Just like with Meal Components, Recipe Components make Meal Prep much easier and more convenient. However, instead of having your foods portioned into individual servings, you aim to have them portioned into amounts that are more appropriate for making a full recipe, such as a casserole. You can start by taking your favorite casserole recipe and making large batches of each component of it, then portioning those components into the amounts needed for the recipe.
You can also plan ahead whenever you make a regular batch of something for your Meal Components. It doesn’t take any additional time to make a double batch of rice compared to a single batch, and you can portion it out so you have at least one or two Recipe Components in addition to your Meal Components. The same holds for all the components of a recipe or meal–meats, vegetables, etc.
Batch cooking is a really good practice to get into for making Recipe Components. If you have a signature sauce that you typically make several times a month, make several batches together instead, and portion it into the amounts needed for each recipe you typically use the sauce for. Just remember that one batch of, say, spaghetti sauce, is about 1½ cups. You can make a basic sauce that can then be altered by adding different seasonings or other ingredients to each batch, and in that way you can have an Italian sauce, a Mexican sauce, and a Mediterranean sauce, all with that one big batch. Remember: work smarter, not harder.
This type of cooking is perfect for taking advantage of sales. Before you go to do your shopping for your Meal Prep, look through your local supermarket ads and see what’s on sale that you can buy in large amounts. Don’t be afraid to buy at least a portion of those “10 for $10” deals, so long as you know you’re going to eat the foods in a reasonable amount of time. Remember that you don’t have to buy all ten to get the deal; just buy whatever you know you’re going to use in the next 3-6 months. Also, take advantage of specials on meat, and buy a lot of the kinds of meat you eat a lot of. Most meats can be frozen up to 3-4 months or longer, so you don’t have to use it up right away.
When you go to cook any kind of ground meat, one pound of raw meat will cook down to about two cups. This is perfect for any casserole, and it’s pre-portioned for any recipe that calls for one pound of raw ground meat. Just buy as many pounds as you know you’ll use in the next 3-4 months, and cook it all at once. Let it drain and cool on paper towels for about 15-20 minutes, then portion it into 2-cup portions. Label, date and freeze the portions. When it comes time to use a portion (or two) of the meat, thaw it in the fridge a day or two before you make your recipe. This technique works for chopped or shredded cooked meats as well.
For pasta, you want it to be slightly underdone, a bit chewier than al dente. Remove it from the heat about 30 seconds before the lowest time indicated on the package and drain it. One or two cups is usually about enough for an average recipe, but you can do portions of up to four cups. To freeze small to medium shapes, such as shells or macaroni, first toss it in a bit of olive oil or butter. Line a 1″ deep cookie sheet with parchment and lay the pasta in about a single layer (it’s ok if some of them stick together) on the sheet. Freeze it for about 2-4 hours. Remove it from the freezer and portion it out into either Meal Component or Recipe Component amounts. Pasta can be frozen up to 3 months. Long pastas such as spaghetti can be frozen in the appropriate size container as is. Rice, grains, and beans/legumes can be cooked as you normally do and portioned into recipe sized amounts, and they stay good in the freezer up to 3 months.
Frozen vegetables should always be thawed before portioning them out; this makes it easier to measure them. Fresh, canned, and cooked vegetables can be portioned as is (drain the canned veggies first). For a Meal Component, I measure my veggies into 1-cup servings, and for a Recipe Component it’s 2-4 cups, depending on what my recipes say and whether I want to do a single or double batch of the recipe.
There are some things you should never freeze. All leafy greens will go soggy on you once you thaw them. If it’s precooked, like spinach, it may be ok. Just remember that there is a lot of water in some vegetables, and that will affect how they come out, especially if they’re going to be used in a recipe. If you do need to drain a frozen vegetable as it thaws, keep the resulting liquid. You can use that liquid as a portion of your rice or pasta cooking liquid. Waste not, want not!
Recipe Components offer ease and convenience for your Meal Prep. Your choices are almost endless, and you have variety and creativity in your Meal Prep endeavors. Feel free to drop me a comment about this post. Do you have any ideas that haven’t been mentioned here?