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If your idea of meal prep is stopping by the store right before dinner, we've got you covered.

Arielle Weg
October 11, 2017

Almost every healthy shopping guide tells you to meal prep. It makes sense in theory — plan your meals for healthier choices, cut costs, and decrease your food waste. But not everyone is into meal planning, and there isn't much guidance out there for those who want to eat healthy and save money, but don't do the weekly Sunday shop. 

So here's our compromise — don't stop your ways. In fact, we encourage you to shop and cook the way that works for you and your lifestyle. Instead, keep a kitchen full of essentials to make easy meals whenever you need, and after one big shop to start you off, simply keep a list on hand to update whenever you run out. Shop tomorrow for these must-haves, and then pick up your protein and vegetable of choice whenever you want. Whether you shop once a week or seven times, you can still make it work. 

Have Flavor on Hand 

A well-stocked pantry full of sauces, spices, and condiments is the difference between another night of spaghetti and sauce and a delicious dish you'll want again and again. Pick up spices that work well in a variety of dishes, like cumin, chili powder, ground ginger, curry powder, and dried oregano.

Also, buy multiple sauces and flavors, like soy sauce, tomato sauce, sesame oil, curry paste, and salsa for easy items to doctor up a protein.There's no need to plan ahead, just grab the flavor you're feeling and dinner will be on the table in no time. 

Perfect Your Pantry 

Start with keeping boxes of pastas and grains on the shelf at all times. A container of whole-wheat spaghetti, quinoa, couscous, farro, and brown rice will make for easy protein and vegetable pairings to complete your meal.

Beyond grains, be sure to snag canned goods and dried essentials for dinner in a pinch. Canned beans, canned diced tomatoes, dried lentils, and canned vegetables can be a real meal saver. You'll also want to snag any baking supplies like a variety of oils, baking powder, baking soda, and whole wheat flour for both sweet and savory dishes. 

Stock Your Fridge and Freezer 

Keep your freezer full of quick, throw-together meals. Buy a bag of filleted fish, ready-to-cook shrimp, chicken breasts, and frozen veggie burgers for simple proteins. Also, store a bag of frozen vegetables for sides and frozen fruit for smoothies and desserts.

Keep in mind, you won't need as many of these as you think, especially if you typically shop for proteins and fresh produce right before dinner. But it's always good to have a few on hand, so just one bag of frozen protein, fruit, and vegetables should suffice. 

Plan for Snacking 

There's no need to plan exactly what you'll eat, but having some healthy snacking options is an important way to avoid senseless office grazing or late-night snacking. Grab a box of whole wheat crackers, nuts, seeds, peanut butter, and no-butter popcorn to keep in the pantry.

Then, stock your fridge with baby carrots, apples, and hummus to complete the snack bag. Most of these items will only need to be replaced every few weeks, and you'll lose the excuse to buy something unhealthy on the go. 

Fill Your Counter Bowl 

Shelf-stable vegetables are not only super flavor enhancers, but also a great way to add some freshness to a quick dish. Keep a white onion, red onion, and garlic bulb on hand for almost any savory dish.

During cooler months you can snag some thick-skinned squash, sweet potatoes, and white potatoes. If you find your cooking style uses higher-end ingredients, add a ginger root and shallots to the bowl, too.