Meal Prep Ideas: 20 Easy & Cheap Meal Prep Ideas (2021)

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Are you looking for ways to save time and money on what you cook at home? We’ve got plenty of tips for you, so get ready to get inspired!

In this post, we’ll cover 20 of the best easy and affordable meal prep ideas to try this year. Whether you’re looking for a quick, convenient, and cheap breakfast, a fast and tasty lunch, or something simple to make for dinner, we’ve got you covered. Plus, when you use JOW’s easy grocery app, the whole process gets even easier. 

Keep on reading to find out more about how to level up your meal prep game!

What Is Meal Prepping?

Meal prep is a cooking method that involves making food in large batches instead of preparing just one serving at a time. Meal prep recipes often involve affordable, simple ingredients that can be stored in the fridge or freezer for long periods of time. Your pre-prepped meals can be stored in meal prep containers, which are usually small, microwave-safe, and helpful for portion control.

Meal prep bowls and containers are typically made out of glass or Tupperware, making them relatively durable and long-lasting. You can get containers for prepping your meals at your local grocery store or buy them online in bulk – it’s up to you!

Why Try Meal Prepping?

There are plenty of great reasons to give meal prepping a try. Let’s go through a few of the biggest perks of this cooking strategy. 

Meal Prepping Saves You Time

When you cook multiple meals at once, you’re eliminating the time and energy that you’d use to make those meals later. And of course, less time in the kitchen means more time you can spend doing the other things you love besides cooking—especially spending time with your family.

Meal Prepping Saves You Money

Cooking in a big batch is super productive, but it’s also cost-effective. When you prepare your meals in bulk, you’re saving money by:

In these ways and more, meal prepping is great for your wallet.

Meal Prepping Can Be Great for Your Health

If you’re trying to be more disciplined with what you eat, meal prepping is a great way to reach your nutritional goals. There are several ways that meal prepping can be part of a healthy lifestyle, including:

Ready to start exploring the best meal prep recipe ideas? Let’s dive in.

The Best Meal Prep Breakfasts

If you’re always rushing out the door and skipping breakfast, these meals are perfect for making in batches at the beginning of the week. That way, you’ll never have to go hungry in the morning.

1. Seeded Granola

This delicious recipe is one of the best homemade breakfasts out there, and it’s easy to make in large batches. Thanks to the nuts and seeds, it’s packed with protein and healthy fats, and a dash of maple syrup makes it delightfully sweet. The granola makes the perfect pairing for milk or yogurt, both of which add an extra boost of protein to your breakfast.

This recipe requires the use of your oven, but don’t let that scare you away – it’s simple, easy to prepare, and requires minimal cleanup afterwards. All you need to make our delicious seeded granola is a baking tray, parchment paper, and a good stirring spoon.

2. Breakfast Muffin

This yummy sandwich is one of the simplest, most affordable meals you can make in the morning, and crafting your own at home is sure to save you money in the long run. While it might be tempting to roll through the drive-thru for fast food sandwiches in the morning, that’s not the best choice for your wallet over time. 

With a simple combination of eggs, cheese, and Canadian bacon on an English muffin, you can’t go wrong with this delicious breakfast sandwich. Plus, it’s tastier and better for you than anything with “Mc” in the name by a long shot!

To save yourself time, make a big batch of these sandwiches at the beginning of the week and stick them in the freezer to warm up later. If you’ve got a few mouths to feed in the morning, just throw multiple sandwiches on sheet pans and stick them in the oven to heat up quickly. 

3. Huevos Rancheros

This traditional Mexican breakfast tastes amazing, and it’s so simple. Plus, you can make it in large batches using an instant pot for cooking the beans and topping off each serving with your favorite sauces.

Made by frying an egg in a pan and pairing it with a toasted tortilla, red kidney beans, avocado, and fresh herbs, this breakfast has a low carb count and is packed with protein. It’s bursting with flavor and is perfect for mornings when you’re craving something with that irresistible Tex-Mex taste. 

Pro tip: Dice a potato and pan fry the pieces in butter to make the perfect side. 

4. Strawberry Melon Smoothie

While it’s not a meal per se, this refreshing drink can be premade in batches, offering you a little summer flavor any time you want. 

Made with watermelon, strawberries, and mint leaves, this is one of the most delicious smoothies you’ll ever try. It’s perfect for taking with you to work in a thermos or enjoying at home after a long day. You can even have it for breakfast.

We recommend making large batches of our yummy strawberry melon smoothie, saving them in the fridge, and enjoying them over the course of a week. 

5. Almond Chia Pudding

A delicious, healthy breakfast that requires minimal effort to prepare, this tasty almond chia pudding gets its distinct sweetness from maple syrup – but you can use honey instead if you prefer. Made with almond milk, it’s a plant-based meal that will fill you up and give you all the energy you need for a full day of work. 

