Whether you’re trying to save money by bringing lunch to the office, or you don’t have enough time to cook dinner during the week, meal prep can save time, help you shop smarter, get your money going further, and Helps you eat healthier.
Ask any dedicated meal prepper and they’ll tell you that the most important part of meal prep is planning. Allyson Spungin, a certified personal trainer, nutrition coach, and national NPC contestant, says, “Make a plan! Plan your meal and snack ideas before you grocery shop or order online.” Self-proclaimed Jessica Woo of Bento Box Queen agrees. “Routine is everything,” she said.
Part of developing that plan and creating a routine that works for you is investing in a set of food storage containers that fit your needs. We talked to meal prep experts about their favorite meal prep containers, plus other tips and tricks to make you a meal prep pro.
A terrarium like this can be helpful if you want a quick look at what’s inside. However, these are not partitioned, so they are best for pasta or casseroles served on their own. When it comes to storing prepared meals, Woo says you should “put hot food and cold food in separate containers to make it easier to reheat your hot food.”
Experts agree on the importance of planning, but there are different approaches to meal prep, emphasizing that it’s not a one-size-fits-all proposition. “I encourage people to think of meal prep as an act of self-care rather than a way to stick to strict dietary rules,” says Cara Harbstreet, a registered dietitian who specializes in intuitive eating. “A helpful trick I’ve learned is to think of my meals as an assembly line rather than individual, well-prepared meals,” says Harbstreet. The pipeline approach offers more options and flexibility.
“Glass mason jars are my favorite freezer food storage container,” says Kristen Hong, who documents her freezer meticulously organizing and preparing meals on Instagram. “The clear glass helps you easily see what’s available in the fridge, and the jars are stackable so you can maximize vertical space.” She uses the 16-ounce size to store homemade dips and sauces, fresh herbs, and chopped Crumbled produce for what she calls her “in-fridge salad bar.”
Another thing about Hong’s beloved mason jars is that they come in a variety of sizes, so you can gather a collection to suit many different food storage needs. She uses 32-ounce mason jars to store homemade soups and prepared salads, as well as pantry items. “Mason jars of this size are also great for dry pantry drying of beans and grains,” says Hong.
Collapsible meal prep containers are useful when you’re done eating but don’t want the bowl to be on the way home or take up too much space in your cupboard. These leak-proof containers are refrigerated and ideal for those with limited space.
Produce spoiling in the fridge is a frustrating part of meal prep; these produce storage containers help keep expensive fruits and vegetables fresher for longer.
Salads can be a hassle when preparing meals because you don’t usually want to mix all the ingredients together until you’re ready to eat. Try this leak-proof round container for your next meal prep, which even comes with a plate and dressing cup for a to-go salad.
One problem with salads is that if you leave them out too long before eating, they can become a messy, soggy mess. These leak-proof, BPA-free plastic condiment containers are perfect for keeping salad dressings and sauces separate from meals until you’re ready to eat.
Spungin offers a final piece of advice for those new to cooking: “Don’t. Get. Hungry!” She stresses the importance of having nutritious snacks on hand to help prevent poor food choices due to hunger. Buying treats in bulk and storing individual portions in these eco-friendly Stasher silicone storage bags will save money and reduce packaging waste.
These 3-compartment plastic containers are perfect for those who are meal prepping because you can portion the meal, heat it in the microwave, and toss the container in the dishwasher when you’re done.
A stainless steel lunch box like this one is good for your wallet and the environment. This eco-friendly food storage container features three removable compartments that you can swap out to plan your meals just the way you want.
We settled on this BPA-free plastic set from Bentgo not only because the container is cute, but it also includes an optional divider to create a fourth compartment. Customization is key to meal prep containers that will last you week after week.
It’s always handy to have a variety of containers of different sizes. In this 42-piece set from Rubbermaid, the covers snap onto the base so you never lose them.
Keeping portion sizes in the fridge can also help keep boredom at bay. Kevin Curry, founder of Fit Men Cook, says: “The No. 1 tip I have for people who are just starting out with meal prep is that it doesn’t have to be boring. Boring recipes make it more challenging to stick to a cooking routine.” .”
