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Meal Prep Plan: A Week of Fast and Easy Meals

updated Oct 4, 2021
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(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Meal planning can feel like a lot to take on when you first sit down to figure it out. My secret to making it a little easier: Focus on one protein each week. With this strategy, I can use more easy-to-prep recipes, streamline the grocery list, and keep my food budget on track — all those resolutions I made way back at the New Year and am trying to keep up now.

Quick-cooking chicken tops my grocery list this week (and most other weeks, too!) because of its versatility. In soups, stir-fries, and skillet meals, chicken is one of my kids’ favorite foods, so that’s where this week’s meal plan is headed.

After this Power Hour, we’ll go into the work week with a fridge full of prepared ingredients (and a plan for what to do with them), and suddenly evenings are significantly less hectic. No more last-minute stops at the grocery store or struggling to dice onions while the kids circle my ankles. Instead, I start the week knowing that all of the mealtime decisions are made and I’m eating more interesting meals simply because I’ve planned them.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

The goal for this Power Hour is to cut, mix, and measure all you can so that on weeknights, all that’s left is the actual cooking (my favorite part anyway!). This week’s meal plan features a variety of my favorite chicken recipes — though if you aren’t up to tackling the entire plan, you can mix and match any of these recipes with your family favorites.

I usually budget two hours for meal prepping, but this week I shaved off 30 minutes (!!!) by using Perdue® Fresh Cuts™ chicken. It comes pre-sliced or pre-diced, eliminating the mess of prep and clean-up that’s usually a part of cooking chicken. This is such a big help for meal prep, letting you focus on cutting produce, mixing dressings, and cooking the pasta or grains planned for the week. Set aside just 1.5 hours and you’re set with a week’s worth of breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

My Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Breakfast for my husband, two preschoolers, and me (five days).
  • Lunch: Lunch for my husband and me (five days).
  • Dinner: Dinner for my husband, two preschoolers, and me (five days).
  • Nutritional Goals: I’ve been known to abandon my meal plan midweek, so time-saving ingredient prep and quick-cooking dinners are vital to keeping me on track. We have no food restrictions, but since we’re cooking at home, I’ll focus on serving balanced meals with lean protein and colorful vegetables.

My Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: Four people for breakfast and dinner, two for lunch
  • Prep Time: 1.5 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required: Moderate. Dinner elements are prepared so that it takes less than 30 minutes to bring dinner together each night. Clean-up is quick, too, because Perdue Fresh Cuts chicken comes ready to use, eliminating the extra pile of dishes that comes with preparing raw chicken.

My Meal Plan

Breakfasts

Lunches

Dinners

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

My Shopping List

These are the ingredients I bought or used for this meal prep plan. I also relied on pantry staples (spices, corn starch, oils, etc.) and oatmeal toppings I keep on hand (nuts, dried fruit, etc.).

  • Meat: 1 1/2 pounds Perdue Fresh Cuts Diced Chicken Breast and 3 pounds Perdue Fresh Cuts Chicken Breast Strips are on this week’s list because they come ready to cook and reduce my prep (and clean-up) time.
  • Dry Goods: 1 (32-ounce) container old fashioned rolled oats, light brown sugar, dried fruits (including dried cherries), nuts (including smoked almonds), apple cider vinegar, honey, whole-grain Dijon mustard, 10 1/4 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 1 pound dried orzo, 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes or tomato purée, 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, tamari or soy sauce, 8 ounces dried lo mein or udon noodles, 1/2 cup whole roasted cashews
  • Produce: 1 bunch scallions, 10 ounces cruciferous slaw mix,  4 onions, 4 carrots, 4 celery stalks, 1 head garlic, 1 (12-ounce) bunch flat-leaf kale, 1 lemon, 1 package fresh basil, 8 ounces (2 cups) snow peas or sugar snap peas, 2 red bell peppers, 1 small hand ginger
  • Dairy: 1 cup heavy cream, Parmesan cheese
  • Frozen: 1 bag frozen peas, microwaveable brown rice
  • Alcohol/Specialty: 1 bottle dry white wine, 1 bottle Shaoxing wine or dry sherry

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

I have set aside 1 1/2 hours to prep my meals for the week. With all the produce prepared and the chicken already recipe-ready, serving lunch and dinners this week will be quick-assembly affairs.

