‘Meal prep’ has become an increasingly popular term in recent years, with social media feeds packed with pictures of beautifully portioned, identical pre-prepared meals. In essence, it’s nothing new – it’s simply batch cooking, but with a view to getting ahead as much as possible in order to minimise extra effort later on in the week.
Not everyone approaches meal prepping in the same way – some people choose to make all their meals for the week ahead of time, while others focus only on one meal (such as lunches) or even pre-prepare particular ingredients (such as chopping up vegetables) in order to make cooking on the day quicker.
There are benefits aplenty to this style of cooking. By planning ahead, you can take full control of your week’s menu, allowing you to make healthy choices in advance.
Hitting particular nutrient goals is one reason that many bodybuilders and athletes choose to meal prep – but even if you’re not monitoring your nutritional intake, you might find that you eat more healthily when you meal prep (fewer takeaway orders are a common side effect).
Convenience and time management are two more key factors. Shopping lists become much more simple and streamlined when you know exactly what you’ll be eating and when, and having a stash of standby suppers in the fridge or freezer is a great time-saver on busy weeknights.
Finally, meal prepping can be very budget friendly. Buying ingredients in bulk often works out cheaper than buying smaller quantities, and batch cooking can help reduce your energy bills too.
How to choose a meal prep container
Whether you’re meal prepping for health reasons, to fit your budget or to save time, your criteria for choosing your containers will remain the same.
A good seal for a meal prep container should at best render the container leak-proof when being transported in a bag, but at a minimum should be air-tight and stop the food from absorbing odours in the fridge. Freezing, reheating and washing can all take their toll, so a robust and hardwearing design that’s easy to care for is key.
A reusable meal prep container is a sustainable option, while microwaveable meal prep containers allow you to reheat or defrost food straight from the tub. You may want to opt for a BPA-free meal prep container if you go for a plastic option.
Space is at a premium in many people’s kitchens, so it can pay to choose designs which nest together to take up less room during storage.
Read on to discover which meal prep containers are best. For over 200 buyer’s guides, visit our product review section and find more health-related reviews including fitness trackers, kombucha and juicers.
Best meal prep containers
Sistema Brilliance 920ml
Best all round meal prep container
Pros: Lightweight, microwave and freezer safe, leakproof, phthalate- and BPA-free
Cons: Not the cheapest option if buying multiple containers
This range comes in a few different sizes, but our favourite for meal prepping was the 920ml model. Advertised as ‘crystal clear’ and stain-resistant, the boxes are transparent, while the lid has a wide rim, a thick, grey silicone seal and two sturdy clips to hold it in place. We liked that the design was transparent, allowing quick and easy identification of pre-prepared meals in the fridge.
We filled the container with tomato soup, clipped on the lid and turned it upside down – even after vigorous shaking, not a single drop was spilled. It’s a good size to use as a lunchbox and the airtight seal means you don’t need to worry about leaks.
With the lids on, boxes will stack neatly together, and when empty, the boxes can be nested inside each other, with the lids stored separately.
It’s suitable for reheating in a microwave, with built-in vents for safe heating – as well as being freezer-friendly too. We washed ours in the dishwasher, following the instructions to use the top rack, and it came out sparkling, having previously contained tomato soup.
On the downside, if you’re looking to buy lots of containers, the price could add up. However, if you’re looking for a sturdy, leakproof and airtight design that ticks all the convenience boxes, these could be a sound investment.
Joseph Joseph Nest Lock Set
Best meal prep set for ease of storage
Pros: Attractive design, sturdy boxes, leakproof and airtight
This cleverly designed set nests together and locks into place – saving valuable storage space when not in use. Made up of five items, the brightly coloured lids correspond to a matching spot on the bottom of each box for easy identification.
The boxes feel very solid and have strong clips, which snap satisfyingly into place. The seal performed excellently – absolutely no leaks during the upside-down soup shake test. The smallest sizes would be suitable for side dishes or sauces, the middle ones for meals, and the largest for a double portion or a batch of baked goods.
The set is microwave and freezer safe, and can be washed in the dishwasher too. Due to the strong seal and robust clips, we’d be confident carrying these as everyday lunchboxes in a bag.
Igluu 2 Compartment Meal Prep Containers
Best meal prep containers for portion control
Pros: Lots of identically sized containers, different compartments to keep food separate
Cons: Less robust than other options, not 100% leakproof
If you’ve looked on Instagram for #mealprep, you’ve likely seen containers that are similar in design to these. With black lower compartments split into two sections and a domed transparent lid, these are great for maintaining portion control as you meal prep (there’s also a three compartment design available). They’re a nice slim design, ideal for stacking in the fridge.
