Buffet Style Meal Prep for Spring
If you meal prep, then you know how time-saving it can be to have several days worth of meals already stacked away in your fridge or freezer. And if you don’t yet meal prep, it probably looks like something helpful you want to try, or like a nightmare of plastic containers and a mess to clean up in the kitchen that is best suited for people with too much free time on their hands. If you’re in the latter group, this simplified, buffet-style meal prep might be the antidote to your meal prep fears.
Amanda Meixner, is a pro at coming up with colorful menus every week. But, she has an active social life and her weekends are often filled with adventurous fitness pursuits and travel. Sometimes, there’s just not enough time on Sunday afternoon for her usual elaborate meal prep.
She spent this past weekend poolside and exercising in the sunshine in Palm Springs. When she got home, she didn’t skip her meal prep, she just simplified it. She took advantage of fresh spring produce, adding artichokes, whole baby zucchini, and mangoes to her menu that also included some of her favorite staples. After a quick trip to the supermarket, she cooked four types of protein, and steamed some vegetables, and put together some of her favorite raw fruits and veggies for snacks. Then, during the week, she mixed and matched these prepared foods to make colorful meals that were different every day.
It’s easier than it sounds, and you can do it too with the handy step-by-step guide and grocery list included below. Scroll to see what meals she created from the buffet style meal prep.
Depending on your goals and how many calories you strive to eat each day, you might need more, or less, food than Amanda, who eats at the 1,500-1,800 calorie level. You can increase the amounts of her foods, or add some of your favorites. That’s one of the beauties of buffet-style meal prep – you can add or subtract whatever you like.
If this buffet-style meal prep still looks too involved, or you’ve only got half an hour to pull something together, use this simple menu as inspiration, and shop for a variety of precooked foods. You can buy a rotisserie chicken, canned lentils or beans, salad greens and raw veggies, some whole fruits, Greek yogurt, cottage cheese, or hummus. Then, cook just one other meat, like ground turkey with spices, or poach salmon and steam a vegetable.
Here is what Amanda’s springtime buffet-style meal prep looks like:
This week Amanda is eating:
baked chicken breasts
raw baby carrots
mini bell peppers
sautéed Brussels sprouts
steamed baby zucchini
bananas (not shown)
mixed berries (not shown)
baked sweet potatoes
oatmeal (not shown)
balsamic vinaigrette dressing
With buffet-style meal prep, every meal can have variety. Mix and match the foods you want, when you want them. Here’s how Amanda combined these prepared foods into three different lunches:
Meal 1: ½ cup raw mini bell peppers, ¾ cup steamed broccolini, ¾ cup steamed baby zucchini, ¾ cup shrimp, and 1 cup sliced mango
Meal 2: 1 cup raw mini bell peppers, ¾ cup steamed broccolini, ¾ cup roasted Brussels sprouts, 3 oz. baked salmon
Meal 3: ½ cup raw mini bell peppers, 1 cup steamed broccolini, ½ cup cooked lentils, ½ cup cauliflower rice with veggies, 3 oz. baked chicken breast
Follow these simple steps to make Amanda’s buffet-style meal prep:
1. First, roast the sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts. Turn on your oven to 375° F. Scrub two sweet potatoes and place on a baking large sheet. Wash a bag of Brussels sprouts and arrange on the same baking sheet. Drizzle sprouts with two teaspoons olive oil. After 20 minutes, remove the Brussels sprouts. Return the baking sheet to the oven and cook the sweet potatoes about 20 minutes more, or until they pierce easily with a fork. When cool, place sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts in the refrigerator.
2. Next bake chicken breasts. On a second baking sheet or dish, arrange 1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts. Drizzle each with 1 tsp. olive oil and season with salt, pepper, and any herbs or spices you like. Place baking dish in the oven for 15-20 minutes, or until chicken is no longer pink in the middle and juices run clear. Let cool for 20 minutes, then place in refrigerator.
3. Place 8 eggs in saucepan and add enough water to cover the eggs by one inch. Bring water just to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 12 minutes. While eggs cook, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Carefully remove the eggs from the hot water with a slotted spoon and transfer to the ice water. Place in refrigerator.
4. Next, poach salmon filets. Place 1½ lb. of salmon filets in baking dish (skin-side down if it has skin). Drizzle with fresh herbs if you have them, lemon juice, and season with salt and pepper. Add water to submerge salmon halfway. Cover the baking dish with aluminum foil and bake for 18 to 22 minutes, or until salmon flakes easily when tested with a fork. Thinner filets will cook faster, so start checking the fish after 15 minutes.
5. Bring water to a boil in a large pot with a steaming basket. Place two artichokes in the basket, with the stems pointing up, and cover the pot with a lid. Cook until tender when the base is pierced with a knife, about 30–45 minutes. Remove artichokes from the steamer basket, but leave the heat on. Allow the artichokes to cool, then place them in the refrigerator.
6. Place broccolini in steamer basket. While broccolini cooks, prepare a large bowl of ice water. Steam broccolini until cooked to your liking, about 4–5 minutes. Remove it from the steamer basket, but leave the heat on. Let the broccolini cool, and then place in the refrigerator.
7. Repeat the above steps with the whole baby zucchini or chopped large zucchini. Cook whole baby zucchini for 3–4 minutes, or chopped zucchini for 1-2 minutes, or until done to your liking. Turn off heat. Let the zucchini cool, and then place in the refrigerator.
8. Next sauté the cauliflower rice. If you bought cauliflower florets instead of pre-cut cauliflower rice, place them in a food processor and pulse until the cauliflower resembles rice. Heat 2 tsp. olive oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add mixed pre-chopped vegetables or frozen vegetable which have been thawed. Cook the vegetables for 2–3 minutes until just soft. Add cauliflower rice and cook 1–2 minutes more. Season with salt and pepper if desired.
9. Clean the sauté pan you just used, and place it on a burner over medium heat. Add 2 tsp. olive oil and add 1 lb. peeled cocktail shrimp. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring frequently, until the shrimp is pink and opaque. Season with salt and pepper or a spice blend if desired. Let the shrimp cool for 20 minutes, then place in the fridge.
10. Amanda makes her oatmeal each morning, cooking ½ cup dry old fashioned rolled oats in 1 cup water. If you prefer to cook your oatmeal ahead of time, heat 5 cups water to a boil over medium heat. Add a pinch of salt if desired. Add 2½ cups oats, turn heat to medium-low, and cook, stirring frequently, for 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool. When oatmeal has cooled, divide evenly between five food storage containers (about 1 cup oatmeal each).
11. Peel and slice four mangoes. Place in refrigerator.
12. Place frozen, shelled edamame in a food storage container. Place in refrigerator.
13. Place pre-cooked or canned lentils in a food storage container. Place in refrigerator.
1½ lb. salmon
1½ lb. boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 lb. shrimp
1 dozen eggs
2 bags broccolini (or broccoli)
2 bags Brussels sprouts
2 bags baby carrots
1 bag mini bell peppers
1 package fresh Asian-style vegetable mix
1 bag cauliflower rice (or 1 small cauliflower)
2 cartons mini zucchini
2 medium artichokes
2 large sweet potatoes
2 medium avocados
1 carton edamame (or 1 bag frozen edamame)
4 medium mangoes
8 small bananas
3 cartons mixed berries
2½ cups old-fashioned rolled oats (not shown)
2 packages cooked lentils (or 2 cans lentils)