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Meal prep is a great way to save time and money, and it ensures that you eat healthy since it allows you to track the number of calories and nutrients in your meals.
The biggest problem with meal prep is that most people store their meals in the wrong way and end up throwing away good food because of improper storage.
To help you out, we’ve put together 8 tips on how to store meal prep without food going bad.
Why is Proper Meal Prep Storage Important?
Food spoilage is a real problem, but proper food storage can go a long way to preventing it.
Bacteria such as E-coli or salmonella can contaminate many types of foods, from raw meats right up to fresh vegetables.
These bacterias can cause food poisoning, showing symptoms as early as two hours of eating spoiled food.
Some of the common symptoms are vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and sometimes fever.
As you can see, meal prepping is more than just about saving time or money—it’s also a safety measure to ensure that your food doesn’t contain illness-causing bacteria.
What Do You Need to Store Meal Prep
The first step is to get the right equipment for storing your meal prep. The most important item you will need is meal prep containers.
Even though there are many types of food storage options available, using high-quality meal prep containers is easier, hassle-free in avoiding spoilage, and is very affordable.
The two most popular ones are – plastic containers and glass containers.
We’d recommend going for glass containers as they’re often freezer/washer/microwave safe and help keep the food fresh for a longer duration.
You can take a look at our guide, where we’ve covered the best glass meal prep containers for more information.
7 Tips on How to Store Meal Prep
1. Make room in your refrigerator
It’s always good to start meal prep with a clean and organized kitchen. The first thing to do is to ensure you have enough space in your refrigerator.
Make sure the dishes are spread out in the fridge so that food will stay fresh and the air can flow freely. If you overfill your fridge, food can spoil more quickly.
When storing food in the refrigerator, be sure that it is completely covered. Oxygen speeds up the process of spoilage, so you need to ensure your containers are completely covered.
If there isn’t enough space available, you should consider an under-counter refrigeration unit. You can install these refrigerators underneath your kitchen counters for easy access. An under-counter refrigeration unit will provide you with the storage space you need while taking up minimal room in your home.
2. Store salads and soups in mason jars
Salad and soup prepping is probably the first meal-prep option for most people. They’re both versatile, easy to prepare, and can be stored in glass jars without much fuss.
Mason jars with wide mouths are a great choice because they’re dishwasher safe, inexpensive, and even make lovely kitchen decorations. Plus, they’re not prone to absorbing bad smells like plastic containers often do.
These glass jars are also great for transportation so that you can carry them with you for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.
3. Thaw frozen meals in your fridge
Freezing food is a great way to keep illness-causing bacteria or other microorganisms in suspension, but it won’t kill them.
When thawing frozen food, bacteria begin multiplying rapidly as soon as foods go above 40° Fahrenheit. That’s why it isn’t safe to defrost frozen food on the counter.
Instead, you should try to thaw frozen meals in your fridge, which keeps the food at a safe temperature. However, it takes a long time, so you should plan ahead. It’s important to thaw to help sustain the quality while reheating your meal prep.
4. Store dry food products in airtight food containers
We’d recommend using an airtight food storage container when storing dry foods products such as pasta, rice, lentils, chickpeas, beans, flour, chia seeds, etc.
When you purchase them, they usually come in plastic or paper packaging, which keeps them safe. However, once they’re open, insects and other contaminants can get into your food.
To avoid that, you should always store dry food products in airtight food containers. Doing so will prevent air and moisture from entering your dry foods, helping them last longer.
Moreover, you can use plastic or glass containers to organize & label your pantry.
5. Keep your refrigerator and freezers at the right temperature
If your fridge is too hot, the food will spoil quickly, and if it’s too cold, the food will be frozen.
Keeping a constanKeeping a constant temperature at 4°C / 40°F is ideal for your refrigerator. At this temperature, the food will stay fresher for longer and help stop or prevent the growth of bacteria.
Most foods will stay be fine to reheat for up to 4 days when kept in the refrigerator at the ideal temperature.
The freezer temperature should be at -18°C / 0°F, and food should be stored in the freezer immediately.
The best way to do this is to make sure you don’t leave anything sitting at room temperature for too long and only take out what you need.
Freezing meal prep is ideal for extending its shelf life, which is why it’s so popular with once-a-month batch cooking.
6. Know the right storage time
The shelf life of food is vital to consider when planning your meals.
Most meals that are stored in the fridge would be okay to be eaten within four days. After that, they start losing taste and texture and might get spoiled.
Make sure you’re getting your information from reliable sources and checking the food companies’ dates stamps.
7. Use by and best before dates
Whenever you purchase edible products, always check the label. There are two types of dates, the use by and best before dates.
The use-by date is more strict in terms of safety, and it immediately informs you that this item must be consumed before the given day. You’ll often find it on meat products, dairy, and generally fresh food.
On the other hand, best before dates on food are usually about quality rather than safety which is why people are generally more relaxed and can exceed the date.
You can find best before dates on food products such as frozen foods, dried foods, and canned food.
What Are Good Foods for Storage?
While there’s no hard and fast rule about what food works best for meal prepping (as almost every food can be used), you’ll find that storing whole grains, meats, and vegetables is your best bet.
Here are some of our favorite meal prep foods that stay fresh for longer:
- Grains: Rice, pasta, bread, and other grains will keep well when used for meal prep.
- Pasta: Pasta is easy to defrost and eat on its own or in conjunction with another ingredient.
- Meat: Meats work incredibly well when used for meal prepping.
- Roasted vegetables and fresh vegetables: These roasted vegetables tend to be very durable and just as tasty when used in meal prep.
- Whole fruits: Fruits such as apples and bananas will keep in your fridge for a few days.
- Nuts: Nuts can also stay fresh in your refrigerator for a few days.
- Cheese: Cheese is another great ingredient that you can use for meal prepping without worrying about it going bad in your fridge.
The Do’s and Don’ts of Storing Meal Prep
Below are some quick do’s and don’ts that you should definitely keep in mind when storing meal prep:
- Keep it organized. You don’t want to end up with a bunch of freezer bags taking up space, so label everything!
- Freeze liquid meals in bags. Liquid meals like soups can be placed in bags once they are cool.
- Use glass storage containers. They’re better for the environment and they won’t absorb smells like plastic containers.
- Allow foods to cool down before you refrigerate or freeze them.
- Try to use natural preservatives to keep your food fresh for longer. Honey is one of the most natural preservatives available.
- Make sure dishes are well spread out when stored in the fridge
- Squeeze as much air as possible before sealing the storage bags so there’s no freezer burn
- Thaw frozen meals (in the refrigerator and not on the countertop) before reheating them
- Keep your food in the refrigerator for longer then it’s expiration date
- Buy containers that aren’t freezer-friendly
- Set your fridge/freezer to the wrong temperatures
Is it better to freeze or refrigerate meal prep?
This all depends on how long the recipe lasts, how long until you plan to eat it, and if it’s freezer friendly. If the recipe is freezer-friendly and you’re unsure that you’re going to eat it before its expiration date, stick it in the freezer. It’s better to be safe than waste your money and preparation time!
How can I preserve meal prep for the week?
You’ll want to use either sealing bags or freezer-friendly containers in order to preserve meal prep for the week.
It’s best to try and spread out the meals in your refrigerator, rather than stacking them on top of each other or packing them into one container together.
Richmond Howard started Meal Prepify in 2019 and has helped over a million people learn how to meal prep, get better at meal planning, and create a kitchen they love to use. He’s an avid home chef and loves to bbq, grill out, and make awesome food for family and friends. He’s been featured on MSN, Renaissance Periodization, and Good Financial Cents.