Power Hour Meal Prep

Meal Prep Plan: How I Prep Ahead for a House Full of Guests

updated Dec 19, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman

If your holiday visitors are arriving any day and staying through the end of the year, don’t fret: This easy meal plan is designed to help you through it. This Power Hour will set you up with prepped cozy breakfasts and lunches that keep well in the fridge, and will give you a head start on big-batch dinners that are easy enough for anyone in the house to pull together at the last minute.

Not only will this meal prep session leave you with a week of tasty meals, but it will also allow you to actually enjoy your visitors and free you up from spending the whole time in the kitchen. Here’s how to do it.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Comforting breakfasts that are ready whenever guests roll out of bed.
  • Lunch: Lunch fixings to serve as salads or sandwiches.
  • Dinner: Cozy meals that are easy to prep and cook, thanks to smart supermarket shortcuts.
  • Nutritional Goals: This meal plan is all about feeding a house full of omnivorous visitors with no specific nutritional restrictions.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 6 to 8 people
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 75% (no Wednesday night dinner or weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Yes, but most ingredients are prepped and ready for the stovetop or oven or require easy supermarket shortcuts.

Meal Plan

Breakfast

Lunch

Dinner

Credit: Patty Catalano

Shopping List

Ingredients for all of this week’s recipes are listed by grocery store department to make shopping efficient. Olive and vegetable oils, salt, and pepper are staples to always keep on hand, so they aren’t included in the list below. Check your pantry for those and other items before heading to the store.

With a full house this week, I’m tripling the Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad recipe and making 1 1/2 times the Honey Mustard Chicken Tender Salad recipe. I’m also buying pita pockets, sandwich bread, and sliced meat and cheeses for lunches, as well as extra eggs and oatmeal to have on hand for breakfast. There are a few ingredient options given in the recipes, but to streamline shopping I’m using half-and-half for the baked potato soup, quiche, and for serving with coffee, and shredded cheddar for the baked potato soup, meatball subs, and quiche.

  • Produce: 2 avocados, 7 bell peppers, 1 (8-ounce) bag broccoli florets, 1 1/2 pints cherry tomatoes, 1 1/2 English cucumbers, 1 1/2 cups fresh cranberries, 1 head garlic, 1 large head iceberg lettuce, 4 to 6 stalks celery, 1 small orange or clementine, 3 heads radicchio, 2 small red onions, 2 heads romaine lettuce, 6 scallions
  • Deli/Bakery: 6 (6-inch) sub sandwich rolls, pita pockets, sandwich bread, sliced meat and cheese for sandwiches
  • Meat & Seafood: 1 1/2 pounds thick-cut bacon, 1 1/2 cups small diced cooked ham
  • Dry Goods: Oatmeal, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, honey, 24 pickled pepperoncinis, 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, cayenne pepper, dried oregano, ground ginger, pumpkin pie spice, granulated sugar, light brown sugar, powdered or turbinado sugar (optional), vanilla extract, coffee, 1 pound dried ziti or penne pasta, 1 1/2 cups farro, 5 cups (about 46 ounces) marinara sauce, 1/4 cup roasted salted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), 3 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée, 1 (16-ounce) can sloppy Joe sauce (such as Manwich or Stonewall Kitchen)
  • Dairy: 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 6 eggs (plus extra for scrambled eggs), 18 ounces feta cheese, 4 1/2 cups half-and-half (plus extra to serve with coffee), 5 1/2 cups (18 ounces) shredded cheddar cheese, 2 cups (8 ounces) shredded mozzarella cheese, 1/2 cup whole milk, 1 cup whole-milk ricotta cheese, 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • Frozen: 18 ounces frozen breaded chicken tenders, 2 pounds frozen hash browns, 1 (24-ounce) bag frozen meatballs, 1 frozen pie dough (already in plate)
  • Alcohol: 2 tablespoons dark rum (optional)

