With many of us heading back to the office or back to school, there will be no stopping for a minute to run to the kitchen and stir that pot of beans (or toss the laundry into the washing machine, for that matter). Add in commuting time and, for many of us, the late summer will probably mean a return to dinner as that daily task awaiting us when we get home.

So when I saw this oh-so-simple idea in “The Fit Foodie Meal Prep Plan” (Tiller Press, 2020) by Sally O’Neil, the self-described “fit foodie,” I decided flipping through it might help reboot my brain into after-work cooking mode.

O’Neil is a big advocate of working ahead on food, and her efficient cookbook is all about making smart, simple choices to get the job done.

“If you want fine-dining options to wow your highbrow guests, you’ve picked up the wrong book,” she writes. Her focus is cutting down on cooking time and making meals that you can prepare in advance, then assemble with little effort. She dishes out shortcut ideas, such as turning your refrigerator into your own personal salad bar by prepping various ingredients and gathering an arsenal of simple vinaigrette and sauce recipes you can whip up into a tempting bowl. And she encourages buying microwaveable grains and stocking up on your favorite spice blends.

One of her tips is to cook once and eat twice — or, as was the case with this Sheet Pan Chicken 3 Ways, three times.

For this dish, you divide a sheet pan into three compartments with foil — or just use three separate small pans, if you prefer. In each compartment, you place boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut into bite-size pieces. Then you cover each with its own spice rub or flavorful paste. The chicken bakes quickly and leaves you with three flavors to play with in the days to come.

If you have the time and imagination, you can go beyond her suggested flavoring suggestions, make your own spice blends or pull out your favorite store-bought condiments or mixes. Try chicken thighs in place of the breast or sample proteins, such as quick-cooking shrimp or sliced pork. You could add thinly sliced onion, minced garlic or diced carrots to the chicken before you bake it, but I tried it just the way she suggested.

It took just under 20 minutes to throw together and 20 minutes to bake. The first night, I turned the barbecue-flavored chicken into tacos by tucking them in microwave-steamed corn tortillas and adding jarred salsa and avocado. On the second night, I put the maple-sesame flavored protein on top of room temperature soba noodles tossed with toasted sesame seed oil, peanuts and scallions, with lime and sriracha on the side. For the third night, I reheated the rosemary-and-lemon chicken and its drippings and complemented it with warm pita and a green salad.

Each was satisfying and allowed me to make dinner on each subsequent night in about 20 minutes, which was just what I needed after a long day at the office.

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Ingredients

For the chicken

  • 3 large boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 2 1/2 pounds total), trimmed of visible fat and cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt or table salt
  • 1 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
  • Seasoning mixes (below)

For the spicy barbecue mix

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons smoked paprika
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or more to taste

For the maple-sesame mix

  • 2 tablespoons white or black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger

For the lemon-rosemary mix

  • Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary or 2 teaspoons dried

Step 1

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees. Line a large, rimmed baking sheet with an extra-long piece of foil, with a few inches of overhang on both short sides.


Step 2

Place the chicken on the foil-lined baking sheet, drizzle with the olive oil and lightly season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, toss the chicken to ensure it is well-coated.

Divide the chicken into three equal portions. Pinch the foil to form two walls in the foil, creating three separate cooking areas.

Step 3

Gather three small bowls for each of the seasoning mixes. In one, stir together the chili powder, smoked paprika, garlic powder, onion powder and cayenne until combined. In another, stir together the sesame seeds, maple syrup, garlic powder and ground ginger until combined into a thick paste. In the third, stir together the lemon zest, juice and rosemary until combined.


Step 4

Season each section of chicken with a different seasoning mix. Toss and rub the mixture into the chicken pieces; make sure the pieces are in a single layer. Bake for about 20 minutes, or until cooked through with an internal temperature of 165 degrees.


Nutrition Information

Per serving (Scant 3/4 cup with spicy barbecue)

Calories: 275; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 121 mg; Sodium: 482 mg; Carbohydrates: 3 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 41 g

Per serving (Scant 3/4 cup with maple-sesame)

Calories: 342; Total Fat: 14 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 121 mg; Sodium: 419 mg; Carbohydrates: 11 g; Dietary Fiber: 3 g; Sugar: 6 g; Protein: 42 g

Per serving (Scant 3/4 cup with rosemary-lemon)

Calories: 263; Total Fat: 10 g; Saturated Fat: 2 g; Cholesterol: 121 mg; Sodium: 417 mg; Carbohydrates: 2 g; Dietary Fiber: 1 g; Sugar: 1 g; Protein: 40 g

This analysis is an estimate based on available ingredients and this preparation. It should not substitute for a dietitian’s or nutritionist’s advice.


Adapted from “The Fit Foodie Meal Prep Plan” (Simon and Schuster, 2020) by Sally O’Neil.

Tested by Ann Maloney; email questions to voraciously@washpost.com.

Did you make this recipe? Take a photo and tag us on Instagram with #eatvoraciously.