Best Meal Prep Containers – 2017 Buying Guide
If you think about the biggest obstacle to healthy eating, it usually comes down to time.
Between demanding jobs, family life, extracurricular activities, and everything in between, it can be hard to carve out the time to cook healthy, home-cooked meals.
Meal prepping has been the solution to this problem – instead of being chained to your kitchen stove several times a day, you take time on one specific day (Sunday is a favorite) to turn on some music, chop some veggies, and prepare healthy, home-cooked meals for your week.
This way, when you're running late to work or the kids need to go to softball practice; you're grabbing quick meals out of the fridge instead of from the drive-thru.
Once you have your recipes for the week, the next question comes up – what on earth am I putting all these in?
Consider your Tupperware drawer which, if it's anything like mine, is a messy collection of mismatched containers and lids. When you're preparing anywhere from five to twenty-five meals per week, having designated containers not only helps make them easy to store, but it also allows you to dish equal portions into each container.
With the practice of meal preparation gaining popularity, there are seemingly countless meal prep container sets available for purchase. However, there's no need to be overwhelmed – considering just a few key qualities can help you pick the best product for your lifestyle.
What should you look for in your meal prep container set? Here are the things to consider before you drop any money on a set of containers.
Our Top Pick
What to Consider Before Buying a Meal Prep Container
Before you even start browsing product options, take some time to think about the types of meals you'll be preparing. Watery foods like soups and stews will need very different containers than things like tofu scramble and sandwiches.
Keep your favorite meal ideas in mind as you're looking through your options – that will help guide you to products that will work best for you.
No doubt, the biggest and first consideration you'll want to make when purchasing your meal prep food containers is what material they are made from. The most popular container materials are the big three – plastic, glass, and metal.
Plastic food prep containers are undoubtedly the cheapest and most popular material, but plastic comes with its share of controversy. The chief complaint regarding plastic is the presence of BPA and phthalates, which we'll get deeper into in the next section.
The next best option is metal, which gets two thumbs up because it's easy to clean and doesn't contain BPA (double check to make sure the lining doesn't contain BPA, though). Metal is also lightweight, which makes your containers easy to carry along, and it looks snazzy, too.
However, the chief issue with metal is that it can't go in the microwave, so if you're heating up your food, you'll need to transfer it to another container or dish.
My material of choice for meal prep containers is glass. Sturdy and safe, glass can (generally) go everywhere metal can't go – namely, the microwave and the dishwasher. However, it is heavier and can be more expensive than metal or plastic.
2. BPA and Phthalates
You can't touch on the topic of plastic these days without mentioning BPA, and its less famous companion, phthalates. First, let's talk about what these buzzwords are.
BPA and phthalates are additives to plastic products. Bisphenol-A, or BPA, makes clear, hard plastic products, while phthalates make plastics soft and flexible.
Recently, these materials have come under fire, as they can act as "endocrine inhibitors."
Basically, BPA and phthalates mimic human hormones, which confuses the heck out of your body and can cause all sorts of health issues. Side effects of BPA can include everything from lowered immune function to stimulation of prostate cancer cells and structural damage to your brain.
Experts say that while just the presence of BPA or phthalates on/in plastic products aren't usually enough to cause damage, the problems begin when food is heated in plastic products – such as microwaving your food. This becomes a big concern for meal preppers, most of which are reheating their prepared meals in their original containers.
Personally, BPA and phthalates freak me out – for the same reason I'm grossed out by just "a little pus" in milk, I don't want anything that harmful to be up close and personal with my food.
If you're married to the idea of plastic containers, make sure your containers are free of BPA and phthalates. Your long-term health is worth the extra few dollars!
3. Lid Quality
There's nothing more disappointing than opening up your bag to find that the contents of your lunch have spilled – now you get a double-whammy of a mess to clean up and no lunch!
The best lids will keep all the food snugly inside your container – even if you happen to drop them, or they get jostled in your bag on your commute in the morning.
The most common type of lid is the simple snap-on – you just push the lid and body of the container together, which makes a snapping noise when they are attached. This is most likely what all your regular plastic containers, Tupperware, and Gladware have.
However, there are also stronger lids that employ the use of arms that hook onto the body, creating a tighter seal. This is perfect for solid foods, but since they aren't necessarily airtight, they might still allow liquids to leak out if the container somehow tilts.
If you tend to bring a lot of soups and saucy dishes with you, look for container sets that offer "airtight" lids. This means that the comforting, brothy soup you brought along will stay in your container until lunchtime – and not all over your bag.
