You already know the slow cooker is your secret weapon for busy weeknights. Simply dump ingredients in the morning, and come home to a comforting meal at the end of a long day. But it’s even easier to use it to meal prep for the week ahead. Whip up a big batch of protein that you can spin into fresh dinners for days. Chicken thighs are leaner than pork or beef, and they pack protein, iron, and B vitamins. Season them lightly, so you have juicy shredded chicken that’s ready to fold into soups, salads, wraps, and so much more.
Here’s a healthy meal plan that let’s you make one big braise to eat well all week. If you’ll only be home a few nights, you could just make the sandwiches, tacos, and curry. The salad and chili round out the menu, but they’re also easy to cut. Each recipe makes two servings, but you can easily double up, if you’ve got more mouths to feed. This plan covers Sunday through Thursday, leaving the weekend open for leftovers. There’s a shopping list for what to buy, with a few pantry staples at the bottom—check to make sure you have those on hand before getting started.
FRUITS & VEGGIES
Shredded purple cabbage (or coleslaw mix)
1 bag (5 oz/155 g) mixed greens
1 small pumpkin or butternut squash (about 4 cups chopped)
2 red bell peppers
1 rib celery
1 small jalapeño chile
1 bunch fresh thyme
1 bunch fresh basil, preferably Thai
8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 3 lbs/1.5 kg)
Blue cheese crumbles
Whole-wheat burger buns
Small whole-wheat tortillas
BBQ sauce, low sodium
1 can (15 oz/470 g) diced tomatoes, no salt added
1 can (15 oz/470 g) black beans, no salt added
1 small jar Thai red curry paste
1 can (15 oz/470 g) coconut milk, light
Salt and pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
Chicken stock, reduced sodium
Dried bay leaves
Weekend Meal Prep
Over the weekend, slow cook the chicken, so you have juicy shredded meat for the rest of the week. Season the 8 chicken thighs with salt and pepper. In a large frying pan over medium-high heat, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Working in batches, brown the chicken thighs, about 3 minutes per side. Transfer to a slow cooker and add ½ cup (4 fl oz/125 ml) chicken stock. Cut ½ onion, 1 carrot, and 1 rib celery into chunks and add to the slow cooker, along with a few sprigs of thyme and a bay leaf. Cover and cook on the low setting for about 4 hours, until the chicken is incredibly tender. Transfer the chicken to a board, remove and discard the skin and bones, and shred the chicken. Store the shredded chicken in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you like, strain the chicken stock, discarding the vegetables, and reserve for another use.
Sunday: BBQ Chicken Sandwiches with Crunchy Slaw
For dinner tonight, make succulent pulled chicken sandwiches. In a bowl, combine 2 shredded chicken thighs with 2 tablespoons barbecue sauce and toss to coat. Place 2 whole-wheat burger buns on plates. Divide the dressed chicken between the buns. In a small bowl, place 2 handfuls shredded purple cabbage. Drizzle with 1 teaspoon each fresh lime juice and olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt, and toss to coat. Top the sandwiches with the slaw and serve.
365 calories, 25 g protein, 15 g total fat, 3 g saturated fat, 33 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 11 g total sugars, 8 g added sugars, 486 mg sodium
Monday: Crunchy Salad with Apples & Pecans
Get fresh with a crunchy salad. Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C). Place the 2 cups chopped pumpkin, cut into bite-size pieces, on a baking sheet, and toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Roast until tender, 20 minutes. Cool completely. Core and thinly slice 1 apple. In a bowl, place the roasted pumpkin, sliced apple, 2 small handfuls pecans, 2 shredded chicken thighs, and the mixed greens. Sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle with 2 tablespoons vinaigrette, and toss to coat. Place the salad on plates, sprinkle with 2 tablespoons blue cheese crumbles, and serve.
433 calories, 25 g protein, 28 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 24 g carbs, 5 g fiber, 13 g total sugars, 2 g added sugars, 342 mg sodium
Tuesday: Chicken Tacos with Salsa & Avocado
Fold tender braised chicken into tasty tacos. In a large sauté pan over medium heat, warm 1 teaspoon olive oil. Add 1 bell pepper, seeded and chopped, and sauté until tender, 3 minutes. Add ½ cup corn and 2 shredded chicken thighs, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon each ground cumin and chile, and stir to warm through. Place 4 small tortillas on plates and fill with the chicken mixture. Top each taco with a spoonful of salsa fresca and a couple of slices of avocado, and serve warm.
467 calories, 28 g protein, 22 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 41 g carbs, 10 g fiber, 6 g total sugars, 0 g added sugars, 520 mg sodium
Wednesday: Three-Bean Chili
Take a break from chicken, and pull out your slow cooker again for a rib-sticking chili. In a large frying pan, warm 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add ½ chopped onion and sauté until tender, 5 minutes. Add 1 clove garlic and 1 chopped jalapeno chile and stir until fragrant, 2 minutes. Add 1 teaspoon chile powder and ½ teaspoon cumin and stir until fragrant, 30 seconds. Transfer to a slow cooker and add 1 can diced tomatoes, 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained, ½ cup chicken stock, and 1 bay leaf. Cover and cook on the low setting for 3 hours, until the flavors have blended. Serve warm, topped with diced avocado, if you like.
310 calories, 15 g protein, 8 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 45 g carbs, 18 g fiber, 7 g total sugars, 0 g added sugars, 329 mg sodium
*Not including avocado for topping.
Thursday: Pumpkin Chicken Curry
Warm up with chicken curry, the best way to get cozy on cold nights. In a pot, add 1 tablespoon red curry paste, 1 cup light coconut milk, 1 cup chicken stock, juice of ½ lime, 1 teaspoon fish sauce, 1 teaspoon brown sugar, and whisk to combine. Add 2 cups chopped pumpkin, cut into bite-size pieces, submerging them in the sauce. Bring to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the pumpkin is tender when pierced with a fork, 15 minutes. Add the remaining 2 shredded chicken thighs and 1 bell pepper, seeded and thinly sliced. Cover and continue to cook just until the chicken is heated through. Stir in a handful of fresh basil last. Serve warm over brown rice.
456 calories, 20 g protein, 14 g total fat, 8 g saturated fat, 63 g carbs, 6 g fiber, 8 g total sugars, 2 g added sugars, 506 mg sodium
*Including 1 cup cooked brown rice per serving.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for medical diagnosis or treatment. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.