Take the stress out of mealtime with these CHEAP and EASY meal prep ideas and recipes. These recipes and tips are guaranteed to make your meal prep a walk in the park!

Hands assembling casserole for easy meal prep from Shelf Cooking.

We know how insane life can be sometimes—especially with kids! Between work, extracurriculars, and other weekly events, it can be a challenge to get a healthy, home-cooked meal on the table every night. We feel you, mama. Now, drop that take-out menu and we'll show you how to meal prep for the whole week with these super simple recipes!

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These easy meal prep ideas and recipes save you loads of time and energy cooking each day. Plus, you'll save TONS of moolah that you may otherwise be spending on unhealthy take-out. Sounds like a win to us—for your waistline and your wallet!


Chicken and rice with tomatoes and cucumbers for cheap meal prep ideas from Shelf Cooking.

Meal prep can seem overwhelming, to say the least. How can we possibly make an entire week of meals in one single day? We know it's daunting but trust us—you CAN do it. It's easier than it looks and it is SO, SO worth it. Master this skill and you'll save your sanity, stress, AND your bank account! Yippee!

Imagine this: You just got home from evening soccer practice with your kids. It's been a long, exhausting day and everyone is tired and hungry. (More like hangry…) You open the fridge to see a platter of chicken spaghetti you prepped the weekend before. “Hallelujah, hallelujah!” That's right, stick that baby in the oven and you've got a killer meal on the table with zero effort spent. Now that's a meal prep win!


If you're a meal prep beginner, remember—basic is key! Keep your recipes simple and use ingredients that overlap recipes to save both money and prep time. If you're planning on using rice in one recipe, try incorporating several rice-based recipes for the week so you can batch cook that baby!

Pro Tip: Here's a simple equation for a winning easy meal prep idea any day of the week: Protein + Grain + Veggies = Winner, winner chicken dinner!


Chicken taquitos on a plate from Shelf Cooking.

The key to any good meal prep plan is to not get overzealous with intensive recipes. Again, keep it simple! We'll give you tons of easy meal prep recipes to get you started. Here are some of our favorites for chicken lovers!

  • Chicken FajitasThis super simple chicken fajita recipe gets even easier when you cook it ahead of time. Reheat in a skillet with a little oil and voila, restaurant-worthy fajitas at your fingertips. Ahh, I can hear the sizzle now.
  • Chicken Salad – Make Instant Pot shredded chicken and whip up some chicken salad. This is great on crackers, salads, and sandwiches!
  • Crock Pot BBQ Chicken Make a batch of this goodness and use it all week. It's good on sandwiches, rice, and even a bed of lettuce. The possibilities are endless!
  • Chicken, Rice, and Veggies – Prep your chicken however you want (bonus points for using leftover fajita chicken or BBQ chicken!!) and layer on top of rice. Toss in a medley of roasted veggies and DONE! If you're a saucy lady, (yeah, we see you!) grab some two-ounce cups with lids to keep the sauce separate until you're ready to eat.
  • Chicken TaquitosThis one is fiesta-worthy! Form the taquitos and store them in the fridge or freezer unbaked until you're ready to eat. Pop those suckers in the oven and you'll have dinner in 15 minutes! Whip up some quick guac for an easy side.
  • Baked Chicken Casseroles – If you're craving comfort food, casseroles are where it's at! These chicken casseroles are perfect for preparing ahead of time. Pop them in the oven and they always reheat like a dream.

You've got this, girl. Channel your inner shelf cooking diva and make some magic happen!


Steak and rice in a bowl for easy meal prep ideas from Shelf Cooking.

If red meat is your thing, you'll love the easy meal prep ideas with beef. They're quick, simple, and to die for!

  • Taco Salad – Make it how you like it! Check out this post on how to cook ground beef for an easy topping. Don't forget to mix in beans and veggies to make your beef and your dollar stretch!
  • Chili This one freezes and reheats amazingly! Plus, it's great for using up leftover beef and veggies.
  • Tacos – Grab a divided container and place each element in a separate spot. Roll your tortillas up and keep them to the side so they don't get soggy. When it's time to eat, you have all the makings of a great Taco Tuesday ready to assemble and devour. Don't have divided containers? Use cupcake liners! (It's almost like a DIY lunchable!)
  • Steak Bowls Layer everything but the sour cream and guac. Keep these in containers on the side so it all stays fresh. These are even great cold!
  • Steak Salad – Prep smart, not hard—right? Cook some extra steak when you make your steak bowls and use it on top of salad greens for another twist. Check out this steak salad recipe from Fun Cheap or Free for inspiration!
  • Lasagna Roll-UpsThese are great for meal prep because they are already portioned into single servings. Make an extra batch or two to freeze for another week! Be sure to add a sprinkle of water to the top when you reheat to keep them from drying out.

These beef recipes are affordable, easy, and MADE for meal prepping!


Crunchy French toast sticks on a plate with berries and bacon from Shelf Cooking.

Dinner and lunch aren't the only meals to prep ahead of time. These make-ahead breakfast recipes will make your morning routine sweet!

  • Homemade Pancakes Pancakes are a perfect easy meal prep idea! Make them all ahead of time and freeze. Pull out as many as you need and reheat in the microwave for an easy breakfast your kids will love! Check out our maple syrup substitutions, too!
  • Egg and Cheese SandwichesCook, assemble, and freeze. Reheat in the microwave and bada bing bada boom!
  • French Toast Sticks Who says gourmet can't be easy?
  • Overnight Oats So easy and ZERO cooking involved. Booya!
  • Pumpkin Muffins Make a batch of these delicious muffins for a breakfast you can grab and go with when you're running late. Add in nuts and chia seeds for an extra protein punch!
  • Egg Muffin CupsThese freeze and reheat like a morning dream!
  • Breakfast Burritos For a hearty, long-lasting breakfast you can easily take on the go.

Check out more easy meal prep ideas for breakfast with these make-ahead breakfast tips! Still struggling with ideas for lunch? We've got a whole post dedicated to lunch meal prep, too!

If you're a total newb to meal prep, that's okay! Check out this post on the ins and outs of our meal prep routine before you get started. It's chock full of helpful tips and hacks to get you started off on the right foot! You'll be thanking us (and yourself!) when there's a delicious home-cooked meal waiting in your fridge after that long, boring PTA meeting. 😉

Do you have a favorite meal prep-friendly recipe? Share it in the comments below!

Image with text that reads "easy meal prep ideas" from Shelf Cooking

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Now, meal prep away, friends!!