Power Hour Meal Prep

How I Prep a Week of Mix-and-Match Dinners in Just 30 Minutes

updated Jan 21, 2021
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brussels sprouts, onion, sweet potatoes, and spices sit in separate containers on a wooden table
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
Power Hour Meal Prep

The best way to start a busy week is to set yourself up for a daily win. A simple dinner plan, made even easier with a super-short prep session, can make up for any missed deadlines or interrupted Zoom calls your day throws at you. This way, dinner won’t come as a complete surprise (Wait, it’s already time to feed everyone again?).

Setting aside time for meal prep might feel like a lot right now. I get it. And that’s why I love a mini meal prep session, which feels so much more doable and even sustainable. This mini dinner prep session is made easier by relying on a just a few main ingredients that you can mix and match all week long. Spend just 30 minutes in the kitchen now making marinades, chopping ingredients, and roasting vegetables. Then when you clock out of work, you have a variety of tasty choices ready for the finishing touch. Here’s how to make it happen.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Meal Prep Goals

  • Dinner: Five easy dinner options that mix and match main ingredients.
  • Nutritional Goals: Prepare flexible and filling dinners in just 30 minutes, rather than focusing on meeting any specific nutritional goals.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 2 adults and 2 kids
  • Prep Time: 30 minutes
  • Meals Covered: Dinner for 5 weeknights
  • Weekday Cooking Required: Yes, but ingredients are fully prepped and ready for the stovetop or oven.

Meal Plan


Shopping List

The shopping list for this dinner-focused meal plan relies on mixing and matching ingredients for meals all week long. Shop your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer first, and make sure you have enough vegetable oil, olive oil, kosher salt, and black pepper on hand as these staples are not listed below.

Since the shrimp will be used for dinner on two nights, make a double batch of the spicy sweet sauce. Substitute sweet potatoes for the butternut squash in the Tofu Bowl with Caramelized Fall Veggies since the orange tubers are already on the grocery list. Frozen brown rice is on the list, but feel free to make a big batch of rice in the oven or Instant Pot if that is better for your budget.

  • Dry Goods: 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1/2 cup hot sauce (i.e., Frank’s RedHot), 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 1/4 cup soy sauce or tamari, 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard, 2 teaspoons chili powder, 1 teaspoon fennel seeds, 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1 1/2 cups light brown sugar, 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, 1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil, 12 corn tortillas, 1/4 cup raw sunflower seeds, 1 can black beans
  • Produce: 1 avocado or pre-made guacamole, 3/4-inch pieces fresh ginger, 1 pound Brussels sprouts, 4 pounds sweet potatoes, 1 small bunch fresh cilantro, 1 head garlic, 1 lime, 1 bunch scallions, 1 large bunch fresh parsley, 2 heads (about 1 pound) radicchio, 1 medium yellow onion
  • Refrigerated Items and Dairy: 1 (14- to 16-ounce) package extra-firm tofu, 1 ounce Cotija or feta cheese, 2 large eggs, 2 1/2 ounces Manchego cheese
  • Freezer: 2/3 cup frozen peas, 2 to 2 1/2 pounds large (20 to 25 per pound) peeled and deveined shrimp, 8 cups frozen brown rice

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

Before you get started, assemble all of your ingredients and set up a workstation complete with cutting board, chef’s knife, measuring cups and spoons, and a garbage bowl.

  1. Heat oven to 425°F.
  2. Prep produce and cheese. Peel and dice the sweet potatoes. Trim and halve the Brussels sprouts. For the Tofu Bowl: Thinly slice 2 scallions. Combine the scallion whites with 1 clove minced garlic, and refrigerate in a small container. Store the scallion greens separately. For the Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos: Finely chop 1 medium (or 1/2 large) onion and refrigerate in a small container. For the Radicchio Salad: Slice radicchio into ribbons, and cut Manchego cheese into a small dice. Refrigerate separately. For the Shrimp Fried Rice: Thinly slice the remaining scallions, keeping the whites and greens separate. Mince 2 cloves garlic and 2 teaspoons fresh ginger. Combine and refrigerate scallion whites, garlic, and ginger. Refrigerate scallions greens separately.
  3. Roast vegetables. As soon as the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are ready, arrange the sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet and the Brussels sprouts on another. Drizzle with olive oil and season with kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper. Toss to coat, then roast until tender and beginning to brown, about 20 minutes.
  4. Press tofu. Drain the tofu, then wrap in a few layers of paper towels set on a plate. Weigh the tofu down with a skillet or heavy can and let it drain, replacing the towels if they become saturated. Once drained, remove the weight and paper towels, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.
  5. Make firecracker sauce. Make a double batch of this marinade to make enough sweet and spicy sauce for two meals. Assemble and refrigerate in a lidded jar.
  6. Make sauce for tofu bowl. Combine 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons maple syrup, 2 teaspoons whole-grain mustard, and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a lidded jar and refrigerate.
  7. Make vinaigrette for radicchio salad. Mix 1 minced garlic clove, 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes, and freshly ground black pepper in a lidded jar and refrigerate.
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Shelly Westerhausen