These containers aren’t advertised as 100% leakproof, so we felt that they actually held up fairly well during testing. On the whole, they maintained a good seal as long as the lid is snapped on properly. With soup, a small amount escaped after shaking with the box turned on it’s side. However, if you’re mainly looking for containers to store flat in the fridge or to transport drier foods, these fit the bill.
The material is thinner than some of the other products on the long list, but still held up well. They’re suitable for use in the freezer, and the microwave too – it’s worth noting that the trays are quite wide. They fit into our microwave fine but might be a struggle with smaller models.
Overall, these are a great option if you’re cooking big batch meals to store in the fridge or freezer and you want to compartmentalise foods within the same container.
Stasher Sandwich Medium Bag 450ml
Best meal prep container for pre-prepped ingredients
Pros: Versatile, can be used for cooking
Cons: Pricey, not as rigid as hard plastic containers, requires careful cleaning
This innovative design is a reusable alternative to single-use plastic bags. Made from silicone, it’s a soft pouch with a thicker lip at the top which forms the seal. We used it to store pre-cut fruit and vegetables in the fridge during meal prepping, as well as to freeze a single portion of soup.
The seal performed extremely well during testing. Filled with tomato soup (and held nervously over the sink), the seal held completely even when turned upside down and shaken. There were also no leaks when the filled bag was laid down flat in the freezer – although it would be wise not to put anything on top of the bag until the contents are frozen. If storing soup in the fridge, the larger Stand Up design from Stasher might be a better fit.
The Stasher is labelled as safe for use in the microwave, oven and, unusually, on the stovetop and for sous vide cooking too. We washed in the dishwasher, which was effective after using the Stasher to store drier items. After using the Stasher to store soup, the inside of the bag and corners of the seal required a careful scrub by hand to remove all traces of food. We stood the clean Stasher upside down, open, to air dry before storing it away.
As this is a pouch, rather than a rigid box, care needs to be taken not to allow sharp objects to come into contact with it to avoid damage to the material. We wouldn’t use it to transport liquid food in a bag with other items inside in case it was squeezed, but it works brilliantly for cut up veg, fruit or small sandwiches.
Best budget meal prep containers
Pros: Easy to store, space-saving, cost-effective
Cons: Not completely leak-proof
This attractive set of square boxes with colourful lids are easy to stack and store. In the fridge, the boxes stack neatly on top of one another, and when empty the boxes nest into a column with the lids on top. They’re all the same size (750ml) making them a good option for freezing individual portions from a big batch recipe.
These are made from BPA-free plastic, which, while durable, is less rigid than some of the other options tested and does have a bit of give to it. The lid snaps on securely, but a few drops of soup did escape when the box was shaken upside down – making them best suited for drier foods or to being stashed in the fridge, rather than used for liquid foods on the go.
The containers are freezer and microwave safe, and were easy to wash by hand – we also tested in the dishwasher with good results.
Which meal prep containers should I buy?
Which container will be right for you depends on how you’ll be using it. Do you need different compartments to separate foods or measure portions? Do your containers need to be completely leakproof (for instance, if you’ll be using the container as a lunchbox) or will they be stored flat in your fridge? Will you reheat food in the microwave or oven?
Price is also an obvious factor – if you’re looking to buy lots of meal prep containers, it can be worth opting for a set instead of individual containers if it works out more cost-effective. However, if you know you’ll be reusing containers for a long period, you might want to invest in a higher price point option which will stand the test of time.
What we looked for in meal prep containers
Design: We looked for containers that were robust and attractive. We took special features such as separate food compartments into account.
Quality of seal: We tested each product with two different types of food (pasta salad and tomato soup), by turning the product upside down, shaking the product upside down, and putting it in a bag while walking.
Temperature range: We checked whether each product was safe to use in a microwave, freezer or oven.
Ease of cleaning: We washed each product by hand and, for products which were labelled as suitable, in the dishwasher. We looked for designs which were simple to clean and didn’t stain easily.
Space-saving storage: We considered whether items would stack together when full and nest together when empty.
Versatility: Bearing in mind the quality of seal and the size of the container, we considered whether it could double up to serve another purpose – for example, as a lunchbox or to store baked goods.
Value for money: We tested products ranging from £1.20 for a set of six through to £19.99 for one – then made a decision on the value for money based on the performance across the other criteria.
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This review was last updated in September 2020. If you have any questions, suggestions for future reviews or spot anything that has changed in price or availability please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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