When it comes to meal planning for a week or two, it’s easy to assume that your grocery list needs to be massive. But really, a few ingredients in each category of a ‘healthy meal plate’ can make basically infinite combinations.
We like using this food matrix as our primary grocery list and meal prep cheat sheet. Basically, pick one from each category (veggies, fruit and greens can have multiple choices, of course). You can keep it simple and have just a few foods in each category for faster food shopping, or make it a longer list, or change it as the seasons change.
|VEGGIE / FRUIT
Sourdough or whole grain bread
Cilantro / Basil — herbs when used in bulk
Lime or lemon juice
*Note that some of these will cross categories, like eggs, beef and yogurt, which can be your protein and your fat source depending on serving size.
With just this list, you can make a nearly infinite number of combinations (not all will be tasty, but you get the idea). For instance, a day for us using this would look like:
- Breakfast: Eggs with spinach, peppers and onions with potatoes sauteed in olive oil
- Lunch: Rice bowl with chicken, onions, peppers, cucumber, kale, avocado and lime juice
- Dinner: Beef burgers with lettuce wrap instead of a bun with sweet potato fries and grilled asparagus
Once you start adding sauces and spices—aiming for ones with few ingredients and minimal processing—you quickly start to realize that the same food staples can taste completely different depending on how they’re made. For example, to change up the day listed above, but stick with the same primary ingredients:
- Breakfast: Eggs with spinach, peppers and onions with potatoes, topped with sliced avocado and salsa
- Lunch: Rice bowl with chicken, onions, peppers, cucumber, kale, sliced ginger and soy sauce
- Dinner: Ground beef with tomatoes, spinach and basil served on sourdough slices with a side of roasted veggies
As ultrarunner Courtney Dewaulter told Molly for a Runner’s World article, everything can be turned into nachos (or a burrito-style bowl).
The more basic you can make your food staples—especially the ones that need to be cooked like your rice and proteins—the easier it is to a) meal prep and b) surprisingly, avoid flavor fatigue. If you can quickly make three protein options and two carb options, you can mix and match for a full week without ever having the same combination, and once you start playing with different flavors… Well, the sky is the limit!