Component Cooking Makes Meal Prep Easy And Stress-Free

Meal prepping should be considered an essential skill for every home cook. Setting aside an hour or two on your Sunday to prepare food in advance will significantly reduce the time you spend in the kitchen during the week, and give you more time to enjoy your favorite post-work activities. However, the idea of eating the same meal for several days can be unappealing to many. Fortunately, this issue can be addressed by adopting "component cooking," which involves preparing basic ingredients instead of complete recipes in advance.

Component cooking allows for versatility by enabling you to mix and match ingredients into different meals. For instance, you can cook some basic rice over the weekend and use it as a base for a curry, grain bowl, or stir-fry throughout the work week. This approach can be combined with traditional meal prepping, particularly on days when you anticipate being extra busy.

When engaging in component cooking, aim to prepare a spread of proteins, vegetables, and starchy grains to create balanced meals throughout the week. Introduce further variety by using your pre-made ingredients in different recipes. For example, leftover roast chicken can be used in a soup one day and in a salad the next, offering diverse and enjoyable dishes.

Keep expiration dates in mind

Once you've decided on the ingredients you want to use for component cooking during the week, it's crucial to consider their individual shelf lives in the fridge. Generally, most leftovers should be consumed within four days. However, some items like deli meats, such as prosciutto, may last longer than a week when refrigerated. Therefore, it's important to determine when the foods you plan to use might spoil. In fact, you can check the expiration date for almost any ingredient using the Food Safety and Inspection Service's FoodKeeper app.

Since most cooked items will not last more than a few days, plan to prepare meals at least twice a week. This approach prevents food waste, and avoids spending your entire weekend in the kitchen.

Storing your component cooking items in the wrong containers is another meal prep mistake that could lead to food poisoning. Refrigeration merely slows the growth of bacteria and other pathogens, so it's essential to ensure that leftovers and pre-made dishes are properly sealed to prevent external contamination. An airtight container also prevents your prepared ingredients from absorbing any odors from the fridge, which could ruin their flavor.

Other tips to make component cooking even easier

If you find yourself running out of fridge space while component cooking, consider freezing some of the base ingredients. Typically, hearty food items like rice, pulled pork, and burger patties handle freezing well. On the other hand, watery vegetables, leafy greens, and fried foods should not be frozen, as the cold can damage their textures and make them soggy upon thawing.

Additionally, not every base ingredient needs to be made from scratch during component cooking. Utilizing store-bought items such as rotisserie chicken or pre-cut vegetables can significantly cut down your time in the kitchen. These items can be easily incorporated into a variety of dishes, such as salads, roasts, and soups. Likewise, pre-made sauces, chili oils, and other condiments are excellent purchases for component cooking, offering a simple way to change the flavors of your base ingredients with minimal effort.

Incorporating leftovers into your component cooking routine is also a handy hack. For example, meal prepping with large takeout orders from places like Texas Roadhouse provides a broad selection of meats, vegetables, and starches that can be used in various meals and munched on throughout the week.