The Easy Meal Prep Plan That Lets Me Cook Once and Eat All Week

The Easy Meal Prep Plan That Lets Me Cook Once and Eat All Week

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Faith Durand
Sep 11, 2018
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Do you want to know the best feeling in the world? Gazing into a fridge of prepped food on Sunday night, knowing you are all set for lunches and even some dinners for the week ahead. I fondly call it a "dragon hoard" moment, curling up like Smaug in smug satisfaction on your golden pile of virtuously prepared meals.

So what gets you this magic moment? A Power Hour. No, not the drinking game (although if you want to throw that in, you do you). I'm talking about the hour or two when you turn on some music, sling on an apron, and power through the prep that will nourish your week.

You see these prep moments on Instagram; you would love to do this too. Well, welcome to Power Hour our fresh series where we show you how we plan and prep our own meals, packing all that prep into about an hour or a little more. To kick things off, here's my own personal Power Hour meal prep plan.

Salad swag boxes, ready for lunch.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Here are my meal prep realities. I'm a mom of two kids (2 and under); I work full-time and don't have time to cook most nights. So I think of meal prep as pure necessity. I bang out as much as I can in my Sunday Power Hour so I can cook as little as possible during the week. My delicious, big-eyed baby is way more appealing on a Monday night, and she goes to bed at 6:30, so I want all the time with her that I can get.

My husband and I have a high tolerance for repeating meals. (Is this because we have an 8-month-old and a 2-year-old, who fill life with all the surprise one's soul craves? SOMETHING TO PONDER!) So I cook big batches of a few mix-and-match dinner options, shop strategically for lunches, and supplement these meals with takeout and the freezer.

My Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: A big-batch breakfast to last all week
  • Lunch: Lunches for me and my husband (five days).
  • Dinner: Dinner for me and my husband (five to six days).
  • Nutritional Goals: We don't have any food restrictions. But I look for high-volume yet relatively low-calorie lunches with lots of vegetables, and whole food-driven, simple dinners with a lot of flavor.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Two to three people
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Not really. Just reheating.

My Meal Plan

Breakfast

  • Breakfast Egg Casserole with Sweet Potatoes, Arugula & Goat Cheese

Lunches

  • Bacon & Tomato Salad Swag: Soft-boiled egg, bacon, goat cheese, cherry tomatoes, vinegar shallots, mixed up daily with a bag of salad and some balsamic dressing.
  • Snack Lunch: My husband's preferred way of eating lunch. He takes a bento box filled with snacking cheese, berries, nuts, sliced bell pepper, and some rolled lunch meat.

Mix-and-Match Dinners

  • Roasted Chicken Thighs, Two Ways (Peanut Sauce and Shwarma-Spiced)
  • Bacon and Herb Couscous Salad
  • Peanut Slaw
  • Sliced Cucumbers
  • Sliced Peaches
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

My Shopping List

These are the things I bought or used for this meal prep plan.

  • Produce: Slaw mix, carrot slaw, cilantro, English cucumbers, berries, bananas, roasted peanuts, bell peppers, 3 boxes salad greens, 1 box baby arugula
  • Meat: 5 pounds boneless skinless chicken thighs, 1 pound bacon
  • Dairy: 2 dozen large eggs, local whole milk, BabyBel cheese, cheddar cheese sticks, goat cheese crumbles
  • Pantry & Frozen: Peanut sauce (10-ounce bottle), frozen diced sweet potatoes (12-ounce bag), Outshine fruit popsicles

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

Time to knock out this prep! My Sunday afternoon prep list is as follows (and we've created a handy pinnable image with the menu and prep list, if you're interested!).

