How to Meal Prep for the Week and 3 Recipes to Try
Chicken can be one of the leanest and most versatile types of proteins out there but if you find cooking it to be tricky, you’re not alone. There’s a fine line between dry, stringy chicken and a piece of chicken breast that’s undercooked.
If you want juicy, flavorful chicken that’ll elevate your cooking game, you’ve come to the right place. And we’ll save you time, too. The trick for enjoying healthy chicken dinners during busy weeknights is to meal prep in advance.
Meal Prepping with Fresh Chicken
Step #1: Skip the rinse, pat-dry instead
Surprise: it’s actually safer to not rinse your chicken before you prep it. Washing raw poultry makes it more likely that you’ll splatter and contaminate the sink and kitchen surfaces with bacteria. Save time and go straight to the pat-dry stage using clean paper towels.
Step #2: Trim the fat
Once your chicken is dry, trim off any excess fat. Because of its higher fat content, chicken thighs and drumsticks will need more trimming than breast. If you buy chicken with the skin on, you’ll want to remove the skin to reduce calories and saturated fat.
Step #3: Fillet to cut down your cook time
Bought a packet of whole chicken breast? It’s likely too thick to cook quickly. No matter. Fillet each breast by holding it down on a cutting board with the palm of your hand. Then, safely run a very sharp knife horizontally through the side.
Step #4: Add the flavor
Give your chicken a rub with oil, salt and pepper. Add lemon, garlic or a spice mix if you want. If your chicken is fresh out of the fridge, let it rest for 20 minutes so it can get down to room temperature.
Step #5: Make your chicken extra tender
Place your raw chicken between two sheets of saran wrap and pound away with a meat mallet. The mallet tenderizes your meat by softening the muscle fibers. Try using a rolling pin or large skillet if you don’t have a mallet.
Step #6: Choose your cooking method
What cooking method should you use? That depends on what you like and how much time you have. Sautéing chunks of chicken is the fastest way to go. Broiling, grilling, roasting or pan-frying are dry heat cooking methods. These methods cause your chicken to brown, sear or caramelize, so it tastes more complex. You do run a slightly greater risk of drying out the chicken.
Here’s a chart of eight popular methods to cook chicken breast. Remember, safety first! Use a meat thermometer to check if the internal temperature reaches 165 degrees F.
|Cook Time||Cooking Method||Heat Setting or Temperature||Notes|
|5-8 min||Sauté||Medium-high (stove top)||Cut chicken into 1-inch chunks.|
|8-10 min||Broil||Broil (oven setting)||Requires a marinade to prevent chicken from drying. High risk for dry chicken. Flip the chicken halfway through cooking.|
|15-20 min||Instant pot||High pressure||Requires 1 cup broth or liquid. Works without thawing frozen chicken.|
|12-16 min||Grill||Medium (grill setting)||Requires oil rub. Flip the chicken halfway through cooking.|
|14-18 min||Pan-Fry||Medium-high (stove top)||Lighter than deep-frying but you get a golden crust. Try a non-stick spray and/or non-stick pan.|
|15-20 min||Roast or bake||375 degrees F (oven setting)||Requires oil rub.|
|30 min||Poach||Medium (stove top)||No fat added. Uses water and aromatic ingredients (e.g. onion, garlic, pepper, herbs).|
|4-5hr||Braise in crockpot||Low (crockpot setting)||Uses liquid and seasoning to keep chicken flavorful and tender.|
How to Store Chicken — 2 Ways
Step #7A: Proper storage (for the refrigerator)
After that hard work, you’ll want to keep cooked chicken fresh by moving and storing it properly. First, limit bacteria. Use clean tongs to transfer your chicken into a glass container or, once cooled, into a plastic container. Wait for the chicken to cool completely before placing it in the fridge.
Step #7B: Proper storage (for the freezer)
Apply the same food safety steps as above — limit bacteria by using tongs or another utensil to transfer the chicken. But to freeze the chicken, divide it into meal-sized portion sizes. This step saves your future self from the frustration of hacking into a frozen block of cooked chicken. Finally, wrap the chicken tightly with freezer paper or place in a freezer bag.
Cooked chicken can be stored safely for up to four days in the fridge and up to six months in the freezer.
Meal Prepping With Frozen Chicken
Frozen chicken can last ‘indefinitely’ from a safety perspective, according to the USDA, which allows you to buy in bulk and save money. If you know you’ll be cooking with frozen chicken, use meal prep day to wash, cut and store the other ingredients in your recipe. For example, cut and store the bell pepper, onions and broccoli that you’ll use for a chicken stir-fry. Thaw the chicken the night before you plan to cook.
You can thaw frozen chicken safely one of three ways:
- in the fridge
- covered in cold water
- defrosting in the microwave
Pro tip: Defrosting the chicken on the countertop is not a safe method.
Once thawed, it’s best to cook the chicken immediately.
Meal Prepping With Rotisserie Chicken
Perhaps you still feel that you don’t have the time to batch cook a bunch of chicken. If you’re having one of those weeks, that’s OK. Most major grocery store chains including Costco, Whole Foods, Safeway and Walmart carry pre-cooked rotisserie chicken. Keep in mind that you’ll still need to strip, shred or chop the bird.
The average rotisserie chicken weighs about two pounds and yields about two cups of deboned chicken. Rotisserie chicken also lasts for up to four days in the refrigerator.
Meal Prep Recipes with Chicken
With cooked chicken under your belt, you can face the busy weekdays with culinary confidence! This secret ingredient means a hot meal is just minutes away. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
Easy Chicken & Veggie Quesadilla
Enjoy ooey-gooey chicken quesadilla stuffed with fresh veggies. You can even add beans, lime, guac and salsa to make this meal extra special. For bare basics, you’ll need:
- 1/2 cup cooked chicken
- 1 whole-wheat tortilla
- 1/4 cup Mexican blend shredded cheese
- 1/2 cup chopped bell pepper and onions
Add a little oil into a skillet and lightly sauté the veggies. You can sprinkle in some chili powder for more flavor. Layer the veggies, chicken and cheese onto the tortilla, and fold the tortilla in half. Re-oil the pan and toast the quesadilla until golden on both sides. Expand this idea by making chicken tacos, burritos or nachos!
DIY Chicken Salad
Savor refreshing, cool chicken salad on whole-grain crackers, toasted bread or salad greens. To make the chicken salad, you’ll need:
- 1/2 cup cooked chicken
- 1 tbsp chopped onion
- 2-3 tbsp plain Greek yogurt
- 2 tbsp chopped celery
- 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
Add all ingredients into a small bowl. Mix well and season with salt, pepper and garlic powder, to taste. To add sweetness to your chicken salad, mix in quartered grapes or diced apples. Expand your palate by adding dill, chive or pesto to chicken salad.
Quick Chicken Chili
Take comfort in a warm bowl of chicken chili. For the basic chill, you’ll need:
- 1 tsp cooking oil
- 1/4 onion, finely chopped
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 1/2 cup chopped cooked chicken
- 1/2 of 14.5-ounce can of chicken broth
- 1/2 of 15-ounce can of white beans, drained and rinsed
Add cooking oil and onion to a small saucepan and sauté over medium heat. Stir in the chili powder, chicken, broth and beans. Let it simmer for five minutes, and season more salt, to taste. Then, enjoy with crushed crackers or shredded cheese. Make your chili special by adding garlic, oregano, cumin or jalapeno peppers.
Looking for more recipes? Try our Greek Chicken Bowls, Healthy Chicken Burrito Bowl or Chicken, Strawberry and Spinach Salad with Walnuts.