How to Cook Healthy Meals for the Week in Under an Hour

The key to weight loss and weight maintenance is a smart organization strategy for shopping for and making food. One of the best skills you can learn is meal prep.

If you have a healthy meal ready to eat when you're hungry, you're more likely to stick to portions that will help you reach your health, fitness, or weight-loss goals.

Here are some easy-to-follow instructions to guide you through the entire process of healthy meal preparation, storage, and reheating.

Create Your Healthy Meal Prep Grocery List

A woman in a grocery store with a cart full of food, using the shopping list that's on her iPhone.

 RunPhoto / Getty Images

Many people choose to do their weekly shopping and cooking ahead on Sunday, but you do your meal prepping whenever you have an hour or so to spend in the kitchen.

Before you begin to prepare your week's worth of healthy meals, you need to have all of your ingredients. Here are some essentials to add to your grocery list:

  • 4–6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts: Each of your six meals should contain 3–5 ounces of protein. If you don't like chicken, choose lean pork, fish, or lean beef. If you are a vegetarian, consider hearty beans or tofu.
  • 12 pounds green vegetable: This meal plan example uses green beans, but you can use any green, low-calorie veggie that can be steamed on the stovetop, such as Brussels sprouts, broccoli, and asparagus.
  • 1 pound brightly colored vegetables: Add a pop of color to your meal with a colorful vegetable. Carrots are a great option because they are cheap, easy to cook, and nutritious.
  • 6 medium potatoes: Stick to Yukon gold potatoes or red potatoes. Russet potatoes are often too big to keep portions in check and are more cumbersome to prepare.

You'll also need six resealable containers to store your meals, such as Ziploc 3.5 cup round containers. Look for a container that creates a good seal and can be easily stacked in the refrigerator.

Wash and Steam the Veggies

The first step in preparing your meals is to get your vegetables ready for cooking.

  1. Wash all your vegetables.
  2. Trim the ends off of the green beans and throw them in a colander.
  3. Rinse the beans under the faucet.
  4. Peel and slice your carrots.
  5. Steam each of your vegetables separately on the stovetop.

It should only take about 10 minutes for vegetables to cook. To avoid mushy veggies, make sure not to overcook them. You'll know they're done when you can pierce them with a fork.

Wash and Steam the Potatoes

While your green veggies are steaming, you can get to work on prepping your potatoes. These will also be cooked on the stovetop, but separate from your veggies. The potatoes will also take more time to cook.

  1. Scrub the potatoes.
  2. Pierce each potato with a knife.
  3. Steam on the stovetop for about 20 to 30 minutes.

If you don't like potatoes, you can also use a healthy grain like wild rice, couscous, or flavored quinoa.

Grains are a good source of fiber. Grains like quinoa, also provide a healthy dose of protein.

Roast and Slice the Chicken

To prepare the chicken breast, start by laying each breast out on a baking sheet.

To add flavor, sprinkle with salt and pepper. If you want to add some crunch, try sprinkling flavored bread crumbs. You can also drizzle on some balsamic vinegar for a more savory taste.

  1. Place the baking sheet into an oven that has been preheated to 375 degrees.
  2. Roast for 20–30 minutes until the chicken is fully cooked.
  3. Cut each breast into thick slices.

You can use other parts of the chicken if you prefer. While often more expensive than other parts, boneless, skinless chicken breasts are generally the leanest cuts and require the least amount of prep work to prepare.

Keep in mind that nutrition facts for different parts of the chicken can vary. Be sure to factor this in when you're calculating the overall calories of your meal.

Assemble Your Meals

Once all of your ingredients are cooked, it's time to assemble your healthy meals for the week. Stocking a diet-friendly refrigerator leaves you plenty of space for healthy protein snacks and drinks.

  1. Place one potato in each resealable container.
  2. Add a big handful of green and a few colorful vegetables.
  3. Toss in a few slices of chicken breast.
  4. When your meal is laid out, tightly seal each container.
  5. Stack the containers in your fridge or freezer. 

Keep a few meals in the refrigerator to use in the next couple of days, and the rest in the freezer for later in the week.

Each meal provides approximately 260 calories, 3 grams of fat, 17.4 grams of carbohydrate, and 31 grams of protein. The nutrition in your meal may vary depending on your portion sizes.

Reheat Prepped Meals

To reheat your healthy meal, simply grab a container from the refrigerator and pop it into the microwave.

  1. Cook on 70% power for 1 minute.
  2. Remove the container from the microwave and place the chicken on a separate, microwave-safe plate.
  3. Heat the remaining ingredients in your container on high for 2–3 more minutes.
  4. Add the remaining ingredients to your plate and you're ready to eat!

To prepare a frozen meal, remove it from the freezer and let it thaw in the freezer overnight. Then follow the same instructions (above) for reheating. 

These prepared meals are low in calories, leaving you room to add your favorite sauces or condiments. Just keep extras in moderation to make sure the meal stays low-calorie.

You can try drizzling a low-sugar barbecue sauce on your chicken, adding butter to your potato, or sprinkling almonds on top for a little crunch.

These meals work well for a quick, nutritious dinner, or you can pack and reheat them for lunch. Need breakfast ideas? Try a nutritious 300-calorie breakfast that you can prep for the week.

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