Testing your lids for their quality is easy. After filling your container with water, jostle it around! Lean the container on its side to see if anything seeps out through the closed lid. Shake it for a minute and see if anything spatters. Drop the container from some height and see if the lid stays on, or if any cracks appear anywhere on the container.
If you're just bringing sandwiches and raw veggies along, a super-tight lid may not be the most important factor in your purchase. However, if you love soups and stews, you'll want to invest in a set that uses a quality lid.
4. Temperature Capability
Do you like a hot meal at lunchtime, or usually heat up your lunch in the microwave? Being able to heat up your meals in the container you brought them in is convenient, not to mention it keeps the number of dishes you'll need to do to a minimum.
However, you can't just place any old container in the microwave – you don't want to risk melted plastic, or worse, harmful chemicals leaching out of the plastic and into your food. As mentioned in the section on BPA, research has found that heat makes plastic more susceptible to releasing harmful chemicals.
It's best to go BPA-free, of course, but even BPA-free containers may not be safe for microwave use. Most of the research focuses on BPA leaching into food, but BPA is not the only potentially harmful chemical that lives inside plastic.
Personally, I don't think my health is worth risking for convenience. For meals that need to be reheated, consider going with glass containers. While they're heavier than plastic or metal, they can usually stand up to being microwaved.
If you really want plastic containers, double-check that they are labeled microwave-safe and BPA-free. Even better, simply transfer your food from plastic to paper or a ceramic microwave-safe dish when you're at school or work. I keep my favorite bowl and plate in a drawer at work for when I tote things around in my plastic Rubbermaid containers.
Most people meal prep for around one week at a time, simply because that's about how long most cooked foods will last in the fridge before they start to seem...off.
Employing the use of your freezer can help your meal prep go even further. Imagine getting an entire month's worth of meals from a single day of cooking!
However, most of us have experienced the disappointment of great leftovers ruined by freezer burn and the smells and flavors absorbed from the freezer itself. The right container can make all the difference when it comes to the taste of your frozen dishes!
If meal prepping for longer than a week at a time sounds like something that would work for you, you'll want to make sure your containers are freezer-friendly.
In addition to looking for something on the packaging that references freezer use, these types of vessels should be sturdy, rigid, and sealable. Don't forget to leave some space in the containers when packing your food, so it has some room to crystallize and expand.
Some people, like me, are totally fine putting their whole meal in a single container – I like the rice, veggies, protein, and any respective sauce to get good and mixed.
However, some folks need very distinct boundaries with their food – anything touches, and it totally ruins the meal.
You'll want to figure out which of these two types of people you are and purchase accordingly. Those like me, who don't mind if everything intermingles, can go for meal prep storage containers that have just one area to put all your meal components.
If you like some separation between each dish, you can opt for a bento-inspired meal prep container, which uses wells and dividers to create separate areas for different foods. This is great if you want to pack your chickpea curry and a vegan brownie in the same pack, without having to bring a million different containers with you.
Bento-inspired containers with separate areas are also ideal for prepping kids' lunches – the wells are perfect for packing a sandwich with lots of little snacks, or a complete meal that will still be fresh and ready by the time the lunch bell rings.
So you've got containers that are healthy, leak-proof, and will stand up to hot or cold temperatures. Now how am I supposed to cram this all in my backpack?
If you don't want to bring a giant bag filled with clunky containers to and from work every day, you'll want to pay attention to their shape and size. A slim, light, and flat container is the best of all worlds – you can fit a variety of meals inside, and it's easy to transport.
Many sets also come with different sizes of containers to accommodate different portions or meal components. If you have slim containers with separate wells, they are likely all the same size.
However, good-quality Tupperware and similar sets usually contain a variety of sizes, from very large to bring things like salads, down to small condiment containers for dressings or nut butter.
I find it helpful to be able to choose from different sizes because I bring both my breakfast and lunch to work, which tends to have different container needs. You can also decide to mix-and-match from different container sets throughout your day, perhaps bringing your oatmeal and vegan peanut butter in containers from one set and your lunch from a bento-style set. You can customize here based on your preferences.
7. Cleaning Needs
I'm a firm believer that if it's hard to clean, I'm simply not going to use it. If you're meal prepping, you're looking at a huge pile of the same dishes to be cleaned day after day.
If you have a dishwasher, it is the most convenient option to choose a set of containers that can safely take a trip through the microwave. Many glass or metal sets can do this, just be sure to double-check.
If you're washing by hand, look for containers with rounded edges or removable dividers that make cleanup a breeze. There's nothing worse than having to re-wash your dishes because you've found some food remnants stuck in one of the corners.
