The thing about meal prep is that it takes a bit of time and organisation when you first give it a try. Like any habit, it soon sticks and becomes part of your routine, saving you time and money throughout the week, while also helping you stay on track with your healthy eating.
By the time you're getting ready to get stuck in for the very first time, you've no doubt worked out what calories and macros you need to be eating, when and where you'll be eating, the meals you want to prep and perhaps the shop is done by this point. But stop there! Somewhere along the way, you need to find and buy some containers.
You might be thinking that you'd got some tubs from a recent takeaway, or even a good old ice cream carton that perfectly fits your chicken and veg. But while these might be easy to grab from the kitchen, they might not fit all your needs. Are they BPA free? Can they be stored in a freezer, heated up in a microwave or washed in a dishwasher? Before you know it, you'll find yourself browsing online to find a more durable, long-term solution.
After all, if you want meal prep to be a future-proof habit, you need to arm yourself with the right tools. So, how do you find the perfect meal prep container for your needs?
Think about what you'll use them for
Are you hoping to store salads that you want to stay fresh and crispy throughout the day? Or are you looking for something that will keep your curry secure on the commute?
Meal prep, what we prep and why we prep are all down to the individual, so take the time to consider the kinds of meals you're planning to make and the food you'll be storing. For example, do you cycle to work every day and want to make sure you can take your prepped lunch along with you so you can enjoy a tasty chilli at your desk? You probably need a secure, lightweight container that won't stain and can handle being popped in a backpack and thrown in the microwave at 1pm.
Also consider how often you plan on using your containers. Will you be prepping every meal for every day for a whole week? No doubt you can do the maths - that's quite a few containers! Especially if you plan to batch cook everything on a Sunday, and especially if you're intermittent fasting!
Perhaps you need one, large container that can store the main element of a lunch or dinner (like this delicious dairy free pasta bake) and a number of small ones with compartments so you separate everything out ready for the next few days. You'll also need to ensure you have the right containers for storing breakfast. Are you a fruit, yogurt and granola person, a pancake lover or an overnight oats kind of prepper?
Healthy snacks are an important part of your diet too, so if you know you'll need to be taking a post-gym snack with you on the go, you'll probably need a small or single compartment container to do the job!
Multi-compartment meal prep containers are also a good way to prep multiple foods for you to eat throughout the day. Perhaps you can pop a salad in one, some beans or chickpeas in another and some fruit and seeds in the third. Separating food like this is also great for fussy kids and anyone who requires food to be kept apart.
When it comes to the actual prep side of meal prep, finding containers that can be stored safely in the fridge and freezer is key. Badly stored food can cause freezer burn and lead to loss in nutrients. Choose a container that is close to the size of the food you're storing, for example, a single portion of vegetables shouldn't be kept in a huge storage container. To avoid things like freezer burn, use the right packaging that will ensure moisture is retained and no water molecules are able to escape. Food can be kept in the freezer for months if stored correctly!
Run of the mill plastic containers probably aren't safe for blasting in the microwave on a high temperature either. The plastic is likely to warp and melt if it isn't safe to be heated in the microwave, so it's important that food is stored from the start in microwave safe containers as it's very difficult to transfer frozen food in a non-microwave safe container to one that is.
Things to look out for
Once you've established exactly what and how you'll be meal prepping and you're researching the right meal prep containers for you, there are some must-haves that your new containers should have - mostly for safety purposes.
- Reusable and durable
- Freezer safe
- Microwave safe
- Dishwasher safe
- Leak proof
Our top tips
- If you'll be carrying several containers of food around throughout the day, it's worth keeping in mind that plastic containers are much lighter than glass containers. Glass is easily broken too, which can be a nightmare when you're on the go.
- Look out for BPA-free, reusable plastic containers so you're ensuring your food will be stored safely. Single use plastics are a definite no, too!
- Make sure you're buying freezer and microwave safe containers for safe and easy storing and reheating on the go or at home.
- To make washing up easy, get dishwasher safe containers that can go straight in with your plates!
- Integrate meal prepped meals seamlessly into your fridge and freezer by ensuring the containers you buy are stackable and compact, for easy storage and transportation.