Meal prepping allows you to be on autopilot when you’re ready to eat a meal or snack, says Dr. Lisa Young, an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and a nutritionist in private practice. Instead of having to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner, you can reach into your fridge and pull out pre-made food, eliminating time spent standing over the stove or chopping ingredients.
Since meal prepping involves cooking multiple servings of a dish or larger quantities of food at once, you’ll need containers to store everything in. We talked to nutrition experts about how to decide which meal prep container is right for you and the features you should consider while shopping. We also rounded up some of our favorite options, plus expert-recommended picks.
How to shop for meal prep containers
Deciding which meal prep container is best for you is largely a matter of personal preference. But there are a few factors experts recommend thinking about.
- Material: Meal prep containers are often made from plastic, glass, silicone or stainless steel, and the material they’re made of affects whether they’re safe to put in the oven, microwave, freezer or dishwasher. Each material has its own pros and cons, which we broke down in detail below. But generally speaking, containers that are safe to put in the microwave or oven allow you to reheat food in them, and those that are dishwasher-safe tend to be easy to clean.
- BPA-free: Be sure to buy containers whose materials are free from the BPA chemical, says Young. Some research has shown that BPA can leak into food or beverages when stored in containers made with the chemical, potentially leading to negative health effects. All of the containers we recommend below are BPA-free.
- Compartments: Containers with compartments are best for portioning out complete, individual meals, experts say. Because of that, you can eat from them directly. Within one container, you can add a serving of a vegetable, grain and protein, for example, and foods stay separated thanks to built-in dividers. If you’d rather store large quantities of foods in dedicated containers, like one with a few days worth of vegetables and another with grains, it’s best to purchase those without compartments. Then, when you’re ready for a meal, you can serve food from the containers onto dinnerware.
- Capacity: To determine what size meal prep container you should buy, think about how much food you plan to make and store at one time. This all depends on the types of dishes you typically cook and how many people you’re feeding. Small and medium-sized containers are usually sufficient for snacks and singular meals one person will eat. But you’ll need larger options if you’re meal prepping food for the week ahead that two or more people will eat, says Shelby Yaceczko, an advanced practice clinical dietitian in the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA Health.
- Lids and/or airtight seal: It’s important to buy containers with tightly fitting lids and/or airtight seals to reduce the risk of spills, leakage and bacteria growth on stored food, says Yaceczko.
The best meal prep containers to shop
To recommend the best meal prep containers, we rounded up expert picks and options Select staff love. All of the containers on our list are BPA-free and freezer-safe. We note which ones are oven-safe, microwave-safe and dishwasher-safe.
The best meal prep containers with compartments
I meal prep dinner for the work week every Sunday and store food in these containers. They come in a set of five with snap lock silicone lids and have two compartments inside that help me portion out meals. I’ve used the containers for about two years and find them to be super durable. They also haven’t stained, in my experience, even when I’ve poured tomato sauce and curries inside.
Material: Glass | Capacity: 4.5 cups | Compartments: Three | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Oven-safe | Microwave-safe
These meal prep containers are very similar to the glass one above, but they’re made from plastic, so they’re less fragile. They come in a set of four and have tight fitting lids. The stackable containers — which have a 4.6-star average rating from 16,424 reviews on Amazon — are designed with three compartments, the largest of which holds 2.5 cups of food and the smallest of which holds 1/2 cup of food. Each container in the set has a different color lid, so you can designate one for each meal or day of the week.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 5 cups | Compartments: Three | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
Recommended by Yaceczko, Bentgo offers stackable, multi-compartment containers that you can use to build snack packs or meals. These come in a pack of 10 with lids and the volume of food that each compartment holds is embossed on the bottom of the tray, helping you measure portions. You can purchase the containers in colors like lilac, blue and silver. They’re reusable up to 10 times, according to the brand.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 4 cups | Compartments: Three | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
These meal prep containers are a lower profile option compared to others on our list, making them particularly suitable for stacking in your refrigerator or freezer. The containers have three compartments inside and the clips on their lids create a leak-proof seal around the top, according to the brand. They’re available in a set of five and have a 4.7-star average rating from 23,197 reviews on Amazon.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 3.5 cups | Compartments: Three | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
The best single compartment meal prep container sets
Yaceczko recommends Pyrex containers because of the lid’s superior air-tight seal, which is supported by their built-in locking tabs. This set comes with seven stackable containers in a mix of sizes, plus round, square and rectangular shapes. The containers are designed with labels you can write on with dry erase markers, helping you keep track of what’s inside and when you made it.
Material: Glass | Capacity: Containers range in capacity from 1 to 6 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
OXO also offers glass containers with reliable leak-proof lids, says Yaceczko. The brand’s 12-piece set comes with six stackable containers and lids in multiple sizes, plus rectangular and circular shapes.
