The Meal Prep Trick That Makes Life SO Much Easier

There are so many meal prep tips out there, but there's one that's going to save you time and money without sacrificing variety.

Creating a meal plan you’ll stick with can be daunting. When it comes to successful weekly meal prep, it’s easy to get confused. However, there’s one quick secret that varies your meals without breaking the bank: Keep the grocery list short. You can make lots of different dishes using a handful of the same ingredients.

How a Short Grocery List Helps Meal Prep

A short grocery list doesn’t mean you’ll be eating the same meal every day. Instead, focus on versatile ingredients that can be repurposed into all kinds of dishes. Here’s my go-to seven-item grocery list I use:

  • Chicken breasts or thighs
  • Fresh mozzarella
  • Tomato sauce (look for low-sodium options)
  • Fresh spinach
  • Sliced almonds
  • Fresh fruit
  • Whole wheat pasta

The list consists of proteins, healthy carbohydrates, fruits and cheese—all the essentials for creating tasty meals. These are the options that I love to prep in advance.

Easy Chicken Parmigiana

Chicken parm is a staple that’s good any day or time. To keep things healthy, make grilled chicken and stick with one serving of tomato sauce. Although it’s tempting to add more sauce, jarred sauces tend to have a lot of sodium. This recipe is great because it includes a good serving of fresh veggies, too.

Spinach Salad with Fresh Fruit

Top fresh spinach with strawberries and sliced almonds for a healthy spinach salad with some added protein. If you’re not a strawberry fan, watermelon works, too, or even fresh peaches. Feel free to get creative, depending on your fruit preference.

Simple Pasta with Red Sauce

Grab the leftover tomato sauce and cook up some whole wheat pasta. Feel free to add some freshly grated mozzarella, and season the dish with oregano or basil flakes, if you have them. If you have fresh tomatoes, you can use those, too.

Here’s how our Community Cooks make a jar of sauce taste homemade.

Almond-Crusted Chicken

Avoid the breading and coat your chicken in crushed almonds. You can bake or pan fry this recipe. Once made, pair the chicken with veggies, a fresh salad or even roll it up in a wrap.

Spinach Penne Salad

Get creative with some whole-wheat pasta salad. Toss in any veggies you already have, like red onion, cucumber and peppers. Add oil and vinegar, season with salt and pepper, and mix it up to combine. Let it sit overnight to absorb the flavor; add more oil and vinegar if you like.

It’s easy to meal plan with a tight grocery budget. A short list does not mean sacrificing variety. It’s all about choosing meals with ingredients that work well together, and most of all, ones that you enjoy!

On board with meal planning? Here are more meals you can cook once and eat all week.
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Julia Mullaney
Julia Mullaney is a writer, blogger and self-proclaimed macaroni and cheese connoisseur based in New Jersey. She is currently a health & fitness writer for Cheat Sheet and previously worked as the editorial manager of Edible Jersey Magazine. Her work has been published in Rachael Ray Every Day, Art Quench, RMagazine and Edible Jersey. She is the author of Man, you can Cook!, a cookbook full of simple recipes for men who consider the kitchen to be uncharted land. In her spare time, she also runs a food blog full of original, easy recipes. Chow down at or on Instagram at @simplydeliciousblogger.