A Week of Easy Mix-and-Match Dinners

Monday, Tofu Bowl with Caramelized Fall Veggies: Heat the oven to 425°F. Arrange the Brussels sprouts and one third of the sweet potatoes on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until heated through, about 10 minutes. Cut the drained tofu into 1-inch pieces, season with kosher salt, and pan-fry until crisp. Meanwhile, prepare frozen brown rice. Dress the tofu with 2 tablespoons of meal prepped-sauce, and toss the scallion whites and garlic with the roasted Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, and 3 tablespoons of the sauce. Divide the rice among serving bowls, and top with tofu and vegetables. Finish with sliced scallion greens and drizzle with remaining sauce. Dinner comes together in about 20 minutes.

Tuesday, Black Bean and Sweet Potato Tacos: Heat the oven to 425°F. Arrange about half of the remaining sweet potatoes on one side of a rimmed baking sheet. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place on the baking sheet. Roast until sweet potatoes and tortillas are warm, about 10 minutes. Meanwhile, sauté the finely chopped onion until translucent, then season with chili powder, cumin, and kosher salt. Add a can of drained and rinsed black beans and 1/4 cup water to the onion, then cover and simmer for about 5 minutes. Mash about half of the beans with a fork or potato masher. Add the sweet potatoes and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro to the skillet and toss to combine. Fill the warmed tortillas with the black bean and potato mixture and top with sliced avocado or guacamole and crumbled Cotija or feta cheese. Dinner comes together in about 15 minutes.

Move the frozen shrimp to the refrigerator to thaw overnight.

Wednesday, Firecracker Shrimp: Peel and devein the shrimp, if necessary. Pat the shrimp dry, then transfer to a mixing bowl and toss with the firecracker sauce. Set aside for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare enough frozen brown rice according to package directions for dinner tonight and Friday. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shrimp and sauté until pink and opaque, about 5 minutes. Pour the excess marinade into a small saucepan and bring to a boil and cook until thick and syrupy, about 5 minutes. Reserve and refrigerate half of the shrimp and rice for Friday’s dinner. Serve the remaining shrimp over brown rice and drizzle with sauce.

Thursday, Radicchio Salad with Sweet Potato, Manchego, and Crunchy Seeds: Heat the oven to 425°F. Arrange half of the radicchio and the remaining sweet potatoes in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until warmed though and tender, 7 to 10 minutes. Add 1/4 cup sunflower seeds to the baking sheet when there are 5 minutes remaining. Chop parsley while the vegetables and seeds cool for about 10 minutes. Toss the raw radicchio, roasted radicchio, sweet potatoes, seeds, parsley, and diced Manchego together, and drizzle with the prepped salad dressing. Dinner comes together in about 20 minutes.

Friday, Shrimp Fried Rice: Take the shrimp out of the refrigerator to take the chill off. Whisk 2 eggs together in a small bowl, then set aside. Stir-fry scallion whites, garlic, and ginger in 1 tablespoon vegetable oil over medium-high heat, about 30 seconds. Add more oil, then add rice, peas, and tamari or soy sauce. Stir-fry until rice is heated through, about 3 minutes. Push the rice to one side of the skillet, heat more oil, and add the eggs. Stir the eggs until set, then add the shrimp, sesame oil, and scallion greens. Toss to combine all of the ingredients. Dinner comes together in less than 10 minutes.


Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour prep over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.