You'll also want to avoid products that absorb colors or smells. Plastic containers tend to be the cheapest option, but they can also retain the color, smell, and even flavor of foods that were previously in them. If you cook a lot of strong-smelling foods like curries and chilis, it may be worth it to invest in higher-quality glass or metal containers. No one wants an oatmeal that tastes like last week's curry!
Best Glass Containers for Meal Prep
Best Overall (Glass)
Love to bring warming soups and stews to work or school? The glass containers from Prep Naturals feature SmartestLock locking lids, which guarantee leakproof storage without spills or messes. The containers themselves are made of borosilicate glass, which is the strongest glass available, so they won't chip or crack with use.
You can put these meal prepping containers in the microwave, freezer, dishwasher, and even the oven (not the lids)! The containers are free of BPA, are FDA- and LFGP-approved, and won't warp between temperatures of 14 and 230 degrees Fahrenheit. The company offers a full warranty, so if you're not 100% satisfied with these containers, you can get your money back.
Both the lids and body of these containers are clear, so you can easily see what's inside when you're pulling them out of the fridge or freezer. The containers also resist staining, so your view of the inside won't get clouded or blocked with time.
Each container set comes with 5 single-compartment, 29-ounce containers and locking lids.
What We Like
The sturdiness of these containers is simply unparalleled - the ability to bring them from the oven to the freezer to the microwave makes meal prepping super convenient, and cuts down on the number of dishes you'll have to do later on. While a substantial up-front investment, especially if you prep most of your meals, you get what you pay for.
What We Didn't Like
These containers have just a handful of negative reviews, but of the ones that are not five stars, some users complain that they are not quite as "stackable" as advertised. They can be placed on top of each other, but they tend to slide and move.
Best Bento-Style Container (Glass)
The glass meal prep containers from Misc Home feature two compartments and vented snap-locking lids. The containers fit normal 6-pack bags and travel easily to and from work or school.
The company uses only borosilicate glass, which is stronger than cheaper, less durable tempered glass, and is comparable to Pyrex. This allows you to safely use these containers in a variety of temperatures, including the microwave, oven, dishwasher, and freezer. You can use these containers in the oven up to 500 degrees F!
The snap-locking lids are vented, and use silicone seals to ensure the food stays fresh and won't leak or spill. The vents allow easy and safe venting of hot foods. Of course, both the lids and containers are 100% BPA-free and certified food grade.
Misc Home's products are 100% satisfaction guaranteed, so you can purchase without fear of commitment if you wind up being less than thrilled with the product. The set comes with four 28-ounce containers and lids.
What We Like
Soup eaters rejoice! These snap-lock, silicone-sealed lids act as a barricade between your hot soup and the inside of your backpack. Reviewers love the airtight, serious seal these lids provide.
What We Didn't Like
While these food prep containers get overwhelmingly positive reviews, a few people noted problems with the lid vents falling out and getting lost.
Best Budget Option (Glass)
In addition to being budget-friendly, the glass containers from MealPrep are eco-friendly, durable, and non-toxic.
The snap-locking BPA-free lids use a built-in silicone gasket to keep food fresh and free of spills. The lids themselves create an airtight and leak-proof seal so that you can bring broth-based soups and saucy stir-fries to work and school without fear of mess.
The containers are also super versatile and cut down on the number of dishes you need to clean throughout the week. Like the other glass containers, these can go into the microwave, freezer, and dishwasher. They are also oven-safe up to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, so you can cook delicious baked oatmeal and pasta dishes right in the same container you eat them from.
Each set comes with three 1- or 2-compartment containers. The single compartment model contains 28 ounces, while the two-compartment container has a 40-ounce volume.
MealPrep also offers a money-back guarantee – if for any reason you don't love these containers, you can return your order within 30 days for a full refund.
What We Like
Part of "budget friendly" is not having to pay to keep replacing the same item. These meal preparation containers are extremely durable, so when you put the money in up front, the containers will last, saving you money in the long run. The containers are also stain- and odor-resistant.
What We Didn't Like
Some purchasers had issues with shipping, reporting that a few containers were broken upon arrival. While the containers get good reviews, your mileage may vary when it
Best Plastic Containers for Meal Prep
Best Overall (Plastic)
The reusable microwave-safe meal prep containers from LIFT are classics. With a sleek black body and a clear snap-on lid, these plastic containers are a popular choice among beginner and veteran meal preppers.
Made in Canada, the company uses certified BPA-free materials that have been approved by the FDFA and CFIA. The containers are food-safe, environmentally sustainable, compact, lightweight, and stackable. You can easily stack these in a meal prep bag without worry that they'll tip or fall over. Of course, even if they did shift, the leak-resistant, air-tight lid would have you covered.
