You can save meal prep time by cooking chicken – or use turkey leftovers – for three meals.

Nearly 30 years ago, my husband and I remodeled our home. We lived without a kitchen for over six weeks.  Many of my “go to” meals are still on the menu today. You can cook once and enjoy three different meals.

I use this same approach now with leftovers, such as turkey from Thanksgiving or a weekend roast.

Back during remodeling, I was cooking for my husband, myself and our two boys, 3 and 5 years old. I would use my electric skillet and cook a large batch of our weekly cooked meal.

Without a full service kitchen, I wanted to consolidate my food prep. I washed, trimmed, and cut all the vegetables in one session.

I sautéed the vegetables in a small amount of vegetable oil (olive, canola, corn, etc) in my non-stick large electric skillet. My husband would grill boneless, skinless chicken breasts or thighs (or another lean protein).

Once the chicken was done, checked by a food thermometer for 165 degrees F, it was transferred to a clean platter and cut into pieces. Two-thirds of the chicken was portioned into a clean shallow (2 inch) pan for proper chilling [see my PRO COOKING TIPS below].

My go-to base recipe during the remodel was red and yellow peppers and onions – fresh in season either in my garden or low cost at the store. Once the strips of vegetables were sautéed until tender, I divided the vegetables into three amounts.

Note: You can also find frozen mixtures of these vegetables year around and simply heat the number of bags needed per recipe.

Two portions were placed in separate containers – with no more than 2 inches of cooked vegetables in each. These were properly chilled [see my PRO COOKING TIPS below] for use later in the week.

To the vegetables that stayed in the pan, I added fresh minced garlic. I cooked the garlic for couple minutes more to bring out the flavor. This became the Italian style meal listed below.

While I feature chicken here, this is a perfect way to use leftover turkey. Any lean protein will work.

Here’s the three meals I create.Chicken and Vegetables for 3 meals

Notice that each one includes more vegetables to meet daily recommendations of the DASH eating style.

For proportions, I use 2 cups of vegetables and about 3 ounces of meat (think the size of a regular deck of cards) per adult person with 1 to 2 cups of rice or pasta, often whole grain.

Italian Style
Sautéed peppers and onions with minced garlic
Fresh spinach, added to the cooked vegetables and heated to wilt the leaves
Pieces of hot, cooked chicken
Marinara sauce, to coat the mixture to your taste preference

Serve over cooked
Spiralized summer squash noodles, or
Pasta – today there are so many more choices from multigrain, whole grain and lentil-based.

Easy Teriyaki Stir-fry
Minced fresh ginger, to taste
Chilled, sautéed peppers and onions
Chilled, cooked chicken pieces
Reheat the chilled vegetable mixture and chilled cooked meat to 165 °F

To the heated mixture, add
Fresh broccoli florets (or frozen), cooked to firm tender in microwave and drained
Snap peas
Heat thoroughly over medium heat. Heat mixture until snap peas become tender.

1 small can of pineapple juice
1 cup water
2 Tablespoons of low sodium teriyaki sauce
2 Tablespoon of cornstarch

Pour the liquids in a 3-cup container. Mix the cornstarch into the liquids until fully dissolved.
Add the liquid mixture to the hot vegetable chicken mixture and stir constantly as the sauce thickens.

Serve over brown rice.

Fajita Wraps                                               

Chilled, sautéed peppers and onions
Chilled, cooked chicken pieces
Reheat the chilled vegetable mixture and
chilled cooked meat over medium heat to 165 °F

While mixture is heating, drain and rinse a can of black beans (or other favorite bean)
Add beans to heated mixture

Spoon mixture into

Flour Tortilla (whole grain choices available)
Top with
Shredded Cheese
Diced avocado
Fresh chopped cilantro leaves

PRO COOKING TIP#1: How to safely chill food prepared in advance

Use a shallow pan, 2-inches deep and lightly cover with either a lid or plastic wrap lightly over the top with air vents for the heat to escape. Or for liquids, use a 4-inch deep pan filled only half way, 2-inches deep to prevent spills.

Place in the refrigerator with plenty of space for air to circulate. The temperature of the food should be below 70 °F within two hours and below 41 °F within another 4 hours to prevent food borne illness.

Cover tightly and use within 4 days.

PRO COOKING TIP#2: How to safely reheat leftovers

Reheat to 165 °F internal temperature (that holds for 15 seconds) within 2 hours or less.

You can save time in the kitchen by batch cooking for three great meals.
• Change out the chicken for other lean protein sources, such as leftover turkey
• Vary the base vegetables to switch it up week to week.
• Change the noodle shape or layer the mix in cooked lasagna noodles and roll up for interest.
• Try a sweet and sour or orange sauce in the stir fry for additional variety.
• Toss the chilled fajita mix on a bed of lettuce for a main dish salad or add to chicken broth,
corn, and diced chiles for a flavorful tortilla soup option.

Looking for more ways to use leftover turkey or grilled chicken? Both can be used in my other recipes : Recipe for Glazed Beans 
DASH Diet Recipe: Easy Avocado Beet Citrus Salad


How to cook once for 3 meals