  1. Prep and package produce and Kale Slaw toppings: Start Power Hour by chopping all the vegetables for the meal plan. I leave the onions and garlic prep for the end so that the other fruits and vegetables don’t taste like the alliums, and I only have to wash the cutting board once. Here’s the produce prep list: Coarsely chop the smoked almonds and 1 cup of dried cherries; juice 1 lemon; thinly slice 1 red bell pepper; dice 1 red bell pepper; dice 4 carrots; dice 4 celery stalks; coarsely chop 1 bunch kale; slice 4 ounces snow or sugar snap peas on the diagonal; slice scallions; dice 3 onions; thinly slice 1/2 onion; mince 9 garlic cloves; and mince 2 tablespoons ginger.
  2. Assemble the meal kits: Combine the almonds, cherries, and sliced scallions in a container and refrigerate for Kale Slaw lunches. Stash about 1 1/2 cups diced onions, the carrots, and celery together in another container and refrigerate. For the lo mein, combine the snow or snap peas, sliced bell pepper, and 1 teaspoon garlic in one container, and store the sliced onion separately. Refrigerate another 1 1/2 cups diced onion and 2 teaspoons minced garlic in their own containers for the One-Pot Tomato Chickpeas and Orzo. Combine the final 1 1/2 cups of the onion with 3 teaspoons garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Store the kale separately. Both of these containers are for the Parmesan Chicken and Kale Saute. For the Chicken and Cashew Stir-Fry, combine the ginger and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes in a small container. Refrigerate the diced red bell pepper and 1 cup of the sugar snap peas together.
  3. Make dressing for Kale Slaw: Combine all of the dressing ingredients (vegetable oil, apple cider vinegar, honey, whole-grain Dijon mustard, and kosher salt) in a small, lidded jar. Twist on the cap and shake.
  4. Make sauce and marinade for Takeout-Style Lo Mein: Combine soy sauce, Shaoxing wine or dry sherry, cornstarch, sugar, and 1/4 teaspoon salt together in a small, lidded jar and label “lo mein sauce and marinade.”
  5. Make sauce and marinade for Chicken and Cashew Stir-Fry: Combine 1 tablespoon minced garlic, cornstarch, soy sauce, rice wine or dry sherry, and salt together in a small, lidded jar and label “Stir-Fry marinade.” In a separate jar, combine chicken broth, rice wine or dry sherry, and soy sauce and label “stir-fry sauce.”
  6. Assemble DIY Instant Oatmeal Cups: I multiply the recipe 2 1/2 times for the 20 servings I need to serve my family for the week. Pulse 2 1/2 cups of oats in the food processor into oat flour then pour into a large bowl. Add the rest of the oats, the sugar, cinnamon and salt and stir to combine. Divide the oat mixture into jars (1 1/2 cups in each) or store in a large container and measure servings each morning.
  7. Grate Parmesan cheese: Grate 1 cup Parmesan cheese and refrigerate in an airtight container.
  8. Refrigerate dinner prep: I store the prepared components of each dinner together in the fridge, so I can grab and go each evening. There’s no need to slice or dice the chicken during the Power Hour since Perdue Fresh Cuts has already done all that for me. Instead, I slide the package of ready-to-go chicken alongside the produce and marinades in my refrigerator.

Breakfast

Breakfasts this week are easy, grab-and-go DIY instant oatmeal cups. Oatmeal keeps my family fueled all morning, and nobody minds eating it every day as long as I offer a variety of toppings. This week I picked up a various nuts and dried fruit from the store to supplement the coconut flakes, mini chocolate chips, and seeds I have stashed in the pantry. All it takes is boiling water or a minute in the microwave to turn these dry oats into a warm and satisfying breakfast.

Lunch

Lunches alternate between Kale Slaw with Honey-Mustard Almonds and Dried Cherries and dinner leftovers. Slaws made from hearty greens stay fresh in the fridge throughout the week. I add the slaw, scallions, nuts and fruit to my lunch container, but keep the dressing separate until I am ready to eat. I’ll portion leftover Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Soup and One-Pot Tomato Chickpeas and Orzo into lunch containers during dinner clean-up.

(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Dinner

  • Monday, Slow Cooker Creamy Chicken Soup: I’m easing into Monday with a crowd-pleasing creamy chicken soup from the slow cooker. The container of chopped onion, carrots, and celery go into a large slow cooker along with 1 1/2 pounds of Perdue Fresh Cuts Diced Chicken Breast. Sprinkle 1/2 cup of all-purpose flour on top and then stir to coat the chicken and veggies. This helps thicken the soup, giving it a rich, velvety texture. Pour in chicken broth and cook on LOW for 8 hours. Just before serving, stir in the heavy cream and frozen peas. I let that cook for another 10 minutes while I get out the pepper grinder, bowls, and soup spoons. I’ll transfer leftovers to spill-proof containers for Tuesday’s lunch.
  • Tuesday, Takeout-Style Chicken Lo Mein: I put a pot of water on to boil for cooking the noodles right when I walk in the door. I give the lo mein marinade jar a shake to dissolve the cornstarch then pour 2 tablespoons of it into a large bowl and toss with 1/2 pound Perdue Fresh Cuts Chicken Breast Strips. From here I continue with the recipe, cooking the noodles and stir-frying the vegetables and chicken strips, adding the cooked noodles and the remaining sauce at the end.
  • Wednesday, One-Pot Tomato Chickpeas and Orzo: This meatless meal is a family favorite. I sauté the diced onion in the Dutch oven until soft, then add the orzo and garlic. Pour in the broth, tomatoes, and drained and rinsed chickpeas. The mixture cooks for just 10 minutes, requiring a stir every few minutes to keep the orzo from sticking. Top each bowl with a dusting of grated Parmesan and a few torn basil leaves.
  • Thursday, Parmesan Chicken and Kale Sauté: I start by seasoning 1 1/2 pounds Perdue Fresh Cuts Chicken Breast Strips with salt and pepper before sautéing them in a large skillet. The golden, cooked chicken strips go onto a plate (covered with foil) while I sauté onion, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Once the onion softens, I add the kale, white wine, and a pinch of salt. The kale takes about 5 minutes to cook. Return the chicken and any juices on the plate to the skillet, sprinkle with grated Parmesan and the juiced lemon.
  • Friday, Stir-Fry Chicken and Cashews: I finish this meal plan week strong but keep that Friday night take-out vibe by making the stir-fry at home instead. I don’t have a wok (yet!) so I heat the largest stainless steel sauté pan in my cabinet. Mix 1 pound Perdue Fresh Cuts Chicken Breast Strips with the stir-fry marinade. Oil and the fresh ginger and red pepper flakes go into a sizzling hot skillet first, followed by the chicken. I add a touch more oil and add the prepared sugar snap peas, bell pepper, and cashews and drizzle in the stir-fry sauce.
(Image credit: Ghazalle Badiozamani)

Perfect for everything from soups to stir-fries, chicken is sure to satisfy every hungry belly at the table. So, whether you cook through this entire Power Hour meal plan or choose just one or two recipes from the list to cook this week, I’d love to hear how you use chicken in your weekly meal prep.

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.