Power Hour Meal Prep

Meal Prep Plan: How I Prep a Week of Summery Slow Cooker Meals

updated Jul 7, 2019
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Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn
Credit: The Kitchn

Often brought out just for wintery soups and braises, the slow cooker is actually one of the best tools for cooking year-round — including in summer! This meal prep plan shows you how to use your slow cooker during the summer months to add flexibility to mealtime, so you can spend the day poolside without compromising dinner. Plus, it keeps you from having to turn on the oven, meaning your kitchen stays cool.

I set aside two hours over the weekend to prep this week of summer meals. I used zip-top bags for this plan, but I try to wash and reuse them whenever possible to reduce waste. You can also substitute reusable food storage containers.

Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

My Meal Prep Goals

  • Breakfast: Balanced breakfasts that are quick to serve, so we can make it to work and swim team practice on time (five days). 
  • Lunch: Cool and crunchy salads and leftovers for my husband and me to pack for lunch (five days). 
  • Dinner: Dinners that make themselves in the slow cooker, so we can spend twilight outside and not in the kitchen (five days). 
  • Nutritional Goals: We have no dietary restrictions, but we try to eat family-friendly meals that include fruits and vegetables and feel right for the summer season.
Credit: The Kitchn

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Feeds: 2 adults and 2 preschoolers for breakfast and dinner, and 2 adults for lunch
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours
  • Meals Covered: About 80% (no weekend meals)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required? Minimal cooking required, but some dinners require assembly.

My Meal Plan

Breakfasts

Lunches

Dinners

Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Patty Catalano

My Shopping List

I always shop my refrigerator and pantry before heading to the store so that I don’t double up on ingredients I already have. I also relied on staples like olive and vegetable oils, kosher salt, and black pepper that I always have on hand. These are the ingredients I bought or used for this meal prep plan.

  • Bakery: Hawaiian dinner rolls, hot dog buns
  • Dry Goods: Old-fashioned rolled oats, apple cider vinegar, red wine vinegar, sesame oil, soy sauce, Dijon and/or whole-grain mustard, maple syrup or honey, vanilla extract, brown sugar, cornstarch, ground cinnamon, ground coriander, ground cumin, smoked paprika, pitted Kalamata olives, salsa, flour tortillas, canned pineapple rings, dried fruit, nuts, canned chipotle pepper in adobo, 2 cans chickpeas, 1 can diced tomatoes, 2 1/2 cups low-sodium chicken broth, tomato paste
  • Produce: 9 bell peppers, cabbage slaw, romaine lettuce, 5 yellow onions, 1 red onion, 1 English cucumber, 1 eggplant, 1 small hand ginger, thyme, basil, chives, 1 lemon, 2 limes, 1 head garlic, 1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, 1 pound zucchini or summer squash, 1 pound tomatoes, 1 1/2 cups grape or cherry tomatoes, avocados or guacamole
  • Meat & Seafood: 3 1/2 pounds beef brisket, 2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 2 pounds Italian or bratwurst sausages
  • Dairy: Shredded Mexican blend cheese, feta cheese, sour cream, unsalted butter, yogurt, half-and-half or heavy cream
  • Alcohol: Beer
  • Frozen: 1 (32-ounce) bag corn kernels
Credit: The Kitchn

