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You want to pack a lunch box every day, but the thought of buying, prepping, cooking, and then storing food for a week’s worth of meals can seem intimidating, if not impossible. But here’s the good news: When you’re equipped with the right tools, products, and know-how, the entire process is actually pretty simple.
According to nutrition and wellness experts, meal prep will make your life a whole lot easier — and healthier — in the long run. “When you take time to prep your meals, you’ll save money, time, and make smarter choices in a pinch,” explains Keri Glassman, MS, RD, founder of Nutritious Life. “By committing to just an hour of meal prep at the beginning of your week, you can actually lessen the total amount of cooking you have to do over the course of a busy week.”
If you’re new to meal prepping, here’s the gist of what’s involved.
- Pick a day and time that works for you. It could be Sunday, but maybe Monday or even Saturday works better for your schedule. “I usually go food shopping on Saturdays when stores are less crowded and then I focus my Sunday on cooking,” says Tracy Lockwood Beckerman, RD, in-house nutritionist at Betches Media. “I’ll cook my grains, roast my veggies on a sheet pan and grill my proteins on Sunday morning.” Plus, if you’ve ever suffered a “case of the Mondays,” you know the best thing is coming home to a meal that’s already been prepped on Monday, as Beckerman notes.
- Get the right products — and make room in your fridge. You’ll need glass containers of various shapes and sizes, Glassman says. (Scroll down for her and other nutritionists’ top picks!) Plus, you’ll want to take some time to organize your fridge so you have space for a week’s worth of foods, she adds.
- Consider it more ‘mix-and-match’ than ‘meal planning.’ “At its core, meal prep is all about cooking in bulk and eating the leftovers,” Glassman explains. Beckerman likes to prep meal components that she can combine in different ways throughout the week for freedom and variety, rather than create complete pre-prepped meals. She preps grains (think: quinoa, brown rice, oats), roasted veggies, a large batch of seared or roasted protein (such as chicken, tofu, or salmon), washed and chopped raw veggies, and a dressing or hummus. “This strategy allows you to mix and match throughout the week,” Beckerman explains. “One day you can top greens with just roasted veggies if in the mood for a lighter meal, or a heftier grain bowl the next.”
- Think three days in advance. “I encourage my clients not to get caught up with having to plan the entire five- or seven-day week ahead,” says Kelly LeVeque, certified holistic nutritionist and author of Body Love. “It's more flexible and less overwhelming to think ahead for three-day blocks.” After all, for many of us, it's not realistic to decide what you're going to want to eat by Thursday or Friday on a Sunday.
- It’s all about balance. The key to making your pre-prepped meals ultra-satisfying: Make sure that each contains a protein, carbohydrate, and fat to keep you satiated after the meal, Beckerman notes. “And don’t forget to add a ton of vegetables, fresh or frozen, to give you a boost of antioxidants and belly filling fiber!”
- Don’t skip the staples. “I’ll never leave the grocery store without B.A.G.E.L.S — that’s my acronym for berries, avocado, greek yogurt, eggs, lettuce and scallions,” Beckerman says. “These are staples in my house and I’ll find a use for them in my cooking throughout the week, no matter what.” These whole foods make a great choice for a grab-and-go snack, or they help add flavor and variety to many meals.
The best lunch boxes and meal prep containers
Ready to get started? Keep reading for the ten best lunch boxes for adults and more tips and tricks to make meal prep and packed lunch not only doable, but also easier than ever.
BETTER editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, BETTER does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.
- ClearMax All in One Salad 2 Go Container, $10, Amazon
“This container was pretty much made for salad meal-prep! I’ll typically put an assortment of greens, veggies, lean meat (sliced sirloin, rotisserie chicken, canned salmon, or shrimp are typical choices), nuts or cheese, and a salad dressing in it for lunch.
It has an extremely large base that fits a ton of greens and it comes with a leak-proof container for dressing, plus a separate compartment for crunchy toppings. It’s BPA-free and dishwasher-safe. This version even comes with a fork!” — Summer Yule, MS, RDN
- Stasher Reusable Silicone Food Bag, $12, Amazon
“These silicone bags come in a range of sizes, and you can put them in the fridge, freezer, and even the dishwasher. They’re reusable, so easy to carry, and come in great colors. I like to pack cut up veggies or fruit in these on the go, and I’ll put hard boiled eggs, protein, soup (pour into a bowl and reheat), there is no end to what I put in here!” — Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN
- Prepd Pack Lunchbox Set, $69, Tastemade
“I pack a whole meal in here, including salad, leftover cooked squash or roasted veggies and a protein like an egg or leftover salmon. I love the separate space for salad dressing and it is super cute so I love carrying it. It also comes with it’s own utensils and ice packs — one stop shop!” — Shapiro
- Pyrex Storage Set, starting at $26 for 20 pieces, Amazon
“They’re nothing groundbreaking, but these Pyrex contains are my serious go-to. They’re BPA-free, made of study glass, and see-through, which is crucial for easy fridge organization and access to what you’ve made.” — Glassman
- ECOlunchbox Three-in-One Stainless Food Canister & Lunch Box, $60 for 2, Amazon
“These insulated stainless steel lunch boxes keep your food cold or hot for 1-2 hours. They’re perfect to bring to school or work because they’re also lightweight. Plus, they can be washed in the dishwasher or with hot water and dish soap.” — Beckerman
- WECK Mold Jar Combo Pack, $25, Amazon
“I use these glass jars to pack warming foods for work during the winter, such as my Pumpkin Curry , Spaghetti Squash with meat sauce, or Macnut Pesto + Butternut Squash Zoodles. I use these lids because they seal better. I also like to store homemade sauces and dressings in these jars.” — Torie Borrelli, holistic nutritionist and chef
- Snapware Glass Food Storage Set, $27, Amazon
“I use these Snapware containers to store the ‘components’ for my meal prep. I simply season, add oil and roast my veggies in the oven, and then choose 2-3 proteins that I cook in my Instant Pot, slow cooker or oven. Then, I can add different sauces or healthy fats and mix and match multiple different meals.” — Sam Presicci, MCN, RD, LD, lead dietitian at Snap Kitchen
- OXO Good Grips GreenSaver, $18, Amazon
“I like to keep my fridge stocked with tons of fresh washed and chopped veggies during the week, so I love my OXO Greensaver containers for storing fresh produce. It has carbon filters and a vent that keeps produce fresher longer. If you like to buy a bunch of produce once a week, it can really help extend the life.” — LeVeque
Bento lunch boxes
- Bento Lunch Box by Monka, $25, Amazon
“Glass is great from a non-plastic perspective, but what I love about stainless steel is that it tends to be a little lighter and less susceptible to breaking. They can take a few good knocks, and they won’t break. Dented? Sure, but that gives them character. Plus, they’re leak proof, and when done, a quick rinse or wash at work and you can pack up the smaller units into the larger one.” — Doug Cook, RD, functional nutritionist
- Bentgo All-in-one Stackable Bento Lunch Box, $15, Amazon
“These boxes are great because they are stackable and have a larger bottom compartment for leftovers or perhaps a vegetable salad. It also has two more separate compartments for foods you don’t want to mix until the last minute like dried fruit or seeds for salad. Bonus: There’s even a ‘cutlery cubby.’” — Cook
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