Welcome to Make/Buy/Zhuzh, a series where we plan a dinner party with three components: one thing you make from scratch, one thing you buy straight off the shelf, and one thing you accessorize to completion.
The meal prep craze can be quite daunting. All that chopping, slicing, mixing, cooking, and portioning can sometimes take a full day to get all your meals ready for the week ahead. But if you’re looking to save time and avoid too much actual cooking, TikTok has come to the rescue (per usual) with meal prep catering.
Meal prep catering involves bulk ordering menu items from a restaurant or catering service, then portioning out and storing your meals for the week. a A wide range of restaurants provide catering menus or platters that offer your favorite dishes in huge portions. But with over 1,600 locations across America, Chili’s Grill & Bar is one of the most accessible options for meal prepping. With receipts coming in anywhere between $50-$70 for up to eight meals, you’ll be paying close to what you would at the grocery store.
Chili’s is a meal prepper’s paradise. You’ll find portions designed to feed a small crowd on the “Party Platter” menu, which can easily be divided into your own food storage containers to cover a week’s worth of meals. And don’t think you’ll get bored with the same ol’ same ol’ here. There are many options to choose from when it comes to Chili’s-inspired meal prep, whether you want to simply buy and portion your prepared food as is, zhuzh up the famous restaurant chain’s Southwestern menu, or leave the cooking all to yourself.
Here’s how to do a some of each:
For something on the leaner side, we recommend ordering the “Party Platter Fajita Trio” for meal prep, a move made viral by content creator @clfrga. The Party Platter Fajita Trio comes with fajita vegetables, shrimp, steak, and chicken (but you can feel free to make substitutions). It also comes with Mexican rice, beans, and tortillas, as well as the obviously necessary sides of salsa, shredded cheese, sour cream, and guacamole.
@clfrga divvied up their meals by whipping out the kitchen scale and portioning out 3 ounces of protein across eight containers, followed up by ¼ cup of veggies, ¼ cup rice, ⅓ cup of beans, and toppings in each meal, resulting in lunches that cost less than $10 each. If you don’t have a scale handy, you can use your eyeballs for easy guessing.
Everyone needs a little culinary variety throughout the week, though. @yae.gets.fit turns their Chili’s Fajita Trio components into a simple veggie-packed stir fry. We recommend sautéing the shrimp and veggies along with leftover rice in a large pan, then adding extra vegetables to bulk it up (think: asparagus, snap peas, or broccoli).
For textural diversification, make use of any extra tortillas that come with your Party Platter. Make easy taquitos by rolling up tortillas with beans and shredded cheese. Secure them with a toothpick, spray the tops with oil, and pop them into the oven or air fryer (different manufacturers will have different specifications for time and heat). While they get crispy, make a quick dipping sauce by combining ranch seasoning with sourcream and a squeeze of lime.
You can even take that same idea for breakfast. Just scramble some eggs and wrap them up in tortillas with the beans and cheese, and a necessary drizzle of hot sauce. Any extra breakfast burritos can get tucked into the freezer (just roll them in foil and find a freezer-proof container!) for a semi-homemade microwavable option on the go.
One thing you sadly won’t find on the Party Platter menu is Chili’s addictive Skillet Queso, which is normally served with a mountain of tortilla chips. Fortunately, registered dietician Zach Coen (@zacoen) has recreated the gooey, cheesy goodness of Chili’s favorite starter by turning it into a high-protein, low-calorie skillet pasta instead of a carb and cheesy heavy app. We got inspired to make our own meal-prep version of this internet-famous dish — with ingredients you’re sure to find at your local grocery store. This skillet queso pasta comes together in 30 minutes or less, and is ideal for big batch cooking, as it portions out into six meals that taste just as good the first day you make it as they do throughout the week. The not-so-secret ingredient in any great queso is Velveeta, which delivers both an unmistakable meltiness and satisfying decadence that you’re craving after a long day.
Skillet Queso Pasta
Time: 30 minutes
1 lb lean ground beef
2 Tbsps tomato paste
1½ tsps chili powder
1 tsp garlic powder
1 tsp onion powder
½ tsp ground cumin
2 cups (8 oz) 2% Velveeta cheese
1 (4 oz) can diced green chiles (optional)
1 cup nonfat milk
Juice of 1 lime
Salt, to taste
1 box (16 oz) pasta
Fill a large pot with water, generously season it with salt, and bring it to a boil. While your water comes to a boil, make the sauce.
Brown the ground beef over medium-high heat in a large, deep skillet, about 7-10 minutes. Once browned and cooked through, lower the heat to medium, and add the tomato paste to the pan. Stir and cook for an additional 1-2 minutes. Add the chili powder, garlic powder, onion powder, and cumin to the pan, and sauté for an additional minute.
Next, add the Velveeta, green chiles, milk, and lime juice to the beef mixture. Taste and adjust the seasoning as needed. Lower the heat and allow the sauce to simmer while you cook the pasta.
Boil the pasta according to the package instructions for al dente. Once cooked, drain the pasta and immediately add it to the sauce.
Serve warm, or allow to cool and then portion into containers. Skillet Queso Pasta will last up to one week in an airtight container in the fridge or up to three months in the freezer.
Photographer: Paul Quitoriano
Stylist: Mary Rupp
Art Direction: Sarah Ceniceros