You can make the pudding in batches, heating it in the microwave or on the stove each time you want more.

The Best Meal Prep Lunches

Everyone needs a quick and simple lunch on a busy day, and these recipes are the perfect fit. Plus, you can make them quickly and save them in the fridge throughout the week to enjoy later.

6. Tuna and Avocado Muffins

These tasty little sandwiches get you a serving of vegetables, plenty of healthy fat, and lots of protein – all in one small, convenient package. 

Thanks to canned tuna, you don’t have to do any cooking to make one of these delicious muffins. However, one of these sandwiches tastes even better if you toast your English muffins before throwing them in the fridge or freezer. Once toasted, an English muffin takes on a heavenly crispy texture, perfect for absorbing the rich cream cheese and tuna in this recipe.

7. Roasted Cauliflower Salad

Packed with delicious roasted cauliflower, broccoli, and other yummy ingredients, this simple salad is the perfect lunch recipe to cook now and enjoy later. You can take it with you in a microwave-safe Tupperware when you head to work, warming it a bit to get the veggies tasting great. Or, you can enjoy it cold – it’s up to you!

8. Rocchini Pasta

This delectable dish is packed with yummy ingredients, and it’s a quick and affordable recipe to make part of your weekly menu. For this meal, you’ll be using trofie pasta, which is uniquely shaped, as well as several other elegant ingredients like arugula, red onions, and fresh herbs.

9. Chili Sin Carne

If you need a delicious, vegetarian-friendly recipe to take with you to work, we’ve got you covered. This chili sin carne recipe is to die for, and it’s packed with healthy ingredients like sweet potatoes and carrots. It’s the perfect recipe to make in your slow cooker, and there’s plenty of room to get creative and add in additional ingredients. 

Some of the best add-ins for this delicious chili include chickpeas, sliced bell peppers, and minced garlic for added flavor. In addition, you can boost the vegetable content of the dish by using cauliflower rice instead of a grain – or add in extra protein with quinoa instead of rice. The possibilities are endless.

10. Roasted Zucchini and Feta Casserole

This recipe is just about the best lunch in the world. You get plenty of protein, healthy fat, and fiber from each serving, and a full casserole can feed you lunch for a week. 

The savory flavor of the olives, the rich creaminess of the feta cheese, and the juicy zucchini all work together in perfect harmony to make this dish a real treat. Like many of the recipes on this list, it makes a great lunch – but it’s a fantastic dinner, too.

11. Zucchini and Chickpea Salad

This delightful dish is one lunch that you’ll never get tired of. It’s packed with nutritious ingredients, and it can stay fresh for several days in the fridge. Since it’s best served cold, this salad makes an excellent lunch for summer days when you need a little bit of refreshment from the heat.

12. Sesame Bowl

There’s so much to love about this savory vegan meal. 

Even if you’re not following a plant-based diet, there are plenty of reasons to eat a meatless meal from time to time. This delicious sesame bowl makes your Meatless Monday one of the best meals of the week, all thanks to just a few simple ingredients.

13. Chickpea and Green Bean Salad

A simple, tasty lunch that is perfect for when you’re on break at work, this nutritious salad contains some of the healthiest ingredients on the planet. Quinoa and chickpeas are packed with protein and fiber, so they’ll keep you filled up for hours, fueling your workday until you get home for dinner. The addition of fresh string beans adds even more fiber and flavor to the meal.

Perfect Meal Prep Dinners

After a long day of work, sometimes the last thing you want to do is cook. These recipes are for those days when you need something ready to eat as soon as you get home – just heat and enjoy.

14. Fish Curry

This incredible recipe might make the office microwave smell a little fishy, so it’s probably best to enjoy it when you eat lunch at home.

When you need a warm, comforting, and nutritious lunch, a bowl of our fish curry is exactly what you’re looking for. Protein-packed fresh cod, korma curry sauce, and coconut milk are the star ingredients here, and they’ll get you a remarkable flavor combination that tastes like nothing else you’ve ever had before.

While the recipe calls for fresh cilantro, you can add a sprinkling of basil instead – whichever you prefer.

15. Skinny Spaghetti

This healthy pasta recipe busts the myth that noodles are bad for you, and it’s the perfect meal to make in large batches and eat throughout the week.

The finishing touches are what make this pasta dish shine. Adding fresh basil, garlic, and parmesan gives the noodles a distinctly Italian flavor and levels up the classiness of the recipe several notches. 

Like so many of our recipes, this pasta is made with five simple ingredients, and it takes just a few minutes to make. A short ingredient list and even shorter prep time make it an excellent meal prep dish, especially for weeks when you’re short on time and need reliable food.

