Meal prepping is a fantastic practice that saves time & money—things we can all use more of these days. It’s also a highly effective approach for anyone looking to adopt healthy new eating habits.
Meal prep, in a nutshell, is the practice of making meals ahead of time, and portioning out those meals (often over a 5-day work week) to ensure you’re getting consistent nutrition without spending too much time in the kitchen.
If you’re new to meal prep and already looking for meal prep ideas, one of the first things you’re going to need is a good set of meal prep containers. There are a ton of options available, so we put together this buying guide to make things easy for you.
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Our Top Pick
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Below you’ll find some important things to consider when purchasing a meal prep container set, and I’ll cover a number of other great options below for both glass and plastic meal prep containers.
Factors to Consider Before Buying a Meal Prep Container Set
One of the most important questions when it comes to choosing the best meal prep containers is whether you should go with glass or plastic. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Metal containers are an option, too, but we’re ruling them out in this guide because they can’t go in the microwave—most people into meal prepping won’t have much use for something you can’t pop into the microwave.
Plastic Meal Prep Containers
Plastic food containers are everywhere, and for good reason: they’re cheap, lightweight, and they don’t break into tiny shards if you drop them on the floor. If you like using plastic containers, we’ve rounded up several great options below.
But plastic might have some downsides. Even if you’re fine with the fact that plastic is derived from fossil fuel sources, you might want to look into some of the chemicals used in the manufacture of plastic. I’ll briefly cover the main concerns one might have about using plastic food containers below, but I do recommend researching on your own.
Bisphenol A (BPA) & Phthalates
BPA (bisphenol A) is an industrial chemical used in the manufacture of certain plastics, including those used for food containers. It can also be used in resins that line the inside of food cans.
Since so many of food containers contain BPA, one of the primary ways people are exposed to BPA is through food. That’s a real concern for anyone who cares what they’re putting into their body because BPA exposure has been linked to issues with fertility, male impotence, heart disease and more.
Now that the public has, in recent years, become more concerned about potential dangers linked to BPA, product manufacturers often omit that particular chemical and tout their products as being “BPA Free.” Unfortunately, some of the chemicals used to replace BPA, such as Bisphenol S (BPS) and bisphenol F (BPF) may have similar effects, and other chemicals use in plastic manufacturing, such a Phthalates, may be a concern as well.
One way you to avoid getting exposure to any of the industrial chemicals used in plastic food containers is to simply use glass, which is why glass meal prep containers are our top choice.
Glass Meal Prep Containers
Given that glass is chemically inert (at least at temperatures used for cooking) and impermeable, glass is a fantastic choice for meal prep containers. It’s generally microwave and dishwasher safe, and it doesn’t stain or hold onto odors from your food.
Glass is more expensive than plastics and can definitely break, as noted previously. But there are enough great things about glass that it’s the standout choice for meal prep containers.
Most meal prep containers are in the 24 oz. to 30 oz. range, but you can get small ones around 12 oz. capacity and larger ones with 35 oz. capacity or more. The average size is probably going to be good for a typical lunch or dinner. The small variety are great if you want to take snacks to gym or throw some in your backpack for a hike.
You may want your meal prep containers to have compartments to keep your food separated. Kids, especially, seem to want total assurance that no two foods in their lunch ever come in contact, which is why I bought my kids these fantastic bento-style lunch boxes from Bentgo:
Plastic containers have a real advantage here because they can be molded into any shape, with as many compartments as desired. However, we did find some excellent glass containers below in a 2-compartment configuration.
One trade-off with multi-compartment meal prep containers, however, is that some capacity is lost since the dividers take up space. I personally don’t need separate compartments, but if I did it would probably be to keep liquids separated, such as keeping dressing off of a salad until I’m ready to eat. With that in mind, I recommend containers that have completely separated compartments versus the ones with removable dividers since those can allow liquids to leak from one compartment to another.
4. Temperature range
The temperature range for your meal prep container is very important since, presumably, you’ll have them in the refrigerator or freezer, and later place them into a microwave or an oven.
This is where glass containers really shine since they’re suitable for a wide temperature range. Pyrex, for example, is freezer safe and oven safe (except for the plastic lids). That’s quite a temperature range!
But even with that wide temperature range, there are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to glass.
- First, you don’t want a big, sudden temperature change, like going directly from freezer to oven, which could cause the glass to break.
- Second, be sure to preheat your oven before placing glass containers inside. Conventional ovens don’t necessarily heat evenly, which means you could have more intense heat directly under your glass container.
- Third, don’t put glass containers under your broiler. Your broiler generate intense direct heat, which may exceed the maximum temperature of you container.
- Lastly, you can’t put plastic lids in the oven, and many manufacturer’s indicate the lids aren’t microwave-safe either. Your best bet for microwave use is to lay a paper towel over the container to keep things from splattering. Aluminum foil might be a better option for the oven, assuming the container needs to be covered at all.
5. Easy to clean
I’m pretty busy and I’m guessing you are, too. For busy people, dishwasher-safe meal prep containers are a must.
