The Ultimate Grocery List, According to 4 Meal Prep Experts

updated Dec 24, 2023
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Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

When it comes to meal prep, the hardest part is knowing where to start. Before any of the chopping, simmering, roasting, and boxing up can take place, you first have to gather all the groceries. Which begs the question: What should you get?

To navigate the process, we asked four meal prep experts to help us build the ultimate meal prep grocery list: Beth Moncel, the creator of Budget Bytes; Kendra Adachi, the mastermind behind The Lazy Genius Collective; Talia Koren, founder of Work Week Lunch; and Kelli Foster, our Culinary Producer and resident meal prep expert.

Here’s what they’re shopping for in every aisle.

Credit: Bill Oxford/Getty Images/iStockphoto


Fruit-wise, Kelli recommends a bunch of bananas. “They’ll keep for the week and there are about 101 ways to use them.” As for long-lasting veggies, she loves sweet potatoes for their infinite possibility: “Once prepped, you can eat them for breakfast with eggs; top them with nut butter or yogurt; add them to grain bowls or salads; tuck them inside tacos, burritos, or quesadillas; stuff them with your favorite fillings; or simply enjoy as a side dish.”

Pre-shredded slaw is another one of Kelli’s produce heroes. Not only does it involve zero prep work, but it’s also not going to wilt if you forget about it. Kale is Beth’s favorite budget-friendly meal prep green for the same reason: “It makes fantastic meal prep salads because it holds up in the refrigerator even when pre-dressed. You can also sauté it and add it to any grain bowl, or freeze it as part of smoothie prep.”

Bell peppers find their way into pretty much all of Talia’s meals because they prep/keep well in the fridge. And carrots are “the only fresh vegetable [Kendra’s] kids will eat without complaint.”

Credit: Thomas Hoerup

Dairy, Meat, and Other Refrigerated Items

Kelli vouches for yogurt and milk (dairy or plant-based), which come in handy for breakfast bowls, overnight oats, smoothies, and more.

Beth recommends stocking up on eggs. “Adding a hard-boiled egg is an easy way to add extra protein to any meal prep (salads, grain bowls, and snack boxes). Eggs also great for prepping egg bites, breakfast sandwiches, or breakfast burritos.” Oh, and hummus. “I like to add a dollop of hummus to a bowl meal or salad, or use it as a sauce or dressing. I also like to have hummus as a dip in snack boxes and as a sandwich spread.”

Tortillas are Talia’s pick because “they last in the fridge for weeks and are great options for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Breakfast tacos, lunch wraps, quesadillas, burritos … the list goes on.”

When it comes to meat, there were lots of suggestions: Talia recommends ground turkey as an easy protein for novice meal preppers. “It’s easier to prep than chicken breast and it also reheats really well.”

Kendra loves chicken thighs because “they’re hard to overcook, stay super tender, and make a great stir-fry,” and bacon, “a breakfast-for-dinner staple and great topping for soups and other bowls of yumminess.”

For a no-cook option, Kelli swears by rotisserie chicken. “It’s the ultimate meal prep shortcut. Use it for big batch of chicken salad, soups, chilis, sandwiches, tacos, casseroles, and so much more.”

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Frozen Foods

“During weeks when I’m really pressed for time, I often rely on the freezer aisle for meal prep,” says Kelli. Three smart grocery store shortcuts she always has on hand? Frozen meatballs, cauliflower rice, and a frozen stir-fry kit.

Frozen meatballs are a natural partner to spaghetti. But you can also turn a bag into dinner-worthy sandwiches or add them to noodle bowls and salads, stir-fries, pizza, and hummus bowls.” (Pssst: Kitchn editors swear by the Costco Italian-Style Beef meatballs.)

“Buying a bag of frozen cauliflower rice shaves time off both prep and cleanup. Turn it into a quick side dish or base for a burrito bowl, toss it into a stir-fry, or mix it into a casserole,” says Kelli. She also swears by frozen stir-fry veggies for the same reason.

Credit: Thomas Hoerup

Pantry Staples

A well-stocked pantry is basically a meal prepper’s treasure chest. Based on the number of recs we got in this category, the experts agree.

Beth relies heavily on shelf-stable staples like rice, beans, pasta, and oats: “Pasta is endlessly flexible and a great, inexpensive base for meals. It refrigerates and freezes well, so you can use it either for weekly meal preps or long-term frozen meal prep … and oats are my favorite blank slate for breakfast meal prep. They’re super inexpensive, have tons of fiber, and are shelf-stable.”

Another pantry staple that Beth Loves? Dried fruit and nuts. “They make great additions to salad meal preps, overnight oats, or snack boxes. Plus they’re a quick way to add texture, fiber, and nutrients to your meal preps.” Plus tuna, which is an easy, inexpensive protein to add to dishes both cold and hot.

Kendra always has canned tomatoes and coconut milk in her pantry for all of her meal matrix-ing needs. “You can’t have tomato sauce, chili, tikka masala, or certain soups without canned tomatoes. And we use canned coconut milk in curries, desserts, and even smoothies.”

And finally, Kelli believes that you always have to have bottled salad dressing because “you might not always have time to make your own.” Good thing there are so many great options at the store — we should know, as we’ve tried all of them. “A good dressing is the answer to better-tasting salads and grain bowls — plus it doubles as a marinade,” says Kelli.

What would you add to this list?