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

  1. Boil pasta for baked ziti: Boiling water always takes more time than you’d expect. Put a big pot of water on the stove as soon as you walk into the kitchen. Once it comes to a rolling boil, add a generous handful of kosher salt and cook ziti according to package directions. Transfer 1 frozen pie crust for the quiche to the refrigerator to thaw.
  2. Bake pumpkin bread: Heat oven to 350°F. Mix batter for the pumpkin bread according to this recipe. I love this recipe for meal prep because it uses the entire can of pumpkin purée and calls for pumpkin pie spice rather than a jumble of individual spices.
  3. Make and freeze cranberry scones: Use this recipe to make the scone dough. Form the dough into a round and use a knife to cut into wedges. Transfer wedges to a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze. Store in an airtight container or zip-top bag in the freezer until ready to bake.
  4. Prep Millionaire’s Bacon: Stir brown sugar, black pepper, cayenne pepper, and ground ginger together in a mixing bowl. Separate thick-cut bacon slices; toss with sugar mixture until coated. Arrange in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet; bake at 350°F for 30 to 35 minutes, flipping halfway through. Add the bacon to the oven as soon as it’s ready, even if the pumpkin bread is still baking (they bake at the same temperature).
  5. Assemble baked ziti: Make the ricotta filling by mixing ricotta, 1/4 cup Parmesan, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Because we’re starting with a store-bought marinara sauce, you’ll skip the steps of sautéing the onion and simmering the sauce and start by tossing the drained, cooked ziti with half the jarred sauce. Fold in the ricotta mixture, making sure to leave large pockets of ricotta unmixed. Transfer half the ziti to a 9×13-inch baking dish, top with half the mozzarella. Spread remaining pasta over top, then pour the remaining sauce and sprinkle with the rest of the mozzarella and Parmesan. Cover and refrigerate.
  6. Bake quiche: We’re starting with a pre-made frozen crust, so skip the steps of rolling and chilling pie dough. Slide the thawed crust onto a baking sheet, line with parchment, and fill with pie weights or beans. Par bake according to the recipe. Meanwhile, whisk eggs, half-and-half, salt, and pepper. Sandwich a layer of finely diced ham between layers of pre-shredded cheddar cheese in the par-baked shell, then pour in the egg mixture. Bake until set with a slight jiggle. Cool on a rack and refrigerate.
  7. Cook farro: Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad: Cook farro on the stovetop according to package directions. Cooking time will vary depending on variety used, 10 to 15 minutes for pearled or 25 to 30 minutes for semi-pearled.
  8. Make dressings: Honey Mustard Chicken Tender Salad: Multiply the dressing by 1 1/2 times (or just double it to make sure there’s plenty!). You’ll mix Dijon mustard, honey, and apple cider vinegar in a lidded jar. Cover and refrigerate. Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad: Make a big batch of the oregano vinaigrette to feed the crowd for lunch all week long. Combine garlic, red wine vinegar, dried oregano, kosher salt, Dijon mustard, black pepper, and olive oil until emulsified. Transfer half to a lidded jar and refrigerate. Toss the farro with the remaining vinaigrette. Set this bowl aside.
  9. Prep vegetables: Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad: Prep bell peppers, celery, cucumber, red onion, pepperoncinis, and chickpeas according to this recipe and add them to the bowl of vinaigrette and farro. Toss to coat; transfer to an airtight container. Chop iceberg lettuce and radicchio and store in a separate container.
Credit: Kitchn
Credit: Joe Lingeman

Breakfast

  • Monday, Ham and Cheese Quiche: Uncover the quiche and reheat it in a 350°F oven until the center is warm. Alternatively, cut the quiche into wedges and heat individual servings in the microwave using 15-second bursts.
  • Tuesday, Fresh Cranberry Scones: Heat the oven to 400°F. Arrange scones on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and, if desired, brush the tops with half-and-half and sprinkle with turbinado sugar (alternatively, top with glaze below). Bake from frozen for 25 to 28 minutes or until golden brown. If desired, mix powdered sugar, rum, and vanilla together. Drizzle glaze over warm scones and serve.
  • Wednesday, Millionaire’s Bacon and scrambled eggs: Heat Millionaire’s Bacon in the microwave for about 20 seconds until warm, and scramble a big batch of eggs on the stovetop. Breakfast can be as easy as that.
  • Thursday, Better-than-Starbucks Pumpkin Bread: Slather slices of toasted pumpkin bread with salted butter and serve alongside a pair of sunny-side-up eggs.
  • Friday, Leftovers, oatmeal, or eggs: Guests have had a taste of almost every kind of breakfast. Today is the day to finish up leftover scones, pumpkin bread, and quiche. If there’s not enough left, cook a big pot of oatmeal and serve with dried fruits and nuts from the pantry.

Lunch

  • Mediterranean-Style Chopped Salad with Oregano Vinaigrette: Serve chickpea mixture as a salad over prepared iceberg lettuce and radicchio with feta cheese and more vinaigrette. Alternatively, stuff the chopped salad into pita pockets for a sandwich.
  • Sandwiches: Sliced deli meats and cheeses served with house-favorite condiments.

Dinner

  • Monday, All-Star Baked Ziti: Welcome your holiday guests with a cozy baked pasta casserole. Heat the oven to 375°F. Bake the ziti, uncovered, until the cheese melts and the edges bubble. It should take 30 to 45 minutes to bake, giving you enough time to delegate setting the table while you find the extra place settings.
  • Tuesday, 5-Ingredient Baked Potato Soup: Guests will be shocked at how easy this cozy soup is. Crisp slices of halved bacon in a dutch oven, then sauté the white ends of scallions in the rendered fat. Add frozen hash browns (I know, it’s ingenious!), half-and-half, and cook until soft. Mash or purée the soup to desired consistency; serve with crumbled bacon, pre-shredded cheddar, and scallion greens.
  • Wednesday, Dinner out. If you’re eating out a different night, re-arrange this dinner schedule to suit your needs.
  • Thursday, Honey Mustard Chicken Tender Salad: Start by baking frozen chicken tenders (grilled or fried — Bell & Evans won our chicken nugget taste test and they’re also our favorite tenders, or you can make your own). Slice into bite-sized strips to stretch the salad bowl servings. Hand out extra knives and cutting boards to visit with your guests as everyone chops lettuce, avocados, bell peppers, tomatoes, and red onion. Toss everything into a large serving bowl and toss with the prepped honey mustard dressing. Serve with warm, sliced chicken tenders.
  • Friday, Sheet Pan Sloppy Joe Meatball Subs: Prep dinner according to this recipe. Pre-cut broccoli florets, shredded cheddar, and store-bought sloppy Joe sauce make this dinner a breeze to assemble. Make sure to fold the aluminum foil as instructed, wrapping a strip around the sub rolls, to keep them from drying out.

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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.