I like to consider myself a decent cook, but when it comes down to it, I am much better at throwing meals together with random ingredients and produce that I have in front of me.
This isn’t Scott’s favorite way to cook. He actually never does this, and I get spoiled by his gourmet recipes, but I consider it an art to be able to assemble a meal that is both nutritious and easy from whatever you have to work with. And after years of having a very busy schedule with limited time to cook (remember when I worked 60+ hour weeks at the studio and ran this blog?) this is what I have learned to do.
I’m also a sucker for leftovers (sign me up for all of the additional, delicious food without food prep), but I know that this isn’t the case for everyone. But, if I can intentionally make extra to be able to heat up for lunch or dinner the next day, I will.
That said, I like to follow recipes and even create my own, but I will always feel the most comfortable assembling meals on-the-fly with options that make sense in front of me.
What does that mean exactly? Read below for a rundown along with what my typical grocery list looks like to be able to throw something easy (and healthy!) together by pulling key ingredients from different categories.
I have never been someone to spend a half a day meal prepping for the week ahead, and instead, I purchase a few things from the major categories (fresh produce, dairy, frozen, proteins, carbs, sauces/seasonings and snacks) and pair them differently for a variety of last-minute meals. I usually go for what is on sale to be able to stick to a budget, and I take a loop around the store before committing to anything to see where the deals are!
What is a healthy, throw-together meal?
Before we dive in, let me explain what I mean by a healthy, throw-together meal. This can be anything from a protein or veggie rice bowl, a monster salad, a veggie-loaded pasta, or anything in between.
My golden rule is to always include a protein, carbohydrate, and veggies on your plate and go from there. So, when purchasing outside of specific recipes, think of the different ways that you can use the produce or ingredient … depending on what else you have or what you’re craving.
Generally, I gather a variety of ingredients that enable me to mix-and-match my meals like rice bowls, pastas, casseroles, and big salads. I aim to eat whole foods as much as possible, but I also turn to some pre-made and frozen items to save money and make groceries last a lot longer. I try to steer away from recipes that require a lot of unique ingredients, or at least pair a few together that use similar ones so I make sure to use everything I buy and keep the cost down at check-out.
Here’s a peek at the list (which you can right click to save), along with a breakdown.
Budget tip! Buy what’s in season and on sale.
I put an asterisk (*) by the items I try to get organic, if possible, since those are the most heavily sprayed crops.
Fruits & Vegetables
- Cuties/Clementines (mini oranges)
- Berries* – only what’s on sale or opt for frozen
- Peppers* or Zucchini/Yellow Squash
- Sweet potatoes*
- Almond Milk or Oat milk (or whatever milk you prefer to drink alone or add to smoothies, recipes, etc.)
- Low-fat Milk* (for Skyler and Scott)
- Cheese (shredded cheddar for topping dishes and recipes, slices for sandwiches, and sometimes I’ll get feta or goat cheese for salads and omelets)
- Low-fat Greek yogurt (parfaits, mix with oats, mix with cereal, smoothies, use as a topping or for dressings and dips – the tubs are a better value than individual cups)
- Side dishes, casseroles, soups and stews
- Broccoli florets
- Organic peas
- Mixed vegetables
- Veggie burgers (my favorite brands are Dr. Praegers or Hilary’s)
- Quinoa burgers (Trader Joe’s brand quinoa burgers are amazing)
- Meatballs (or turkey meatballs/no-meat meatballs)
- Breakfast patties
- Waffles (I prefer Van’s or Nature’s Path)
- Frozen fruit for smoothies (blueberries, strawberries, mangoes, etc.)
- Treats (frozen yogurt, fruit popsicles, etc.)
Lean Meats & Protein
- Ground Turkey (for taco meat, spaghetti sauce, casseroles, etc.)
- Chicken (rotisserie is my favorite way to go, but price check the store)
- Chicken Sausage or Pork (great for rice or noodle bowls or veggie bowls)
- Eggs (breakfast side, omelets, casserole bakes, hard boil for a snack or salad topping)
- Beans (protein for burritos, salads, rice bowls, or as a side dish — I usually get black beans, garbanzo, and lentils)
- Brown rice or quinoa (for side dishes, fried rice, casseroles, soups and stews)
- Whole wheat pasta (pasta dinners, side dishes, casseroles, soups and stews, and even cold side dish or salad ingredient)
- Old-fashioned oats (overnight oats, oatmeal, topping for yogurt)
Sauces, Seasonings, and Dips
- Marinara (use for pasta dishes, pizza, casseroles, etc.)
- Hummus (use for wraps, snacks for dipping, or in place of salad dressing)
- Salad Dressings (or better yet, make your own with oils, spices and vinegars)
- Peanut or nut butter (I have a ton on hand, but wanted to include this)
- Trader Joe’s Seasonings (these go far in flavoring – my favorite is Everything But the Bagel Sesame Seasoning to sprinkle on just about anything)
- Sparking water (love this as a treat from regular water)
- Applesauce (jars for us and pouches for Skyler)
- Crackers (whole wheat crackers with seasoning are my favorite)
- Nuts & trail mixes
- Dark chocolate bars (try a block or two with a glass of milk for dessert)
All of this will usually last our family of two adults and one toddler one to two weeks, sometimes longer. We stop by to pick up an additional few items here and there, but typically have everything on hand to create a variety of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snack options in a pinch.
Remember, this is just an example of what a typical grocery list looks like for us. Of course I add and edit items from week to week, but these are the items that I buy regularly over and over when I have a mostly empty refrigerator.
I hope this helps some of you who are looking to dive into mix-and-match meal plating, and I would love to hear about some of your grocery list staples, too!
Please share some of your favorites below.
Take care out there and talk soon!