Luckily, most meal prep containers are dishwasher safe. Keep in mind, however, that the lids of some glass containers have a silicone sealing strip that can deform with repeated washing in a dishwasher. Even the ones without the silicone sealing strip tend to warp over time. To extend the life of your lids, try to hand wash them whenever possible.
6. Lid Design
Lid designs have improved dramatically over the years. For the longest time I used the press-on lids from my Pyrex set without much trouble (those are still a great value), but for a meal prep container I’m transporting to the office or the gym, I like to have something with a locking mechanism.
Modern lid designs often feature silicone sealing strips for a perfect, liquid-tight seal, locking mechanisms to keep them shut, and even venting systems to allow steam to escape.
As well-designed as modern meal prep containers are, more features often means more complexity and more things that can break. For that reason, many of the containers we considered offer a fairly limited satisfaction guarantee (30 days is common). Pyrex offers one of the longer warranties, with a promise to replace any glass item that breaks from oven heat within two years from date of purchase.
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Prep Naturals Glass Meal Prep Containers
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Made from eco-friendly borosilicate glass, the Prep Naturals meal prep containers are some of the best on the market. These come with two compartments and a smart-locking lid system to keep its contents entirely safe and secure.
If you’re following a diet plan using portion control, these meal prep containers will be perfect for you. The containers are also highly versatile as they can be used in the microwave and oven. They are also 100% freezer-friendly.
As with many of the containers we considered, the lids are not microwave-friendly. However, we noted that many reviewers microwave their food with the lids on, opening them just a bit to allow steam to escape. Practically speaking, you may choose to do the same, but keep in mind it’s not recommended by the manufacturer.
Pyrex Simply Store 18-piece Container Set
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These Pyrex containers aren’t part of some new meal prepping trend—Pyrex was into meal prepping before meal prepping was cool. These are the kind of food containers you’ll find at Mom’s house, and for good reason.
First, they’re glass with a simple lid closure. Second, you get a mix of round and rectangular containers in this set, which (in my humble opinion) means they can double as serving containers when you have dinner guests.
Ultimately it’s about value with this pick: you get 18 pieces in this set, which works out to less than $2 per container. They’re also made in the USA and come with with a 2-year warranty.
M MCIRCO Glass Meal Prep Containers
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These 5-piece glass meal prep containers from M MCIRCO feature a large, two-compartment design for perfect portion control. We love the two completely separate compartments that keep liquids from leaking into the wrong compartment, and the large 36 ounce capacity means that divider isn’t taking up all your valuable space.
The containers are oven-safe, microwave-safe, freezer-safe, and dishwasher-safe, although the manufacturer does recommend washing lids by hand to extend their performance.
This set also features a great, easy-locking lid design that’s completely leak-proof. The manufacturer even states in the product description that they’ll replace any lids that have issues, free of charge.
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Freshware Meal Prep Containers
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Looking for a great deal on meal prep containers you can use for your lunches? Freshware might be the answer. Aside from being freezer-ready and easy-to-close, this 21-pack of boxes have a great deal of features that may entice you to choose them.
These bento box style containers come complete with separate compartments, which means that you can put a range of different foods in them. What’s more, each of the Freshware meal prep containers has a 24oz volume–a great size for a 3-compartment container.
And with 21 containers in the pack, it’s a tremendous value with a really versatile design, making it out top pick among plastic meal prep containers.
Enther Meal Prep Containers
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The Enther meal prep containers have excellent reviews and it’s plain to see why: they’re a simple, affordable bento box style container option that are BPA-free and inexpensive.
Each container offers a single 28 ounce compartment, and the containers are stackable, making them super simple to store away when you’re not using them. Plus, you can be sure that they will last. The manufacturer promises that they will meet your standards or you will get a refund.
Much like the Simple Houseware options, these containers are not leak-proof. With that in mind, they may not be suitable for liquid heavy dishes. Another disadvantage here is that the boxes are not freezer friendly. So, when you’re making large batches of meals that you want to save for later, that could be a problem.
Simple Houseware Meal Prep Containers
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Looking for something a little more lightweight? Simple Houseware has a range of budget option FDA approved meal prep containers that might just fit the bill. Not only are these containers stackable (which is ideal when it comes to storage), but they also have a subtle, slick design. Each has three compartments, making it simple to plan the meals you love.
If you can’t take the heat, get out of the kitchen. The Simple Houseware containers can withstand high temperatures too. The company says that these boxes can take up to 320°F, which means that you can use them in microwaves and dishwashers. They are also suitable for freezing. If you happen to be making a large batch of food, they will do the job.
Making a curry or stew? You may want to steer clear of these meal prep containers in these instances. Reviews suggest that these are not 100% water-tight. You may find that there are some leakage issues when you use these for your weekly meal-prepping.
Get to Prepping!
With any luck, this guide will help you when choosing the best meal prep containers for your needs. Our top pick is the Prep Naturals meal prep containers, but any of the above will work for your new meal prepping practice. As they say, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so make your choice and get started on your prepping journey!
Feature photo: Elena Veselova/Bigstock