Power Hour Meal Prep

How I Prep a Week of Meals for 2 from Trader Joe’s for $50

updated Feb 25, 2021
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

In addition to their fun signature finds, the creamiest Greek yogurt, and my favorite hand lotion, the thing I love most about shopping at Trader Joe’s is their budget-friendly prices (and no, I’m not being paid to say this — I genuinely love this store). So when reining in my weekly food budget, it felt like a no-brainer to do all my shopping at TJ’s.

In less than two hours, this Power Hour will help you prep a week of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for two adults — all for about $50. Ready to see how it’s done? Let’s get started.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Grocery shopping on a tight budget requires a bit of planning when you first get started, but the payoff is well worth it. And the longer you follow a set food budget, the more you’ll begin to get acquainted with the items that do and don’t work for you, and find creative ways to trim spending even more.

I’m happy to tell you I was able to easily stay under my $50 budget without eating the same thing on repeat all week along. That being said, I relied on the same basic breakfast for most of the week (the meal where we have the highest tolerance for repetition), and we did rely on leftovers a few times. While a couple of meals included meat, I chose recipes that use budget-friendly cuts and could be stretched into multiple meals, and otherwise largely relied on recipes that use inexpensive pantry ingredients and produce.

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: A versatile big-batch breakfast that can be eaten at home or on the go (five days).
  • Lunch: A wholesome, light, protein-packed lunch (five days).
  • Dinner: One fully cooked dinner that will last multiple nights, as well as prepped ingredients so I’m not starting from zero the other nights of the week (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: While we don’t have any food restrictions, we make a point to work in a lot of vegetables and focus our diet on a wide variety of whole foods that feel (mostly) healthy to us.
  • Budget Goals: Keep total grocery spending for the week at $50 or less.
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Two people
  • Prep Time: About 1 1/2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Minimal

Meal Plan


  • Oatmeal + Greek Yogurt + Banana
  • Apple-Cinnamon Oatmeal
  • Leftover Potato and Sausage Skillet



(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Below are the ingredients I bought or used for this meal prep plan. I also relied on staples already in my pantry, like oil and spices.

  • Produce: 2 apples, 2 bananas, carrots, celery, 3 onions, scallions, garlic, 2 lemons, 1 lime, 1 large sweet potato, 2 red bell peppers, 1 green bell pepper, 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes
  • Meat: 1 pound ground beef, 1 pound pork sausage
  • Dairy: Greek yogurt, shredded cheddar cheese, shredded mozzarella cheese
  • Pantry: Whole oats, red lentils, medium flour tortillas, 2 cans chickpeas, 2 cans kidney beans, 1 (15-ounce) can diced tomatoes, 1 (6-ounce) can tomato paste, marinara sauce, pizza dough
(Image credit: Kelli Foster)

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

My approach to meal prep is all about efficiency, multitasking, and embracing the “meanwhile.” This means I always start with the tasks that take the most time, and I aim to take advantage of those sporadic hands-off moments (the oven preheating, water coming to a boil, etc.).

  1. Cook chili: Start with the chili since it takes the longest to cook. The cook time extends past the 90-minute meal prep block, but it’s entirely hands-off, and there’s some flexibility on the total cook time. Start by browning the beef on the stovetop. While that cooks, open the canned ingredients for the chili and take out the ingredients for the lentil soup. Chili prep takes about 15 minutes, and after mixing the ingredients in the slow cooker, it does its thing for the rest of the day.
  2. Cook soup and simmer: Start the soup by chopping and sautéing the vegetables. While the soup comes to a boil, get out the ingredients for the quesadillas and drain, rinse, and prep the chickpeas. Let the soup simmer for about 20 minutes before taking it off the stove and squeezing in the lemon juice, then move on to assembling the quesadillas.
  3. Prep and assemble quesadillas: Because Trader Joe’s flour tortillas measure smaller than the 9- to 10-inch ones called for in the recipe, you’ll want to halve the ingredients. Although they’re smaller, you’ll end up with the same total number of quesadillas. Rinse out the skillet used to brown the beef and use it to cook the chickpea filling, then assemble the quesadillas. Wipe the skillet again and heat the quesadillas. Cool completely before wrapping individually in foil.
  4. Cook oatmeal: While the quesadillas are heating, cook a double batch of oatmeal on the back burner, and remove the lentil soup from the heat. The oatmeal is mostly hands-off and comes together in under 10 minutes.
  5. Prep and parboil potatoes: Cut and parboil the potatoes to get a jump on Monday night’s dinner. You’ll finish cooking them later in the week when you make the sausage skillet for dinner.
  6. Prep vegetables for fajitas: By now everything is cooked and the last step is slicing the peppers and onions that will be used for the sheet pan sweet potato fajitas during the week.
(Image credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez)
Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Week of Budget Meals from Trader Joe’s

Here’s how all that prep turns into ready-to-eat breakfasts, grab-and-go lunches, and dinners that have a helpful head start.


Starting the day with a warm bowl of oats in the middle of winter never gets old. To change things up a little, we alternate oatmeal toppings between sliced banana plus a dollop of yogurt and chopped apple and cinnamon. It’s easy and cheap. We also repurpose the leftovers from the potato and sausage skillet for a midweek breakfast.


The theme for this week’s budget lunches is beans, lentils, and tortillas, and alternates between quesadillas, soup, and leftovers. The quesadillas are folded like a Crunchwrap, which makes them easy and mess-free to eat, plus they can be frozen and reheat like a dream. To stretch the sweet potato fajitas into a hearty lunch, we assemble them into wraps with generous dollops of Greek yogurt for extra protein. There was a good amount of leftover carrots and celery from making the soup, so we cut them up for snacks throughout the week.


Despite the $50 budget, we only have one repeat dinner this week. The potatoes for Monday’s skillet dinner are already par-boiled, which means the whole meal comes together in a single pan in about 20 minutes. I count that a dinner win! It’s very much the same story on Tuesday, where some prep has already been done for the fajitas, so all that’s left to do is chop the sweet potatoes and toss everything on a baking sheet. Wednesday and Thursday night involve no more than reheating the chili, which we top with shredded cheese, a dollop of Greek yogurt, and sliced scallions. And as always, Friday night is pizza night, and we keep things simple with store-bought dough, marinara, and pre-shredded mozzarella.


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.