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Instagrammers have many novice meal preppers fooled with their sky-high stacks of meals that seem to last a lifetime. However, according to USDA recommendations, I should only plan to keep my prepped meals for 3 to 4 days.
Are there ways to prep meals for the entire week without the food going rancid? Let’s find out.
- How to Meal Prep for a Week Without Food Going Bad
- 5 Tips on Meal Prepping Without Food Going Bad
- Meal Prep Foods That Last for a Week Without Going Bad
- Related Questions
How to Meal Prep for a Week Without Food Going Bad
The best way to prepare meals for a week without food going bad is to split it into two sessions, with each session covering 3 to 4 days of food. Alternatively, cook the meals thoroughly and store them in a 100% airtight container in the freezer to keep them from spoiling.
Meal prepping can be a weekly lifesaver or the bane of your existence. It simply depends on how you approach it. Most cooked foods stay fresh for 3 to 4 days in the fridge. However, even meals that last a little longer in the refrigerator start losing their taste and texture after 4 days.
So, if you plan to prepare meals for a whole week, you have two options – meal prep twice per week or take full advantage of your freezer.
Meal Prep Twice a Week
The best solution is to meal prep twice during the week, with each session covering 3 to 4 days of food. This will ensure that your cooked meals remain fresh and prevent spoilage before you eat them.
I like to slot out Sunday and Wednesday evenings to ensure I have a fresh and healthy prepped meal for the week. However, you can choose any two days that best suit your schedule.
Use the Freezer to Your Advantage
If you prioritize convenience over flavor, you can prepare enough food for the entire week by storing them in the freezer.
Most cooked foods stay fresh for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. They are prone to harboring harmful pathogens that can cause food poisoning. However, you can safely store food in the freezer for a couple of months – but at the cost of maximum flavor and texture.
When freezing liquids like broth, gravy, and soup, leave approximately an inch of space at the top of the container. You may be tempted to fit every last into the container, but liquids expand when frozen. Leaving a bit of space will help prevent a forced freezer deep-clean.
5 Tips on Meal Prepping Without Food Going Bad
Whether you plan to meal prep twice per week or prefer the convenience of freezing your meals, there is a handful of prepping tips worth noting to ensure your meals stay fresh.
Safely Handle Food Items
Safely handling your meal prep ingredients is the first step to preventing foodborne illness.
In every step of preparation, ensure you wash your hands and cooking surfaces often. Also, keep raw meat products separate from your other ingredients to prevent cross-contamination.
Cook Food at Appropriate Temperatures
Cook your food, especially meat, to an internal temperature of 145 to 165 degrees Fahrenheit, per USDA recommendations. Properly cooking your food will kill most foodborne pathogens than can cause food poisoning.
The best way to accurately determine the internal temperature of your dish is by using a food thermometer.
I recently bought the Cuisinart CSG-200 Infrared Folding Grilling Thermometer for $40. Besides its compact and comfortable design, it is fast, accurate, waterproof, and budget-friendly. I love the screen’s easy readability and that it can switch from Celsius to Fahrenheit.
Store Food Properly
After purchasing high-quality ingredients and proper handling, safe storage is the best way to ensure your meal prep lasts longer.
I strongly suggest you follow the USDA’s food safety guidelines and ensure you cool and refrigerate or freeze your meals within 2 hours of cooking (1 hour if the temperatures exceed 90 degrees Fahrenheit).
Use Airtight Containers
Meal prep containers are another secret ingredient to fresh meals throughout the week.
Get rid of the mismatched plastic containers in your cupboard and invest in some high-quality, 100% airtight containers. They will help you reap the most from your cooking efforts by keeping food fresh for longer, preventing freezer burn, and avoiding unwanted spills.
Some features to look for includes the following:
- Material Safety & Durability
- Ease of Cleaning
- Microwave, dishwasher, & freezer safe
- Portion Control & Compartmentalized Containers
My absolute favorite meal prep containers are the compartmentalized Fit & Fresh containers. I also love SPLF’s BPA-free Reusable Silicone Bags for freezing meals. They are ultra-durable and leakproof, and super easy to clean.
Thawing & Reheating Meals
It is best to thaw your frozen meals in the refrigerator overnight to limit dangerous bacteria breeding at room temperature.
Then, reheat your cooked meals to an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit. This can be done on the stovetop, oven, or microwave.
Meal Prep Foods That Last for a Week Without Going Bad
While I definitely do not recommend storing cooked food in the fridge for a week, several foods can last up to a week without spoiling.
- Cooked and canned vegetables with a low-water content, like potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams, carrots, parsnips, hard squash, and kale, can remain fresh for a week when refrigerated in an airtight container.
- Most freshly cooked meat remains safe to eat for 3 to 4 days when properly stored. However, according to the USDA Food Safety Chart, meat products like hot dogs, fully cooked sausage, bacon, cured meat, and country ham can remain fresh for up to a week when stored and refrigerated properly.
- Bread is another low-risk item to use for meal prepping. While it usually remains at its freshest within 3 days, you can safely eat it for a week if you properly store it in the fridge.
- Sauces containing citric acid – think lemon, lime, and oranges – act as a light preservative, which can help your meals last longer.
When planning your week’s meals, you can prepare these long-lasting ingredients beforehand as a delicious base for higher-risk foods like proteins and grains later in the week. While your meals won’t be fully prepped, it will help save time while preventing them from turning rancid halfway through the week.
When you mix safe and dangerous food groups, ensure you apply the food safety zones to the ingredients that spoil first. For example, if you have a seafood paella, the seafood is a higher risk and will spoil quicker than the rice and veg. Discard the whole dish once the seafood is no longer safe to eat.
Is It Safe to Meal Prep for 7 Days?
It is safe to prep and freeze meals for seven days. However, refrigerated meal prep meals typically last between 3 to 4 days. The quality of your ingredients and the handling, cooking, and storage all impact how long prepped meals stay fresh.
Can I Eat Cooked Meat After 7 Days?
According to the USDA, cooked meat remains fresh for 3 to 4 days if refrigerated at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or less. Refrigeration can slow down but not stop bacterial growth.
Can You Make Meal Prep Last Longer?
The best way to extend the freshness of your prepped meals is to ensure you buy high-quality ingredients. Fresh foods generally last longer than tarnished or damaged foods. Then, thoroughly cook, quickly cool, and properly store the food to prevent it from turning stale.
Although temping to cook an entire week’s meal at once, you’ll significantly lower the risk of food spoilage if you meal prep twice weekly. However, freezing your meals is also a convenient way to keep your prepped meals safe.
Nathaniel Lee is an avid cook, drawing on his decades of home cooking and fine dining experience. He is a contributing chef at Mashed, and his recipes and contributions have been featured in Tasting Table, Edible Arrangements, Insanely Good Recipes, and The Daily Meal.