy-to-prepare options as he is on morning cooking duties.
  • Lunch: Hoping to stop the “cheese-as-lunch” theme in our house with a few vegetarian lunches for my husband and me, plus lunches the kids will eat that can be reheated or eaten cold.
  • Dinner: Comfort food is paramount right now, but cooking dinner can be a good and important transition from my work day to family time.
  • Prep Goals: Cooking through our fresh food and pantry is essential right now. I’m also pulling meat from our deep freezer. Our main goal? Avoid fresh shopping for another week.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Four people
  • Prep Time: About 2 1/2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 25 — three meals a day plus two snacks for five days with leftovers.
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? About ten minutes of hands-on cooking for some meals. For example, blending smoothies, reheating chili, warming taco filling.

Meal Plan




Snacks and sweets 

Credit: Meghan Splawn

Shopping List

We did a quick grocery order midway through this week that was delayed until today. Instacart is clearly having a huge surge in volume, and some of the fresh things on my list were sold out. Here’s what I’m working with this week, although I know that it’s likely very different from what you have on hand. I’ll do my best to suggest substitutes below.

Produce: 3 bell peppers, 2 large yellow onions, 2 heads garlic, 4 large sweet potatoes, 1 banana on the verge of going bad, a clamshell of spinach that needs to be frozen, lettuce to clean, chop, and eat through quickly.

Pantry: 1 pound dried chickpeas, 1 pound dried lentils, 2 cans black eyed peas, jasmine rice, taco seasoning, lo mein (or ramen) noodles, breadcrumbs, garlic and onion powders, saltine crackers, pasta or pizza sauce, dates, chocolate chips, rolled oats, honey, pumpkin or sunflower seeds, nut butter.

Baking: All-purpose flour, cornstarch, brown sugar, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, salt, oats, peanut butter, cornmeal, yeast.

Freezer: Stir fry vegetables, mixed berries, 1 pound red beans I froze last January, flour tortillas.

Protein and dairy: Pepperoni, a large chuck roast I pulled from the freezer that will become chili, 1 pound bacon, 4 pounds butter, mozzarella cheese.

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

1. Mix up pizza dough for the Cheesy Pizza Wheels. I’m using Kitchn’s Basic Pizza dough recipe which needs 90 minutes to rise before I can shape the wheels. This makes twice as much dough as I need, so half will go into the freezer.

2. Cook chickpeas in the Instant Pot for Chickpea Nuggets. Canned chickpeas were one of the things my grocery store was out of, but cooking my dried chickpeas in the Instant Pot means I can make a bigger batch and freeze the rest for next week, too.

3. Make granola bars. These bars are no-bake but do require a little stovetop cooking. I could have saved these for later in the prep steps, but I’m going to use them as today’s afternoon snack.

4. Bake Banana Crumb Muffins. Because I only have one overripe banana, I’m baking a half batch of these which can be breakfast or a snack.

5. Bake Buttered Saltines. This easy upgrade to saltines makes them more flavorful and filling, which I hope means the kids will enjoy them — but eat fewer of them.

6. Drain the cooked chickpeas and start the chili in the Instant Pot. I am riffing on this Instant Pot Chili recipe by cubing the chuck roast I found in the freezer. You could use any kind of ground meat, pork shoulder, or just veggies to make a big pot of chili.

7. Roast the vegetables for Sweet Potato Fajitas. I had peppers that needed to be used up, so I made a double batch of these.

8. Make and freeze the Chickpea Nuggets. Let me be perfectly frank here: I tried to just buy chicken nuggets from the freezer aisle. Then I tried to get chicken for making my own nuggets. But both options were sold out. But my kids haven’t had these chickpea nuggets in a while and they do like them.

9. Roll up the Cheesy Pizza Wheels and bake. I had pepperoni and pizza sauce in the fridge, but you could take this dough and fill it with any kind of cheese, veggies, or meats.

10. Cook Taco Lentils and  rice on the stovetop. Taco lentils are just lentils from the pantry, cooked, drained, and seasoned with taco seasoning. I’m also cooking the last 3 cups of jasmine rice we have on hand for beans and rice and to turn the lentils, sweet potatoes, and more into bowls.

11. Bake cornbread. We can have this cornbread with beans and rice and chili. Big win!

12. Pull it all together. In addition to cooking these meals, I also froze a clamshell of spinach that was getting ready to go bad in “smoothie packs” with some frozen fruit for breakfasts. I’ll likely boost those smoothies with some nut butter, oats, or seeds during the week. Finally, I cleaned up the other heads of lettuce getting wilted in the fridge and chopped some carrots and cucumbers for snacking.

A Week of Easy, Comforting Pantry Meals for My Family

Typically I’d use this section to report on how we ate the food from our Power Hour, but this week I’m Power Houring right along with you. Instead of a day-by-day breakdown, here’s how I plan to make these meals work for our family — including substitutions.


  • Chocolate Chip Banana Crumb Muffins: Frivolous but practical, these are mostly breakfast for me and snacks for the kids. Muffins do great double-duty as multiple meals.
  • Mixed Berry Smoothie Packs  — loosely based on this recipe: The smoothie packets I made will be turned into smoothies for all of us to eat alongside pancakes, waffles, muffins, or cereal this week. This allowed me to freeze fresh greens and is a good solution for fresh fruit that’s on the verge of going bad, too.
  • Pancake and Waffle Mix: Pancakes have been the most requested breakfast in our house (hey, kids have comfort food, too). What I like about the idea of making a baking mix is that I now have a better inventory of my baking cabinet for the next time I shop.  


  • Sweet Potato Fajitas: I panic-bought 8 sweet potatoes — yikes! But when roasted, they can be thrown in a tortilla, placed on top of rice, eaten with our taco lentils, and more. They’re also mild enough that the kids will eat them alongside their pizza pinwheels.
  • Chickpea Nuggets: Here’s the deal: You can make these with almost any bean, and they freeze and defrost well. We’re reheating ours in the air fryer so they will be extra crispy (and because, let’s be honest, we have the time).
  • Cheesy Pizza Wheels: Pizza rolls or pinwheels are a really easy way to use up leftovers, and they can be eaten warm or cold.


Snacking has gotten a bit frantic at our house (AKA the cheddar bunnies are nearly all gone), so these couple of snacks are meant to be partnered with the fresh apples, carrots, and cucumbers we have on hand to eat during our two newly-instituted snack times.


  • Black Eyed Peas, Rice, and Cornbread: The comfort food my husband craves the most? Our New Years Day tradition of Hoppin’ John. I didn’t do much to prep the black eyed peas, so I’ll sauté them with peppers, onions, and garlic whenever we eat this meal. You could use this meal format for any bean or grains you have on hand.
  • Taco Lentils: These will get turned into tacos for dinner and top rice bowls for lunches, too.
  • Some kind of chili: I suspect we will eat this for dinners and lunches, too. The last bit of it can top baked potatoes (russets await in the pantry). Chili in general is a great thing to cook and eat throughout the week, as it gets better as it sits and can also be frozen for future meals.
  • Vegetable Lo Mein: Any kind of noodles work here — I probably would have grabbed ramen if it was in the store, but the sauce and technique here is all you need.

There’s absolutely a fifth dinner to be eaten from this meal prep — stuffed potatoes or a soup of leftovers, but I am leaving space for us to eat an exhausted dinner of buttered fresh pasta, too. Prepping and planning soothed my worried mama heart this week and if I know nothing else about what the future holds, I know my family will be well fed, and that is enough for now.

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.