This is probably obvious, but if you want meal prep to be easy, you need meal prep containers first.
I grew up in one of those houses where we always had a cabinet packed with plastic and glass containers with lids everywhere. It was the kind of thing where if you opened up the cabinet wrong, you’d get an avalanche of plastic boxes clattering at your feet.
I’ve always had containers in my possession. When I moved out, my mom happily gave me some of hers and we bought some super cheap ones at Ikea, which lasted about three months.
The problem was that my containers weren’t meal-prep friendly at all.
They were old, cracked, leaked in my bag and were totally the wrong size.
It wasn’t until I started taking meal prep seriously that I sought out the perfect container — a plastic, leak-proof, BPA-free, microwave and dishwasher safe container that holds about three cups of food.
It took awhile to find the perfect one for me. And what works for me might not work for you! It takes some trial and error, but hopefully, this post will be a shortcut to help you figure what’s best for you and your lifestyle.
In this post, I’m going answer some of the most common questions I get about meal prep containers regarding material, size and where to find the best one.
This post is sponsored by Lock & Lock.
Are plastic meal prep containers safe?
This is the most common question/comment I receive. There’s a common belief that plastic is plain bad for you, but that’s not 100% true.
This belief comes from what we know about BPA (Bisphenol A) and phthalates found in plastic containers coming into contact with the food we put in them. And while some of the materials in plastic containers may “leak” into the food, you’d have to come into contact with large quantities of these two plastic components to be at risk of serious health danger.
The brands I use, like Lock and Lock, are BPA free. Meaning, they have passed the FDA’s specific regulations for being microwave and dishwasher safe.
You’re more at risk when you use containers, plastics and materials that are clearly not microwave safe, like saran wrap and water bottles and some restaurant takeout containers, which melt when heated.
According to experts at WebMD, the danger of plastic coming into contact with food is somewhat of an urban legend based on what they’ve studied and tested so far for the past 40 years. They report that in order for serious BPA or phthalates leakage to happen, you’d have to heat your food at 700 degrees Fahrenheit, which I really hope you’re not doing!
Click here to read tips for making the most out of plastic containers and making sure you’re using them safely.
Plastic is my choice because it’s lighter and more convenient than glass.
I’m not keen on lugging a heavy glass container to and from work every day, especially in the city where I walk with a big tote bag or a backpack.
Plastic vs. glass containers is personal preference.
At the end of the day, whether you choose plastic or glass containers is personal preference. If you’re still concerned about plastic, or not sure which way to go, I highly recommend doing some more research from credible sources.
Luckily it’s easy to get your hands on both types of containers at various price points – even glass ones like in this set. Try a few containers until you figure out what you like! Being scared of plastic, unsure about it or not wanting to spend the money on containers is NO excuse to avoid meal prep if you believe that will help you lead a healthier lifestyle!
If you’re like me and are comfortable with plastic, I still recommend keeping a handful of glass containers around the house for your dinner prep.
Since you aren’t likely transporting your dinner prep to and from work like you are with lunch, using glass containers makes reheating food in the oven easier — especially if you don’t have a microwave at home like me.
Yes, size matters.
When I started meal prepping, I didn’t realize how much the size of my meal prep containers mattered. I just grabbed whatever I saw at the super market, and that happened to be the 40 oz containers like this.
These are deep and pretty bulky to take to work, but I used them anyway. I’d fill them up to the top with cooked food, which happened to be more than I needed to eat. So I’d have to either toss out the leftovers or overeat until I felt gross. Both are not great options!
When I switched to the smaller 25 oz containers I found my perfect portion size.
The 25 oz containers hold about three cups of food and for someone my size who has a sedentary job, it’s the perfect lunch size. Filling up these containers then eating every last bite didn’t leave me in a food coma, nor did I have to throw out extras. A win win!
I highly recommend experimenting with container sizes before sticking with one so you can figure out your perfect meal portion size.
Eating the right portion sized meals is integral to maintain, lose or gain weight. Don’t let using the wrong size meal prep containers slow you down!
Should you get containers with dividers?
Meal prep containers with dividers can be a huge help when it comes to portioning out macronutrients (carbs, protein, fat). they’re also great for people who don’t want certain food groups to touch.
Some containers have removable and adjustable dividers, like this one I used to take plane snacks in. I definitely didn’t want the grapefruit to touch the red pepper here!
Like plastic vs. glass, getting containers with dividers is personal preference.
How many containers do you really need?
If you saw my meal prep container drawer, you’d be appalled at just how many containers I have. It’s a mess in there! But that’s because I run a meal prep blog. If I was a normal person, I would have much less in my possession.
The amount of containers you should have depends on how many meals you prep per week.
Here’s how I’d break down the number of containers I need:
- Five 6 oz (small) containers for overnight oats
- Five containers for lunch
- Four containers for dinner
- Four 3 oz mini containers for peanut butter, hummus, dressing etc
That’s 18 containers total. And I’d probably keep two extra just in case.
To find the amount of containers you really need, do a realistic count of how many meals you can see yourself prepping each week and go from there. You can always get more if you need more!
The best thing about investing in good containers is that they last a long time.
I’ve only bought new containers a handful of times and I love that they’re reusable, dishwasher safe (and better for the environment because you create less waste).
Something that really bugged me about buying take out for lunch is how much trash I had at the end of every meal. Now I have close to none.
Investing in high-quality containers saves you money in the end because they last longer. The ones I originally bought at Ikea and the grocery store cracked after a few months, which makes them unsafe as my food would then be exposed to more harmful plastic chemicals.
If you have containers on hand at all times that’s one less barrier between you and getting meal prep done.
Are you like my friend who didn’t have meal prep containers?
One of my friends had been talking about doing meal prep for months and months, but it never happened.
So I finally asked her, why haven’t you brought lunch to work or meal prepped yet?
She said, well, I just haven’t gotten around to buying containers. I have no time to go to Target.
My jaw almost hit the floor. This is why Amazon exists! So I ordered her a pack of 16 containers off Amazon and had them shipped to her house. She got to meal prepping the next week!
I hope this post helped clear up some of your confusion around meal prep containers. Further questions? comments? drop them below.