Meal prepping is taking the world by storm as the healthier, cheaper, portion-controlled alternative to packing or buying individual lunches every day. The practice of making large batches of meals to be consumed throughout the week can be as difficult or easy as you make it, but one of the most fundamental (and overlooked!) things to consider is whether you have the right containers to store and transport your food. From glass to plastic, from containers to bags, each method has its pros and cons, so before buying just any old thing, you'll want to think carefully about specific needs and explore your options.
We've all seen someone pull a container out of their bag with at least one rubber band holding the contraption together. Don't let that become you.
The only thing worse than opening your bag to find your container has come loose and strewn the contents of your lunch everywhere is the paranoia that follows you everywhere from that day on. Feeling like you have to handle your bag with frustrating fragility so you don't provoke another spill, and checking the inside of the bag constantly in case your lid has failed you again. That's no way to live your life, so invest in an air-tight, leak-proof lid.
Most lids are some form of snap-on, but certain models will offer more security than others. You'll want to spring for the kind with additional latches that hook on to all four sides, as opposed to the ones that simply align with the container's edge. As hazardous as it sounds, the best way to test a container's lid is to fill it with liquid and give it a good shake, even if you don't plan on transporting many soups. You may even want to give that container a good drop to see if the lid stays in place!
Another thing to keep in mind is that some microwavable containers will have buttons on the lids that snap open and shut to serve as ventilation for steam. Carefully observe how effectively these click shut to make sure they're exceptionally sturdy and won't open up on their own by accident.
For a secure plastic option try Rubbermaid Brilliance Food Storage Containers. This BPA-free, stain-resistant set offers airtight seals and latches, plus a 100% leak-proof guarantee.
If you're looking for a glass alternative, Snapware Glasslock Tempered Glass Food Storage Containers are also airtight and leakproof, and all shapes contain extra secure side latches.
Convenience often plays a big part when we talk about food storage, but that doesn't mean safety should take a back seat! Sensitivity to heat is one area where glass generally has an advantage over plastic, even though most of the plasticware and glass on the market these days is labeled "microwave safe". Older plastic models that weren't made to be exposed to heat can warp or actually melt if nuked, and glasses that aren't labeled microwaveable can shatter if exposed to drastic temperature changes. So always check the underside of your containers for that "microwave safe" designation.
If you heat up food in a plastic container that's not specifically designed to withstand a microwave, there's a chance harmful chemicals in the plastic could seep into your food, and into your body upon consumption. Just to be safe, you'll want to consider transferring meals from your plastic container onto a plate or bowl when it's mealtime.
Containers like Snapware's Glasslock Oven Safe Container Set are great because they're made to withstand oven temperatures, so are guaranteed to be fine for microwave use. Technically these also allow you to bake your portioned-out meals, cool them, and stick them right in the fridge without having to transfer containers.
For a plastic alternative, Home Clad Plastic Containers are a good microwave-safe choice, since the plastic used is very clear - perfect for allowing you to see your food while it is being heated.
Some meal prep enthusiasts are more into freezing food than others, but even if you see yourself doing more frigerating than freezing, it's a good idea to have some freezer-friendly containers available for storage. Freezer burn is really annoying, and when you don't use the very best materials for freezing, the flavor and texture of your meals can suffer.
Freezer burn happens when patches of air steal moisture away from your food, drying it out and allowing ice crystals to form. It doesn't make food unsafe to eat, but it does make your meal much less enjoyable. The FDA recommends using airtight containers and pushing all the air out of resealable bags before popping them in the freezer. The main thing is that you don't want to expose your food to unnecessary airflow, so it's a good idea to stock up on containers and bags made specifically to lock out air. Not all plastics are freezer-safe, so check the label when in doubt. As with microwaving, freezing can cause chemicals in plastic to break down and leak into your food if the container is not specifically designed to withstand extreme temperatures.
A good plastic option is Glad's Freezerware, specifically designed to be resistant to cracking and freezer burn. These containers are dishwasher-safe, microwave-safe, and free of BPA, and come in small and large sizes.
Glass-wise, Pyrex Simply Store Food Storage Set is fridge and freezer safe and are made of a "nonporous" glass that doesn't stain, warp or retain odors. Pyrex products also come with a 2-year warranty, so your money is guaranteed if you have any freezer-related mishaps.
Alternatively, if you're looking for a bag to store frozen food, Ziploc's Freezer Bags are durable and strong. They zip up securely with Smart Zip technology, and promise to keep freezer burn away from your preciously prepped meals.
Depending on whether you expect to take meals out and about for lunch or leave them at home in the fridge for dinner, you should think about whether the containers you're choosing will need to be of a certain size. There are plenty of food storage sets available that come in packs of 10, 20, and even 50 - but buying in bulk isn't worth it if you only end up using a few of the sizes in the set.
If you'll be transporting containers every day, it's a good idea to test out or measure the amount of space a container can take up in your bag without it being too much of an inconvenience. You're way less likely to turn meal prepping into a habit if it becomes a daily hassle instead! Plastic tends to be much lighter than glass, though glass is generally more secure and reliably microwave-friendly.
Alternatively, if you're mostly meal prepping dinners for consumption in the home, it's more important to think in terms of stackability and space conservation in your fridge or freezer. Squares and rectangles are usually a better use of space in terms of volume, and make sure you pick containers with absolutely flat lids (no domes!) if you plan on stacking. Containers that are the same width from top to bottom stack better than the models that are slightly thinner at the bottom and get wider towards the lid.
If stackability is a really big concern for you, Meal Prep Haven offers a plastic set that stack quite high and have various dividers. Ideal for meal preppers, the containers are wide and long but flat, which makes stacking and balancing them easy.
For a brand that's light to carry and comes in a wide variety of sizes to fit all kinds of bag styles, Rubbermaid's Easy Find Lid set is worth looking into. Durable and tough, this set includes lids that accommodate various container sizes, so losing one lid won't mean you'll be down a whole container. This is huge for convenience since we all know that painful last-minute scramble to find a missing lid before heading out the door.