The containers are safe to use everywhere from the freezer to the microwave (no lid) to the dishwasher. They have a longer lifecycle than many competitor products, but if you aren't 100% satisfied, the company offers a 5 Star Experience Guarantee.
Each set contains seven 28-ounce meal prep containers and an Ebook that includes tips and recipes. You can choose from single-compartment containers, or upgrade to two compartments for a few dollars more.
What We Like
The transparent lids make it easy to see what's inside – when you're browsing your meal preps in the fridge on your way out the door, it's helpful to be able to see what you're bringing with you! The containers are also good quality for the money and take up little space.
What We Didn't Like
Some reviewers complained that the lids tend to be a little finicky. Many times, they snap on without issue, but sometimes you need to work them to get them closed. These also aren't ideal for very soupy meal preps, as the lids are only leak-"resistant" not leak-"proof".
Best Bento-Style Container (Plastic)
Ideal for both adults and children, the three-compartment layout of Enther's meal prep containers ensures your curry and your brownie won't meet until they're in your stomach!
The divider arrangement also provides built-in portion control. With a slim black body and clear snap-on lid, these stack easily for transport and storage.
Enther's containers are BPA-free, safe for use in the freezer, microwave, and dishwasher, and are guaranteed not to crack for at least 10 uses (though they can be used up to 30 times with regular use). They're also stain and odor resistant, which means you won't be tasting the pungent aromas of last week's meal prep in this week's breakfasts and lunches.
The snap-on lids are airtight and easy-to-open, making them a great option to send to school with your kids (how great would it be to meal prep the kids' lunches, rather than rushing to slap a sandwich together every morning?).
Each set comes with a whopping 20 three-compartment containers. Each container can hold up to 36 ounces.
What We Like
In addition to the sleek bento-style layout, these containers are an incredible price for how many containers you get. Buyers rave about their durability, and the compartments are well-separated so you can even pack hot and cold foods together in the same box.
What We Didn't Like
The lids on these containers are not conducive to lots of liquid, or very soupy foods - reviewers reported a few messes due to liquid seeping out of the lids. Use mostly dry, solid recipes with these containers, or be sure to keep them flat.
Best Budget Option (Plastic)
When you're strapped for cash –and when you're not! - You want to get the best quality for your money. Mealcon's meal prep set packs in lots of quality – and even eating utensils – for a low up-front cost.
The plastic containers come in the standard black body with clear snap-on lids and feature two separate compartments for portion control and division of food.
The boxes are completely free of BPA, phthalates, and lead, are made of friendly food grade material, and meet the standards put forth by the FDA. You can use these containers through the whole food lifecycle, from freezer to microwave to dishwasher.
Each set comes with 20 containers, 20 lids, and 20 reusable sporks, so you don't have to worry about providing your own silverware or having to turn to wasteful single-use plastic cutlery. Each container holds 32 ounces.
What We Like
Reviewers love that these containers don't have a "plastic" smell, so your meals smell like your fresh food, rather than the material of the container. The size is also ideal for both kid, and adult lunches – not too large, not too small, and the compartments are well divided to reduce the chance of foods mingling.
What We Didn't Like
While many reviewers reported these containers are extremely durable, they are not good for use with soups, stews, or otherwise liquid foods. Some people also reported that the lids tend to be very hard and inflexible, and are easy to crack.
Preparing for Health
Having healthy breakfasts and lunches on hand can take some of the stress – and excuses – out of healthy eating in a busy lifestyle. Having large batches of home-cooked meals on hand means there's less rush and guesswork when you're getting ready for work or school.
Putting your food in the right container can be a major move in the success of your meal prep, too. Why go through all the work of cooking and portioning, only to have the food spill out of a flimsy lid, or worse, suffer health consequences from chemicals leaching into your food.
It might be tempting to save a few dollars and simply reuse old containers from Chinese takeout and pre-prepared foods for your weekly meals. However, this can be a dangerous move, as many of these containers are not meant to be reused, and can leach BPA and phthalates into food. Additionally, they usually aren't microwave and dishwasher safe.
By having a dedicated set of meal prep containers on hand, you're not only investing in your health, but you're also taking out "insurance" to make sure your meals go seamlessly from fridge to plate. No spills or seepage means none of your effort and time went to waste while you were cooking your weekly meals.
You have so many options for meal prep containers – from different shapes and materials to the ease of cleaning; you can find the meal prep container set that fits your needs and lifestyle. As these products are meant to be reused, you also won't need to go through the buying process very often – invest in a high-quality, healthy product, and have your products on hand for years.
Looking for inspiration for delicious foods to put in your new containers? Check out our vegan meal prep article for healthy, vegan recipes you can make in bulk for any time of day.