Photography: Travis Rathbone

Cooking your own food is one of the most effective things you can do to improve your diet, but it can be difficult to find the time to whip up every meal – especially during the working week. To help, American chef, author and TV personality James Briscione has come up with this plan for a week’s worth of meals which takes little planning, uses very few ingredients and – after the first day – can be made in no more than 15 minutes.

Does a whole week of chicken dinners sound a bit samey to you? Never fear, since NHS guidelines suggest leftovers should be refrigerated and eaten within two days, you’ll need to freeze some meat anyway, making it easy to space out the suggested meals. Just make sure the meat’s fully defrosted and then warmed through before eating.

1. Roast two juicy whole chickens

To have enough chicken for the week, roast two birds at once. Rub both with olive oil and season with salt and black pepper. Stuff one with halved lemons and the other with fresh thyme and a head of garlic cut in half. Roast at 190°C/gas 5 till the thighs register 75°C on your meat thermometer (50–60 minutes). Carve one breast and serve with rice or quinoa and fresh spinach sautéed with garlic and onion.

Smart move: Buy loads of spinach, make extra rice, and chop a ton of garlic and onion to use all week.

2. Toss it into a veggie rice bowl

Cook some brown rice – it’s high in fibre and filling, with a nutty flavour, and you can get ten-minute boil-in-the-bag kinds. Sauté onion and garlic in 1tsp olive oil, then add a breast’s worth of chopped chicken and cook for another minute. In a bowl, mix the chicken, onion and garlic with the warm rice and some fresh spinach. Toss in your choice of walnuts, almonds, tomato or dried cranberries. Dress with vinaigrette.

Smart move: The world’s easiest vinaigrette: olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard and a little honey, shaken. Store any leftovers in the fridge.

3. Stir it into a robust stew

Using V8 juice as a stew/soup base sounds crazy but is fast and tasty. Boil small potatoes in a saucepan, then drain half the water and add V8, chicken stock, chopped celery, frozen peas, sweetcorn and green beans, and canned chickpeas. Carve meat from drumsticks and wings, sauté it with garlic and onion, and add the pan, then simmer for ten minutes. Spice it up with cumin, coriander, chilli powder or hot sauce. Top with sour cream or grated cheddar.

Smart move: Don’t skimp on celery – it adds major flavour (especially the leafy tops, if you can find them).

4. Whip up some glazed thighs

Heat two thighs in a nonstick pan with garlic and onion. Add soy sauce, sesame oil, rice vinegar, ground ginger and a pinch of sugar. While it cooks (about ten minutes), steam some leftover rice and fresh broccoli.

Smart move: Super-short on time? Use teriyaki sauce and thinned with rice vinegar as a glaze instead.

5. Mix it with pasta, cheese and greens

It doesn’t get much easier than this. Make linguine or another pasta, and drain all but 250ml water from the pan when it’s done. Add one chopped breast, olive oil, lemon juice, ricotta (it has the most whey protein of all cheeses), parmesan and fresh spinach. Heat for two minutes.

Smart move: Make a big batch of salad with spinach, onions and mushrooms and use it all week to add to pasta, sauté for scrambled eggs, etc. To keep it fresh, layer paper towels over it, close it, and put it upside down in the fridge. Replace the towels every two days.

6. Stack it on an Italian-style sub

Toss a sliced chicken breast with sliced peppers and onions, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, dried basil or oregano and salt and pepper. Cut a long roll in half, brown it under the grill, then layer on the chicken mix and some tomato and mozzarella. Put it back under the grill till the cheese melts (three to four minutes). Top with basil leaves or pesto.

Smart move: To make the pesto last longer, freeze any extra in an ice cube tray, store the cubes in a freezer bag and use them as you need them.

7. Finish it off with a zesty soup

In a saucepan, mix a bag of frozen sweetcorn, rosemary, chopped garlic and onion, diced red pepper and green onion, salt, pepper and chicken stock. Simmer for 15 minutes. Use an immersion blender to purée the soup till some (not all) is smooth and thick, then stir in 60g yogurt. Chop two chicken thighs and heat in a pan with olive oil, garlic, and chili powder. Add that to the soup and top with sour cream or yogurt.

Smart move: Choose red peppers over green – they have twice as much vitamin C.

This article first appeared in the US edition of Men’s Fitness