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

  1. Make the Granola. In addition to using the slow cooker for dinners, you’ll also use it to meal prep breakfast for the week. This Crunchy Slow Cooker Granola takes 2 to 2 1/2 hours to cook, so get started on it right away. By the time you’re through with meal prep, the granola is ready to cool. Spread it out on a rimmed baking sheet while you wash dishes, then transfer the oats to an airtight container and rinse the baking sheet.
  2. Slice vegetables for Slow Cooker Sausages with Peppers and Onions: Slice 3 bell peppers and 1 onion to ease into the chopping part of meal prep. Transfer the vegetables to a container or zip-top bag, label, and refrigerate.
  3. Prep Slow Cooker Fajitas: Slice 1 onion and 3 bell peppers (just slightly thinner for this recipe), then transfer to a container or zip-top bag, label, and refrigerate. Combine the tomatoes, chipotle pepper in adobo, minced garlic, and spices in another container or zip-top bag. Label and refrigerate that container too. Juice 1 lime and stash the liquid in a small jar.
  4. Prep Slow Cooker Corn Chowder: Combine diced bell pepper (reserve the rest of the bell pepper for chickpea salad) and lemon juice in a small jar, label, and refrigerate. Chop the potatoes, onion, and garlic, then add them to a container or zip-top bag with the sprigs of thyme, salt, and pepper. To keep the potatoes from discoloring upon refrigeration, I pour the 2 1/2 cups of broth directly into the container or bag. Seal the bag, then place in a baking dish to catch any drips, and refrigerate.
  5. Prep Slow Cooker Ratatouille: Follow the recipe, transferring the vegetables to a gallon-size zip-top bag or large container as you chop them. Sauté the onions and finish with the tomato paste as directed, then set aside to cool before adding to the vegetable bag. Do not wash the skillet — it will be used for the brisket sandwiches. Pour in the oil and salt, then close the bag, label, and refrigerate.
  6. Make the Chopped Chickpea Salad (Greek): Make the dressing per the Greek variation of the recipe, then chop the vegetables. Use the bell pepper left over from the chowder topping (it will be slightly less than the recipe calls for, but it cuts down on waste). Toss the dressing, chickpeas, and chopped vegetables. Store the dressed vegetables separately from the lettuce and feta, until the night (or morning) before you plan to eat them.
  7. Slow-cook brisket for Slow Cooker Hawaiian Brisket Sandwiches: This recipe is best served after an overnight rest, so start Monday’s dinner at the end of Power Hour. Sear the brisket in the same skillet used for ratatouille prep, and follow the recipe’s instructions for refrigerating the meat overnight after slow cooking. Once the meat and onions are cooking, slice the pineapple rings and mix the dressing for the slaw in a small jar. 
Credit: Kitchn
Credit: The Kitchn
Credit: Joe Lingeman/Kitchn; Food Stylist: CC Buckley/Kitchn

Breakfast

Starting the day with granola and yogurt keeps us satisfied until lunch. I vary the fruit toppings each day to keep things fresh. This is a big-batch recipe, so even after eating the granola all week, we still have some leftover granola to serve in the coming days.

Lunch

The Greek variation of the Chopped Chickpea Salad is a crisp counterpoint to the slow-cooked suppers I’m serving this week. The chickpeas and veggies marinate in the dressing, making them even more flavorful as the days pass. I store the lettuce and feta separately, assembling the salads the night before to keep the lettuce crisp. On other days, I pack leftover ratatouille with the ends of a baguette and leftover brisket sandwiches for lunch.

Dinner

  • Monday, Slow Cooker Hawaiian Brisket Sandwiches: The brisket tastes best after a long rest, so I cook it at the end of the meal prep session and stash it in the fridge overnight. When it comes time to serve, I slice the brisket, then transfer the slices and sauce to a pan and heat until warm. Meanwhile, slice the Hawaiian rolls and dress the slaw mix. Let everyone build their own sandwiches, and don’t forget the sliced pineapple! Save leftovers for lunch later this week.
  • Tuesday, Slow Cooker Ratatouille: There isn’t a better meal to make when faced with a crisper drawer packed with summer produce. Transfer the prepped ratatouille ingredients to the slow cooker in the morning and cook on LOW for 5 to 6 hours. I can’t use my container garden of basil fast enough, so a big handful of torn leaves gets stirred in at the end. Serve with a slice of crusty baguette, and reserve leftovers for lunch.
  • Wednesday, Slow Cooker Fajitas: In the morning, spread half the tomato-chipotle mixture in the bottom of the slow cooker. Top with the chicken and sliced peppers and onion, then pour the remaining tomato mixture over top. Cook 6 to 7 hours on LOW. When ready to serve, shred the chicken in the slow cooker and toss with the lime juice to brighten the flavor. Serve in tortillas with your favorite toppings.
  • Thursday, Light and Fresh Slow Cooker Corn Chowder: In the morning, add the prepped corn chowder ingredients to the slow cooker. Reserve 1/2 cup of frozen corn kernels for the relish; add the rest to the slow cooker. Cook on LOW for 8 hours, until the potatoes are very tender. Blend a portion of the soup in the blender (or use an immersion blender), then finish with half-and-half and butter. Ladle into bowls and serve with the fresh corn relish on top. I’ll dress the rest of the romaine lettuce with a bottled vinaigrette to serve with the chowder.
  • Friday, Slow Cooker Sausages with Peppers and Onions: This is usually a meal we make on the grill, but we’ve got a neighborhood pool party to attend. I know we’ll be too hungry to wait for the coals to warm by the time we make it home, so this slow cooker variation is just right for summer. In the morning, add the prepped peppers and onions to a slow cooker with mustard and beer. Arrange the sausages on top, cover, and cook for 6 hours on LOW.

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The best thing about summer slow cooking is that dinner is ready when you are. I hope this plan showed you that slow cooker meals aren’t all pot roast and chili. They can be full of fresh summer produce too! So while summer schedules are their own kind of busy, with dinner prep already done you can make it to swim team on time or simply make it home without worrying about what to put on the table.

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.