  1. Bake one full pound of bacon. I line a sheet pan with foil and roast the bacon until crisp (follow these instructions). When done, I drain off the fat and chop the bacon into bite-sized pieces. Do not wash the pan yet.
  2. Cook the pearl couscous. Meanwhile, I bring chicken stock to a boil and cook the pearl couscous (Trader Joe's Harvest Grains) until tender, then spread it to cool on the bacon-smeared sheet pan.
  3. Season the chicken thighs (two ways!). While the bacon and couscous are cooking, I divide the chicken between two big prep bowls and season it. One half is seasoned with a shwarma spice mix; the remaining chicken is seasoned with about half of a bottle of store-bought peanut sauce.
  4. Roast the chicken thighs. As soon as the bacon is out of the oven, I raise the temperature from 400°F to 450°F and roast the chicken thighs for 20 to 25 minutes or until blistered on the edges. When the chicken is done, I turn the oven down to 375°F.
  5. Mix and bake the egg casserole. While the thighs are roasting I prep the egg casserole. I whisk 10 eggs with about 1 1/2 cups whole milk; season lightly with salt and pepper; and pour over a 12-ounce bag of still-frozen sweet potatoes, half a container of chopped arugula, and crumbled goat cheese. When the thighs are done, I put this in to bake for about 45 minutes or until puffed and set on top.
  6. Make peanut slaw. I toss the slaw mix and shredded carrots with the remaining half bottle of peanut sauce and a chopped bunch of cilantro (leaves only), season to taste with salt, and top with crushed roasted peanuts.
  7. Soft-boil eggs. I soft-boil a dozen eggs using our basic boiled egg method (I use a five-minute cook time for soft-but-set yolks).
  8. Make the pearl couscous salad. I lift the foil on the sheet pan to funnel the couscous into a big mixing bowl. I finely chop the remaining arugula and toss it with the couscous, along with chopped herbs and about half the chopped bacon. Taste and add salt and pepper.
  9. Prep salad swag. Salad swag is everything but the greens. I make up little boxes of sliced cherry tomatoes, goat cheese crumbles, peeled soft-boiled eggs, and some sliced shallots tossed with vinegar.
  10. Make up snack lunch boxes. For my husband (who makes me coffee every morning!), I make up lunch boxes of lots of snack-y things like nuts, rolled lunch meat, cheese, sliced bell peppers, and berries.

And that's it! Lots of cooking, but once it's done and everything is refrigerated, I'm set for the week.

Total time: A little under two hours, if you don't count the breaks I took to nurse the baby and feed my toddler lunch.

(Image credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez)
Seasoning chicken with peanut sauce.
(Image credit: Faith Durand | Kitchn)
Bacon-y couscous salad
(Image credit: Faith Durand | Kitchn)
Two boxes of roasted chicken thighs.
(Image credit: Faith Durand | Kitchn)
Salad swag, now a full salad for lunch.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

A Week of (Almost) Zero Weeknight Cooking

Here's how all that prep turns into a week of almost zero cooking. Remember — we have a high tolerance for repetitiveness in our meals.

Breakfast: My husband plows through the egg casserole (which he also pops into his lunch box once or twice a week) and then turns to store-bought yogurt and granola when it runs out. The toddler eats frozen waffles, yogurt, fruit, or Cheerios — as her morning spirit leads.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

Lunch: I eat my salad swag boxes tossed with a huge bowl of greens and some amazing tamari rosemary dressing from a local cafe. Delicious. My husband packs a snack-y lunch and on one or two days a week eats out with his grad students or visiting faculty. (His lunches may sound light, but they're surprisingly filling. He bikes 10 miles a day and these seem to hold him well.)

The toddler eats edamame from the freezer, cheese, pasta, turkey meatballs from the freezer, and a not-insignificant-quantity of PB&J.

Dinner: I travel one night this week and eat airport sushi (why yes, I live on the edge, thank you). The rest of the nights, I heat up the broiler and quickly broil some chicken thighs to warm them and add a little extra flavor. Then we eat the peanut sauce chicken with peanut slaw, or the shwarma-spiced chicken with the couscous salad — probably sitting on the floor with the baby and toddler.

The toddler eats something snack-y like veggies from the freezer, crackers, sweet potato fries with ketchup, cheese, and — always — an Outshine fruit Popsicle. We all share peach slices and maybe some cucumbers with ranch dressing.

Later, I raid the freezer for a bite of Jeni's. Because a good meal-prepper deserves her reward.

Part of my triumphant dragon hoard of food for the week.
(Image credit: Joe Lingeman | Kitchn)

* * *

I hope this rundown is helpful to you! There's zero fudging here; this is really what my family and I ate a few weeks ago (and my meal prep almost always has some of these elements).

If this particular assortment of meals and ideas doesn't speak to your soul, however, come back. We have more Power Hour plans lined up for the days to come with other types of cooks and households in mind — vegetarian, larger household sizes, Whole30, and calorie-mindful are just some of the meal prep plans coming.

Until then, Power Hour on, guys.

(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

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.

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