These storage containers have built-in lid vents to keep food from splattering too much in the microwave while reheating food.
Cook a lot and use these BPA-free, leak-proof meal prep containers to store food so you can easily have meals ready throughout the week. “I choose some protein sources like chicken and shrimp and carbohydrate sources like rice and sweet potatoes [and] Have fats on hand, like olive oil and avocado, to mix in,” says Spungin.
These versatile freezer containers have it all: they’re microwave, dishwasher, and freezer safe, and the leak-proof, BPA-free snap-on lids have built-in vents so you can microwave food with the lids on to prevent messy splashes.
These leak-proof and freezable round glass containers are perfect for storing homemade soups and stews in the freezer. This line of BPA-free food storage containers ranges in size from 1 cup to 8 cups, and the lids are interchangeable so you can build a set that meets your exact needs.
This planner makes meal prep easy. This mat features a tear-off shopping list and space for weekly meal planning, and sticks directly to the fridge to keep you on track.
Spungin assigns a day to cook, and to reduce stress, suggests scheduling it on a day when you have few other things to do. “Not leftovers? Choose two prep days,” she says. “For example, the first half of the week is Sunday and the second half is Wednesday.”
Woo incorporates meal prep into her existing schedule. “I like to prepare meals when dinner or lunch is already ready,” she says. “Cook like you’re cooking for 7 people and freeze individual meals,” which can be defrosted for a quick lunch or dinner.
Don’t let anyone tell you that meal prep isn’t delicious. Read this book from author Chungah Rhee for some inspiration for your upcoming meals, from breakfast to snack foods.
The idea of cooking all your meals at once can be daunting. Author Cassy Joy Garcia hopes to help solve that problem in this book, which provides instructions on how to make batch cooking easy.
All experts stress the importance of stocking your kitchen with the essentials for successful cooking. Spungin recommends investing in basic cookware, storage containers, measuring tools, spices and cooking oil. “That way all you need is food,” Curry added. “Don’t forget a quality cutting board and chef’s knife!”
If you’re in the market for a new supply, check out our picks for the best kitchen knife sets and best cutting boards.
Woo encourages new meal preppers to start small. When you’re first starting out, she says it’s a good idea to plan out weekly, “so you don’t overwhelm yourself.” Likewise, she says new cooks should stick to simple recipes. “It’s comfortable doing basic things,” she said. “Start with simple recipes you’re familiar with and it will get easier over time.”
Timing can be a challenge for those who are new to cooking or who are not used to preparing a lot at once, but a kitchen timer can solve both problems.
The experts we spoke to love small appliances that make meal prep easier for them. One way the Woo makes things easier is by using the food chopper to chop up lots of vegetables at once, which can be eaten cooked or raw.
Curry also relies on small appliances. “I couldn’t live without my Instant Pot Duo Plus and my Breville Smart Oven.” Spungin also really likes the Instant Pot and her air fryer, which she says are both great time savers. “The Instant Pot is great for cooking bulk foods like soups, chili, stews, and more. You can slow cook while you tackle the rest of the prep.”
An air fryer might also be a good option if you want to make your favorite foods without excess oil or calories, as opposed to other cooking methods like frying.
Curry stresses the importance of learning to multitask in the kitchen. “When I’m preparing meals, I’m juggling three, four, five things. I’m sweating. I’m jumping around the kitchen like I’m Remy from Ratatouille ’” He says preparing food this way not only saves him a lot of time, but also makes meal prep a more engaging and enjoyable activity. Turning on music or a favorite podcast while getting ready can help make the time go by faster and make it fun. Read our review of the Echo Dot 5th Gen here.
Curry has another tip for fighting the boredom of meal prep and saving some time: “Don’t be afraid of leftovers. Get creative with them! One of my favorite things is experimenting with a batch of leftovers to see what I can do What’s quick, cheap, and delicious.” To prevent food waste, Harbstreet says to clearly label your prepared meals so you know how long you’ll need to eat them.