How to Meal-Prep on Sunday for a Week of Easy Dinners
Busy weeknights call for easy dinners. These simple dinners require minimal prep to get to your table, thanks to a little work at the beginning of the week that cuts down on total cook time. In this meal-prep dinner plan, we'll have you prep a few key elements that come together to create five complete meals for four people. The total prep time comes in at 1 1/2 hours and while there's some effort up front, the time you get back during the week is well worth it. If you're strapped for time, you could always buy preprepped ingredients, like pouches of cooked quinoa, bottled Italian dressing, and a rotisserie chicken-just know the dressing and chicken in particular will likely be higher in sodium than what we have you making here. The shopping list is already made and the plan is already mapped out, so all you have to do is shop and get prepping.
What to Meal-Prep Ahead of Time
Get this easy prep done and out of the way to make for a week of simple and easy dinner. Before you get started, here are the storage containers you'll want to gather to hold all the prepped food:
- large container for the chicken
- 5-cup container for the quinoa
- large mason jar (24- to 32-oz.) for the dressing
- 4-cup heatproof container for the sauce
- 1-cup container
- 7-cup container
- 8-cup container
1. Roast Chicken Thighs
Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Place 5 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 1 1/4 lb.) on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp. ground pepper and 1/4 tsp. salt. Bake the chicken until an instant read thermometer inserted in the thickest part registers 165 degrees F, 14 to 16 minutes. Let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
2. Cook Quinoa
Combine 3 cups low-sodium chicken broth, 1 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil and 1/4 tsp. salt in a large saucepan. Bring to a simmer over high heat. Stir in 1 1/2 cups quinoa and return to a simmer. Reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook, covered, until the liquid is absorbed and the grains have burst, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from heat, cover and let stand for 5 minutes. Spread the quinoa on a rimmed baking sheet to cool to room temperature, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a 5-cup container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Makes: 5 cups
3. Make Italian Dressing
Combine 3/4 cup red-wine vinegar, 5 Tbsp. water, 1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar, 1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard, 1 large clove garlic, 2 tsp. each dried basil and oregano, and 1/2 tsp. each salt and pepper in a blender. Puree until smooth. With the motor running, slowly add 1 3/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil and puree until creamy. Transfer to a large mason jar. Refrigerate for up to 1 week. Makes: 2 1/2 cups
4. Make Cheese Sauce
Heat 4 Tbsp. (1/2 stick) butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat until melted. Add 1/4 cup all-purpose flour and whisk constantly until thickened and just starting to turn light brown, 2 to 3 minutes. Slowly add 3 cups reduced-fat milk, whisking constantly. Cook, stirring often, until the mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon, 10 to 12 minutes. (Don't let it boil.) Remove from heat and, a handful at a time, whisk in 2 1/2 cups Cheddar and 1/3 cup Parmesan cheese until smooth. Stir in 1/2 tsp. salt. Transfer the sauce to a 4-cup heatproof container and let cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Refrigerate for up to 5 days. Makes: 4 cups.
5. Prep Vegetables
Cut 1 small cauliflower into florets, about 1-inch wide. Finely chop 1 cup of the cauliflower and transfer to a 1-cup container. Trim 8 oz. Brussels sprouts and halve (or quarter if large). Combine the remaining cauliflower florets and the Brussels sprouts in a 7-cup container.
Peel 4 medium carrots and 2 medium parsnips into 1-inch pieces. Cut 1 medium broccoli crown into large florets, about 1 1/2 inches wide. Combine the carrots, parsnips and broccoli in an 8-cup container. Refrigerate for up to 5 days.
Your Weekly Meal Plan
Using the ingredients you prepped ahead of time, these easy dinners come together in under 45 minutes. Some of the recipes are ready in only 15 minutes and some require a little extra cook time. This week of impressive homemade dinners will help you stress less during the busy week and impress everyone around the table.
Monday: One-Pot Mac & Cheese with Cauliflower & Brussels Sprouts
This recipe takes the already prepped Brussels sprouts and cauliflower florets and mixes them with the premade cheese sauce to create a creamy one-pot pasta in a quick 20 minutes, from start to finish. These veggies in this easy pasta recipe help bulk up the dish and keep it filling. The generous 2-cup portion is sure to satisfy.
Tuesday: Chicken, Avocado & Quinoa Bowls with Herb Dressing
Arrange the toppings individually on these protein-packed grain bowls so each bite has a contrasting taste and texture. Make big batches of the salad dressing, quinoa and roasted chicken thighs and you'll have healthy meal-prep lunches or dinners for days. Though the chicken thighs take just 15 minutes to prep, you can also make the salads with leftover chicken or store-bought cooked chicken to make prep even faster.
Wednesday: Cheesy Beef Enchilada Casserole
This impressive-looking casserole is actually super easy to make. A quick mixture of ground beef cooked with frozen corn, chopped bell pepper and simple spices get layered between corn tortillas along with the ready-made creamy cheese sauce to create this mouthwatering enchilada-style casserole. This veggie-packed dish is mild, so put out hot sauce and chopped jalapeños if you're feeding heat-seekers. While the casserole bakes, whip up the simplest coleslaw salad ever using bagged slaw mix and the Italian dressing that was made during your meal-prep session.
Thursday: Italian Roasted Pork Tenderloin with Vegetables & Quinoa
The Italian dressing from the meal-prep session is used in this recipe to marinate the pork so it stays juicy and flavorful when cooked. The pork needs to marinate for at least four hours, but can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours ahead, so be sure to plan accordingly. The preprepped carrots, parsnips and broccoli and the cooked quinoa make for an easy, speedy meal. To top it all off, a store-bought balsamic glaze adds a sweet and savory finishing touch.
Friday: Pesto Chicken Cauliflower Pizza & Antipasto Salad
Frozen cauliflower pizza crust is topped with prepared pesto, shredded mozzarella cheese and the meal-prepped chicken thighs and cooked until crispy. While the pizza cooks, whip up the easy antipasto-style salad made from iceberg lettuce, the finely chopped cauliflower from your prep session, pepperoncinis, pepperoni, cherry tomatoes and the rest of the Italian dressing.