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There’s a reason why meal prep has taken off over the last ­decade: It’s a convenient way for many folks to plan and execute recipes. With just one day of cooking, you can have a whole week’s worth of nourishing, ready-to-reheat dishes at arm’s reach.

But this method isn’t without its drawbacks. Though plenty of people love the ease of cooking only once a week, just as many battle boredom from eating the same meals day in and day out, especially because preprepped dishes tend to lose their freshness and vibrancy over time.

Fortunately, there’s a solution for all the home cooks out there who want to take a more minimalist approach to meal prep: component cooking, which is the practice of preparing separate ingredients in advance so they’re at the ready in your fridge or freezer. It’s like having a handful of shortcuts to a variety of flavorful dishes — a real boon for healthy eating when hunger closes in, explains Michelle Tam, best-selling author of Nom Nom Paleo: Let’s Go!

Like meal prep, this approach can help you stick to your grocery budget, reduce food waste, and cut back on your time in the kitchen. Component cooking still involves planning, but it’s not as rigid as meal prep and offers more flexibility across different lifestyles and taste preferences.

Tips for Using Fresh Produce

Vegetables are the cornerstone of component cooking, and stocking your fridge with chopped raw broccoli, squash, carrots, bell peppers, or whatever is in season provides you with a wealth of nutritious ingredients to choose from come mealtime. “Some of my go-to components include prepped vegetables,” says Danielle Walker, best-selling author of Healthy in a Hurry. “These can be used as building blocks for countless dishes, from salads to hearty bowls, stir-fries, and more.”

She also advocates thinking about fruit as a prep component. “I slice and store them in containers for easy snacking or adding to meals. Berries are great for breakfast bowls, while apple slices can be paired with almond butter as a healthy snack or thrown into a salad.” Squeeze a bit of lemon juice over sliced apples to prevent oxidization, and store prerinsed berries in a container lined with paper towels to absorb excess moisture.

Like a musician improvising a solo, pick and choose the elements to create your culinary masterpiece. Use veggies to make a stir-fry (try our Thai Stir Fry recipe), or toss them in a chopped salad (like this one). Feeling fruitier? Check out our smoothie bowl recipes.

More Tips on Component Cooking

Component cooking is a clever approach to meal prep that will help you save time and money while allowing you to whip together flavorful and healthy meals during the busy week. Learn how to prep, store, and use several various components in “Easy Meal Prep: How to Start Component Cooking,” the source of this article excerpt.

Camille Berry

Camille Berry is a wine and food writer based in San Francisco.

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