back to school

Power Hour: How I Prep a Week of Easy Family Meals for Back-to-School Season

updated Sep 7, 2022
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items prepped for back to school lunches
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner
Credit: The Kitchn

We’re not quite sure how it happened, but back-to-school season is upon us. It’s likely going to look different than it did last year and the year before, but, regardless, the transition is always a little tough after a relaxed summer.

The goal of today’s Power Hour is to provide a little respite from the stress that back-to-school time can bring. In just under two hours, you can prepare a week of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners for a family of four (two adults and two children). You’ll barely have to lift a finger all week to get meals on the table, leaving you free to focus on other things. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman; Food Styling: Ben Weiner

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Grab-and-go options that can be customized to everyone’s tastes (five days).
  • Lunch: Satisfying choices that won’t get boring by midweek (five days).
  • Dinner: Family-friendly dishes that are easy lifts (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: No set goal, but each meal attempts to be well-balanced for your family.
Credit: The Kitchn

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 2 adults + 2 children
  • Prep Time: Under 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 75% (no Friday night or weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Light (10 to 15 minutes of quick cooking and reheating)

Meal Plan




Credit: The Kitchn

Shopping List

This week’s shopping list is a mix of family-friendly produce, meat, dairy, and pantry items. It assumes cooking basics like olive oil, salt, and pepper are already on hand.

  • Produce: 1 pound broccoli, 1 pint cherry tomatoes, a few containers of fresh berries, 1 clamshell baby spinach, 2 clamshells mesclun greens, 1 small head red cabbage, 2 medium avocados, 1 bunch cilantro, 1 lime, 2 1/2 pounds cauliflower, 1 medium yellow onion, 1 medium red bell pepper, 1 head of garlic, 1 bunch chives, 1 bunch parsley, 1 large tomato, 1 package of pre-cut carrot and celery sticks
  • Meat and Deli: 3 rotisserie chickens, 1 pound sliced deli turkey, 1 pound sliced deli cheese, 1 1/2 pounds lean ground beef
  • Refrigerated: 1 dozen large eggs, 1 quart whole milk, 1 (8-ounce) bag shredded cheddar cheese, 2 large tubs plain Greek yogurt
  • Pantry: 1 bag of your family’s favorite granola, 1 jar basil pesto, 1 jar oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, mayonnaise, distilled white vinegar, granulated sugar, chili powder, ground cumin, unsalted garlic powder, smoked paprika, 1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce, tomato paste, dark brown sugar, Dijon mustard, 1 pound dried spaghetti, 1 jar pickle spears or chips
  • Other: Ciabatta sandwich rolls (8), sliced whole-grain sandwich bread, corn tortillas (8), hamburger buns (8), naan or pocketless pita (4), 1 bag kettle potato chips
Credit: The Kitchn

Power Hour: How to Get the Prep Done

  1. Make the frittata: Start by heating the oven to 375°F and preparing the sheet pan frittata according to recipe instructions.
  2. Make the sloppy Joe sauce. While the frittata bakes, prepare the sloppy Joe sauce according to recipe instructions
  3. Pull and shred the rotisserie chicken meat. While the sauce simmers, pull the meat from the rotisserie chickens and shred it with two forks.
  4. Make the pesto chicken salad. Transfer 1/3 of the shredded chicken to an airtight container and refrigerate, then place the rest of the chicken in a large bowl. Prepare the pesto chicken salad in the bowl according to recipe instructions, replacing the homemade pesto with the store-bought jar. 
  5. Roast the cauliflower. After removing the frittata from the oven, increase the oven temperature to 425°F and prepare and roast the cauliflower according to recipe instructions
  6. Make the pickled red cabbage and avocado-yogurt: While the cauliflower roasts, make the pickled red cabbage and avocado-yogurt topping for the tacos according to recipe instructions.
Credit: Kitchn
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Joe Lingeman

A Week of Easy Back-to-School Meals for the Whole Family


Choose between a square of veggie frittata on its own or tucked inside a hamburger bun or ciabatta roll. Alternatively, enjoy yogurt and granola with fresh berries.


Choose between pesto chicken salad on a ciabatta roll or on top of salad greens, or make a turkey and cheese sandwich to your (or your kids’) liking.


  • Monday, Roasted Cauliflower Tacos: Reheat the cauliflower in a 350°F oven and pull out the prepared pickled cabbage and avocado-yogurt, along with the corn tortillas and some fresh cilantro leaves. Let everyone build their own tacos.
  • Tuesday, Sloppy Joes: Rewarm half of the sloppy Joe sauce in the microwave or in a small saucepan on the stove. Spoon onto toasted hamburger buns and serve with pickles and potato chips.
  • Wednesday, Ranch Chicken Wraps: Assemble the wraps according to recipe instructions, using plain shredded rotisserie chicken instead of cooking the chicken breasts. Rewarm the shredded chicken in the microwave, use mesclun instead of romaine, and make a double batch of the ranch dressing so you have leftovers for dunking veggie sticks tomorrow.
  • Thursday, Quick Spaghetti with Meat Sauce: Cook 1 pound of spaghetti according to package instructions, rewarm the rest of the sloppy Joe sauce while it cooks, and toss to combine. Serve with the carrot and celery sticks, plus the rest of the ranch dressing for dipping.
  • Friday, Pizza Night: Celebrate a successful back-to-school week by ordering pizza!

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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.