Material: Glass | Capacity: Containers range in capacity from 4 oz. to 3.5 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Oven-safe | Microwave-safe
Caraway sent me these containers about a year ago and I’ve used them ever since for daily meal prep and storing snacks like muffins and cut fruit. The set includes one large container, two medium containers and two small containers, plus inserts that nest inside to hold condiments or toppings like nuts and seeds. The containers’ matching lids create a very tight seal and are made from clear glass, which allows me to see what’s inside. You also get two straps to wrap around the larger containers, adding an extra layer of assurance that they won’t open in transport. Additionally, to help you organize the containers when not in use, they come with a convenient storage system I keep in my pantry.
Material: Ceramic-coated glass | Capacity: Containers range in capacity from 4.4 cups to 10 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Oven-safe | Microwave-safe
Best meal prep containers for packing lunch
I bring my W&P Porter Lunch Box to the office almost every day and pack meal prepped food in it the night before. The lunch box has a modular design that allows you to remove the divider, so you can change the size of each compartment or take out the divider completely. There is also a removable tray you can place inside the box, splitting it into two levels, helping you separate a sandwich from chips or a salad from crackers, for example. The container has a built-in silicone strap that helps keep the air-tight lid in place when I’m walking to work, making me confident that it won’t open inside my lunch box.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 4-cup bowl and 2-cup removable tray | Compartments: Three | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
If you’re looking for a meal prep container that’s as stylish as it is functional, I recommend Bentgo’s two-tone box with metallic accents. There’s two parts to it: a food tray and a food tray holder. The holder houses the food tray inside and has a lid with a locking clip plus a silicone seal. The food tray is designed with three compartments, which you can turn into four compartments by inserting an included removable divider. You’re able to lift the tray out of the holder to microwave or clean it.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 5.5 cups | Compartments: Four | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
Since it’s made from stainless steel, this container is extra durable, reducing the chance that it will break or get damaged if it’s jostled around in a backpack or work tote. The container comes with a removable divider and its lid has a silicone tab that extends over the side, giving you a place to grip while lifting it off the base. There are also snap-and-lock tabs on the lid that connect to the container’s base, keeping it even more secure. Klean Kanteen sent me a few of its food boxes to try, and I prefer this one due to its large size, which accommodates almost any meal I want to pack inside. I also love the brand’s smaller 2.8-ounce and 10-ounce snack containers, which I use for nut butters, hummus and dressing.
Material: Stainless steel | Capacity: 6.9 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Oven-safe | Microwave-safe
Best meal prep containers for snacks and smaller meals
You can use glass jars of various sizes to store food like chopped vegetables, salads, overnight oats, cooked grains, snacks and parfaits, says Young. Ball Mason Jars are available in sizes from 4 to 32 ounces, and they come in multipacks so you can buy a few at a time, ensuring you always have one on hand. Each jar has a screw-on metal lid and band to form a tight seal around the mouth, according to the brand.
Material: Glass | Capacity: 2 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
Reusable silicone bags take up minimal space, so they’re a great container option if you don’t have a lot of kitchen storage, says Yaceczko. Stasher Bags — some of my favorite eco-friendly kitchen tools — come in a variety of styles, sizes and colors, and some models have flat bottoms so they stand upright. I meal prep smoothies in these bags by portioning out frozen fruit, vegetables and milk ice cubes, as well as pack snacks, sandwiches and salads inside. You can label Stasher Bags by writing directly on them with dry erase markers, and they have an air-tight Pinch-Loc seal. Stasher’s Starter Kit 4-Pack comes with one 15-ounce sandwich bag, one 9.9-ounce snack bag, one 56-ounce stand-up mid bag and one 64-ounce half gallon bag.
Material: Silicone | Capacity: Bags range in size from 0.5 cups to 13 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe | Oven-safe
Young suggests using small stackable containers to store condiments like dressing and snacks such as dried fruit and nuts. These round plastic containers from Rubbermaid come in a pack of three and have a twist and seal lid.
Material: Plastic | Capacity: 1.2 cups | Care: Dishwasher-safe | Microwave-safe
The best kitchen tools to help you meal prep
In addition to the right containers, there’s a handful of kitchen tools that can help you meal prep. Measuring cups and a food scale assist with portioning out food, and freezer trays preserve soups and sauces for future use. Below are a few highly-rated kitchen tools we recommend, which all have over 4-star ratings on Amazon.
Meet our experts
At NBC Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Lisa Young is an adjunct professor of nutrition at New York University and a nutritionist in private practice. She’s an author who has written books including “Finally Full, Finally Slim.”
- Shelby Yaceczko is an advanced practice clinical dietitian in the Division of Digestive Diseases at UCLA Health.
- Patrick Guzzle is the vice president of food science for the National Restaurant Association, the organization that writes and publishes ServSafe products. He’s worked in retail food safety for 20 years and advises the Association and its members on food safety issues like pathogen and allergen control.
Why trust NBC Select?
Zoe Malin is an associate updates editor at NBC Select who writes about kitchen tools and appliances, including stories on ice cream makers, Dutch ovens, cookie baking and pie baking. For this article, she interviewed three experts about how to shop for meal prep containers and rounded up expert picks and NBC Select staff recommendations.