A very important part of Meal Prep is what I call Meal Components. Meal Components can be portioned out in family-sized portions or individual portions, whichever is appropriate for your needs. You can use different kinds of containers for your Meal Components. The important thing is that you have variety in your meals when you use Meal Components.
The basic premise of a Meal Component is that it allows you to choose each element of your meal individually, rather than having one specific meal each time. You choose your meat/protein, starch/side, and veg separately, put them all on a plate, and microwave them. If you want to have a sit-down meal with the whole family, simply portion your Meal Components into family-sized portions, always allowing one or two extra servings in case someone wants seconds.
There are some simple rules to follow when making Meal Components. Always make your Meal Components in serving sizes that you and/or your family will regularly eat. Make the foods you and your family like, and a lot of them. Rotate your recipes for each Component for variety. I’ve said before that you should devote about 2-3 hours per Meal Prep session, and do it at least a couple of times a week. Making Meal Components is perfect for this. You can make your menu, gather your ingredients, do any chopping or other prep work the night before, and have a couple of things going at the same time. Always remember to let hot foods cool about 30-45 minutes before packaging them up in your containers. Here’s a list of things I like to make as Meal Components.
Meat: Any meat will do, raw or cooked. For whole pieces of meat, such as pork chops, chicken breasts, or steaks, you’ll need those fold-flap baggies. Simply take a baggie, turn it inside-out, put your hand in, grab the meat, and with your free hand pull the baggie right-side-out around the meat. Then fold the flaps over to secure. Depending on the size of the pieces, you’ll be able to fit up to a dozen pieces in a gallon-sized resealable bag. Simply take out as many as you need, thaw them in the fridge, and cook/reheat as desired.
For precooked ground, chopped, or shredded meat, portion it out into 2-cup servings. This is equal to about a pound raw. You figure between ⅓ to ½ cup per serving, so two cups will serve between 4-6 people. It’s also the perfect amount of precooked meat to make most casseroles and other one-pot meals. You cut your cooking time by a lot when you use precooked meat. Just thaw it in the fridge at least overnight before using it in your recipe.
Pasta: Pasta should be cooked to a little less than al dente. You want it to still be a bit chewy because being in the freezer causes it to soften over time. Remove it from the heat up to 30 seconds before the lowest cooking time indicated on the package. Long pastas such as spaghetti can be frozen in resealable baggies or lidded containers as is, for up to 3 months. Small to medium shapes, such as shells or macaroni, should be tossed in butter or olive oil and spread in a single layer on a 1″ deep baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment. Put the whole sheet in the freezer for 2-3 hours, then remove it and portion it out as desired. Return to the freezer until ready to use.
Rice, Grains, Beans, and Legumes: These can be cooked exactly as you normally do and portioned out according to your needs. They will all stay good in the freezer at least 3 months. One pound (raw) of each of these foods equals approximately two cups. Figure between ½ to ¾ cup (cooked) per serving of each. This also goes for things like cooked oatmeal or cream of wheat. You can do potatoes, but if you want them to retain their crispy texture you’ll be disappointed. Fried potatoes will become soggy, and you’ll need to pop them in the oven for about 5-10 minutes. I’d stick with just mashed potatoes for freezing.
Fruit: Whenever I buy fresh berries or grapes, I simply wash them, removing any stems and other debris. I let them dry on a paper towel for a couple of hours, then I measure them a cup at a time. I put each portion into a snack-sized baggie and into the freezer as is. They stay good up to 2-3 months. When I pack my lunch, I’ll often use a pack of berries as a chill pack to keep my sandwich fresh. By the time I’m ready to eat, it’s mostly thawed.
Sliced apples, peaches, etc., can be frozen, too. You may want to buy something like Fruit Fresh to keep the fruit from darkening. You can put together your smoothie packs this way. Simply prepare the ingredients as usual and put each smoothie portion into an appropriate size resealable bag. Take it out and put it in the blender as usual.
Fresh or Frozen Vegetables: Prepare your fresh vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower as usual. Measure one cup per serving, into either snack-sized baggies or whatever size baggies/containers will fit the amount your family typically eats in a meal. Cook as usual.
For frozen vegetables, first thaw them in the fridge overnight. Place them into a colander set over a bowl (the liquid that drains can be saved and added as a portion of the cooking water for things like rice, beans, etc.), and portioned out the same as fresh vegetables. I would NEVER freeze things like leafy greens, because they will get soggy once they thaw. Onions, carrots, celery, and other vegetables can be chopped and frozen. Freeze them the same as pasta shapes, and then bag them. They can be put into a pan to cook straight from the freezer.
Breads: Any bread can be frozen up to 3 months. If you’re a savvy home baker, you can make tons and tons of rolls of any kind and freeze them. I really prefer the resealable baggies for freezing my breads, but use whatever storage method you want.
You can make your own Texas toast. Buy Texas toast bread, which is available at most well-stocked grocery stores. If you don’t like the heels, save them to make breadcrumbs or croutons. You need to make a compound butter to make your Texas toast (or garlic bread, if you prefer). One stick of unsalted butter is usually enough to spread over one side of each slice in an entire loaf of bread, unless you like it to be ridiculously thick.
To make a compound butter, soften your butter until you can easily stir it around with a fork. Then add in your favorite seasonings to taste. You’ll need to buy (or make, but it’s harder and more time-consuming) waxed paper sheets that are about 5″ square and are marketed for people who like to make stacks and stacks of burger patties for the grill. You can buy them online for super cheap. When you’ve buttered your slices of bread, simply place a patty paper on the buttered side and put it into a sandwich-sized resealable baggie. No need to thaw first, just remove the paper and put it on a heated pan to toast.
Desserts: If you want to freeze something such as a cake or brownies, do not frost it first. The frosting rarely survives the freezer, and besides, it gets messy in the baggies or plastic wrap! Other than that, all baked desserts except for pie can be frozen; only freeze unbaked pies, and always include baking instructions. Also, I would never freeze a custard-based pie such as pumpkin. It tends to get watery and separate during freezing.
Both baked cookies and cookie dough can be frozen. If you’re doing dough, there are a few ways you can freeze it. First, you can portion it out into balls. Place the balls about ½” apart onto a parchment-lined 1″ deep cookie sheet (since you’re not baking them, you don’t need to worry about the dough spreading and turning the cookies into a big blob). Freeze them the same as pasta shapes, and portion them out a dozen or two at a time along with baking instructions. Before baking, make sure they’re totally thawed. You may need to add a couple of minutes to the baking time.
You can also portion them out by either weight or volume into lidded containers. Include baking instructions, and thaw completely before portioning them out to bake. An easy way to portion the dough is to form it into a log shape and cover with both plastic wrap and foil. Label it with baking instructions. When ready to bake, thaw it completely. Slice, place on cookie sheet, and bake as directed.
I hope this guide is helpful in making Meal Components. They’re easy and convenient to do, and all you have to do is choose what you want of each Component for your meal. Please feel free to share your ideas about this post.