Meal Prep Plan: How to Turn One Hour of Cooking into a Week Where You Don’t Cook at All
With temperatures rising across the country this week, the last thing anyone wants to do is head into a hot kitchen. And although it can be really tempting to skip cooking altogether in favor of ice cream (or breakfast cereal), just one hour of using the oven can set you up with a week’s worth of breakfasts, lunches, and dinners that require zero cooking.
This Power Hour Meal Prep Plan is for those of us who want to skip cooking altogether when it gets any hotter than about 75°F, but who still want to eat well throughout the week. We’ll walk you through what to buy to make meal prep easier, and how to heat the oven for just one hour over the weekend to bake breakfast and make a few dinner staples for the week ahead.
My Meal Plan Goals
- Breakfast: My husband and I need quick and cooling breakfasts that can be eaten on the go but will keep us full until lunchtime. The kids mostly eat fruit and cold cereal for summer breakfasts.
- Lunches: I work from home and my husband’s schedule varies from day to day, so I find having both an option he can pack and something big batch that I can turn into salads works best for us.
- Dinners: We live in high dessert — so late afternoon and evening are the hottest parts of the day. Balanced meals that don’t include heating the house are a must.
- Nutritional Goals: My family is quite omnivorous, but we try to eat a variety of vegetables and fruits every day and keep meat and seafood to a minimum — both for our budgets and our health.
Meal Prep Plan Snapshot
- Feeds: 2 for breakfast and lunch, 4 for dinners
- Prep time: 1 hour of cooking
- Meals covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
- Weeknight cooking required: None, save for toasting some bread, if you like.
My Meal Plan
My Shopping List
Try not to be intimidated by the length of this shopping list. There’s a lot of produce, but most of the pantry ingredients were already in our cupboard. Buying a single rotisserie chicken will cover both the shredded chicken and the BBQ chicken (just add your own sauce) and keep you from turning on the oven.
- Produce: 2 medium heads broccoli, 1 medium head cauliflower, 2 medium English cucumbers, 3 medium red or yellow bell peppers, 1 pint grape or cherry tomatoes, 1 small head red cabbage, 1 small head romaine lettuce, 2 bunches kale, 24 ounces broccoli slaw, 2 cloves garlic, 3 medium red onions, 1 1/2 cups fresh or frozen corn kernels, 1 bunch carrots, 1 bunch radishes, 2 oranges, 2 apricots, 1 peach or nectarine, 1 pint strawberries, 1 bag cherries, 1 pint blueberries, 3 medium bananas, 1 lime, 1 bunch mint, 1 bunch cilantro, 1 bunch parsley, 1 3-inch knob ginger
- Meat & Seafood: 1 rotisserie chicken
- Refrigerated: 1 pound extra-firm tofu, 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese, 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese, 1 container hummus
- Frozen: 1/4 cup shelled and cooked edamame
- Pantry: Creamy Caesar salad dressing, ranch dressing, 1 (11-ounce) can mandarin oranges, fried chow mein noodles or fried wonton wrapper strips, 2 (6-ounce) cans wild salmon, 2 (15-ounce) cans chickpeas, pitted kalamata olives, rolled oats, wheat bran, unsweetened coconut flakes, dried apricots, dried cherries, dark brown sugar, smooth peanut butter, sliced almonds, raw pecans, raw pepitas, roasted peanuts, roughly chopped or sliced almonds, rice paper wrappers, soy sauce, Dijon mustard, Sriracha, olive oil, rice vinegar, toasted sesame oil, red wine vinegar
- Spices: Salt, ground cinnamon, smoked paprika, chaat masala
- Other: Garlic bread, pita or pita chips, baguette
Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done
Here’s the deal: We want to get everything into the oven so we can be done in an hour, so the muesli, baked tofu, and roasted vegetables get prepped and cooked in quick succession. Then, you can pretty leisurely do a little chopping, mixing, and packing while everything cooks.
- Bake muesli: The muesli bakes at the lowest temperature, so start it first, spreading the oats and nuts onto separate baking sheets. Total bake time is about 15 minutes. Prep the tofu while the muesli bakes.
- Bake tofu for broccoli tofu bowls: Crank the oven up for the tofu and, to help the tofu cook faster, cut it into smaller pieces. Don’t skip pressing the tofu (even if you only do it for a few minutes).
- Roast vegetables for the hummus bowls and banh mi: Instead of grilling the cauliflower for the sandwiches, I’m roasting it alongside sweet potatoes and red onions for the hummus bowls.
- Make peanut dressing for broccoli salad: While the vegetables roast, mix up a quick peanut dressing that will top basic broccoli slaw and be used as a dip for chicken spring rolls.
- Chop and wash greens: Prep the salad greens, chop the vegetables for the pickles in the banh mis, and chop the cucumber and cabbage for the chicken spring rolls.
- Make chopped chickpea salad: More chopping, but by this point the vegetables will be out of the oven and the kitchen will be cooling.
- Prep kale Caesar for wraps: I want to make sure my husband has a few wraps prepped in the fridge that he can quickly pack, but the rest of the salad is stashed (without the wrap) for me to eat at home.
A Week of No-Cook Dinners
I alternated between the chopped chickpea salad and kale Caesar (no wrap) all week, but ran out of both for Friday and had leftovers of the hummus bowls instead. Next time I’ll pack the kale Caesars and their wraps separately for my husband’s grab-and-go lunches, as he noted that the wraps got soggy by Tuesday.
Monday, Chinese Chicken Salad Spring Rolls: Okay, so we did not actually eat this meal as spring rolls (I had grand ambitions, but we were a bit too lazy to even wrap them). Instead, we ate them as a big dinner salad — crunchy noodles, peanut dressing, and all.
Tuesday, Tofu and Broccoli Salad with Peanut Butter Dressing: I was pleasantly surprised by how crisp the baked tofu stayed in the fridge. We skipped reheating the tofu in the microwave and ate these cold on the hottest day of the week.
Wednesday, Upside-Down BBQ Chicken Bowl: I did heat the grill on Wednesday night for garlic bread! You could easily use a toaster oven to keep things truly no-cook. This was my family’s favorite meal of the whole week.
Thursday, Smoky Roasted Vegetable Hummus Bowl: Hummus bowls are always a dinner win in our house, and we opted for pita chips instead of toasted pita to keep things cool.
Friday, Cauliflower Banh Mi: I’m obsessed with these sandwiches! Any worry about not grilling the cauliflower and toasting the bread was gone as soon as that spicy Sriracha mayo hit my mouth.
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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.