16. Vegetarian Zucchini Lasagna

If you’re used to eating lasagna with meat, the idea of a vegetarian version of the popular dish might not thrill you. However, once you try this meatless lasagna, you’ll see why we’re such big fans of the recipe. 

You don’t need meat to make delicious lasagna. Plus, meatless meals are excellent for batch cooking, especially since plant-based ingredients tend to last longer in the fridge. Plus, there’s still plenty of classic lasagna ingredients to be found here, including ricotta, mozzarella, and those iconic flat noodles. 

17. Thai Beef Curry

This curry is colorful, sweet, savory, and spicy all at once. It’s a great recipe to put together, freeze, and enjoy anytime you need a fast, convenient dinner. 

Made with green curry paste and coconut milk, this dish tastes just as good – if not better – than anything you’d find at an authentic Thai restaurant. It’s warm and comforting, making it an ideal meal for fall and winter evenings after a chilly commute home from work. 

Heat some on the stove, and you’re ready to invite the taste of Thailand into your home!

18. Quinoa and Broccoli Risotto

This refreshing spin on a classic Italian dish uses quinoa instead of the traditional arborio rice, and the results are absolutely mouthwatering. 

Just like standard risotto, this meal is warm and flavorful, packed with the savory taste of broth, spices, and melted parmesan cheese. However, the quinoa adds an extra boost of protein to the dish, making it an excellent lunch or dinner. Thanks to the addition of chicken, you’ll get a whopping 52 grams of protein from each serving of this risotto, enough to meet a significant portion of your daily needs.

19. Homemade 3-Cheese Pizza

If you’re feeding kids, making several of your own pizzas and freezing them for later is one of the best ways to keep yummy meals on standby. 

If you ask a kid their favorite food, there’s a good chance that pizza will at least make it into the top five. We always recommend making pizza at home since it’s better for your family’s health, better for your wallet, and tastier than pre-made store-bought pizzas or fast food—not to mention more customizable for those picky eaters.

Our pizza recipe calls for goat cheese, mozzarella, and Roquefort, but you can swap out any of these for another cheese that you prefer. 

20. Japanese Chicken Meatball Skewers

We have to admit, these Japanese chicken meatball skewers taste amazing

If you’ve never made your own meatballs before, now is the perfect time to start. They’re delicious, packed with protein, and super easy to make in large batches. This recipe’s meatballs are as yummy as can be, thanks to breadcrumbs, a hint of sugar, and the salty taste of soy sauce.

Skewering your meatballs makes them easy to portion out and enjoy later. Eating just a few of them gets you a full meal – don’t be fooled, this is no appetizer. Serve them over a bed of white or brown rice, and you’ve got the makings of a meal that everyone in your family will run to the dinner table to enjoy.

Storing Your Prepped Meals

When you make a large batch of food, it’s always a good idea to be safe and smart with how you store each serving. One of the key aspects of meal prepping is keeping your food only for as long as it’s fresh and safe to eat and ideally eating it long before it’s at risk of going bad.

To properly store your prepped meals, follow these tips.

Write a Date on Each Container

One of the best ways to make sure your food is fresh is to take note of the date that you made a meal. That way, you can have a clear sense of how long your food has been in the fridge or freezer and make sure it’s safe to eat.

Two great methods for putting dates on your meal prep containers are:

Clean Out Your Fridge (And Freezer) Regularly

It’s no fun to end up with old, unused food in the back of your fridge, which is prone to happen if you’re not careful with your meal prepping.

To make sure that you’re not setting yourself up to lose track of your pre-made meals, fridge organization and regular cleaning are the keys to success. With a neat, tidy fridge, you’ll be able to keep track of the meals that you prep and not forget that they’re there. 

If possible, try storing your prepped meals in one specific section of your fridge and freezer. That way, you’ll know that if you made a meal, it’s bound to be in that specific spot - unless you ate it already. Otherwise, it’s easier than you might think to lose track of containers and end up with expired food.

Eat the Oldest Meals First

One of the most critical aspects of successful meal prepping is eating the food that you already have before making more. If you make a new batch of meals before your current batch is gone, you’re likely to end up wasting food and money in the long run. 

To make the most of the delicious meals you’ve cooked, finish what you’ve got before moving on to the next recipe.

Want More Cooking Tips and Inspiration?

If you’re trying to level up your at-home cooking, we’ve got all the resources you need right here. Our cooking page is full of creative recipes that you can make in your kitchen with just a few simple ingredients and tools. By cooking at home more often, you can have tons of fun, build your confidence, learn new skills, and more! There are so many reasons to get in the kitchen, and we’ll give you all the inspiration you need for your next meal.

In addition, you can get even more cooking tips and helpful information by visiting our blog. There, you’ll find more articles like this one to take your at-home cooking to new levels of creativity!