In this article we’ll help you decide which type of meal prep container to choose, their differences and when to use them.
A quality meal prep container goes beyond a storage solution by keeping your food fresher for longer. They can help reduce the loss of important nutrients in the freezing and reheating process and make the meal prepping experience a whole lot more enjoyable.
Single or multi-compartment containers?
For most meal preppers, single compartment containers are the go-to if the name of the game is convenience. Everything is placed into the single container for one serving which makes it easy to reheat and eat.
The drawback, though, is if you wanted to include some variety and don’t want the two foods touching (like adding in fruits or salads with your meal), you will either need to pack it in a separate container or get a multi-compartment container.
Multi-compartment containers come in a few different varieties:
- Split 50/50
- Split 30/70
- Removable divider
- Bento style (3 or more compartments)
Generally those with removable dividers seem a bit gimmicky – you may as well be mixing the food because there will always be some spillage from one side to the other.
LOCK AND LOCK AIRTIGHT CONTAINER
Recommendation: Stock up on some single compartment containers but keep some multi-compartment ones handy.
Plastic Meal Prep Containers
There are many reasons you might want to work with plastic meal prep containers. Top advantages include convenience, easy portability, widespread availability and relatively low cost. Plastic is unlikely to break if you drop it, which makes it one of the most popular materials available for storing and transporting lunches to school and work.
Plastic food storage containers do have their disadvantages, too. For starters, they cannot safely be heated in the oven, which means you may find them less than ideal for meal prepping dinners.
Plastic containers are prone to warping. When that happens, sometimes the container lids stop being leakproof. They are also vulnerable to accumulating stains, scratches and odours. Other disadvantages of plastic food storage containers include environmental issues and possible adverse health effects.
There’s one especially important caveat you need to be aware of before you use plastic meal prep containers or plastic wrap: It is possible for chemicals to migrate out of the plastic and into your food. You are particularly vulnerable to having this happen if you place your food plus a plastic container or plastic wrap in the microwave to be heated. Scientists have determined that heating plastic can dramatically hasten the speed of chemical leaching.
All this raises the question of how dangerous, exactly, the chemical leaching from BPA and other chemicals truly is?
We don’t have clear cut answers to this question. On one hand, officials in the Australian government reassure us that the average Australian isn’t exposed to significant enough quantities of BPA for it to be a problem — and they tell us this based on their understanding of scientific studies that have been conducted.
On the other hand, we have countless doctors, scientists, fitness gurus and other experts warning us that chemical leaching is a dire problem we should be concerned about.
- The oncologists and medical reviewers at BreastCancer.org warn people not to cook food in plastic containers because of the possibility of hormone-disrupting plastic residues leaching into food.
- A columnist at Men’s Health cautions men not to eat from plastic containers at all, because the Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastic can contribute to gynecomastia and other health concerns.
- Rob Brown, M.D., gives us essentially the same warnings. He points out that chemicals in plastic are linked to breast cancer and other cancers.
One of the worst chemical culprits in plastic is Bisphenol A (BPA). BPA negatively interferes with the proper functioning of your hormones. In particular, BPA can impersonate oestrogen in your body. Scientists have discovered links between BPA and a broad variety of health concerns ranging from infertility to heart disease to cancer.
With the growing awareness of the many health problems BPA can cause or contribute to, companies are scrambling to develop BPA-free food storage containers. However, some BPA replacements are not significantly better than BPA is — so a claim of “BPA Free” doesn’t automatically mean that a plastic food storage container is a safe one.
The main takeaway: Heating food in plastic containers is extremely likely to carry some health risks. You will have to evaluate for yourself whether the convenience of plastic containers outweighs the risks. You can decrease your risk level by transferring your food to a glass dish or paper plate before heating it — but of course, this reduces the convenience factor that makes plastic containers so attractive in the first place.
If you do decide to use plastic food storage containers for your meal prepping activities, get yourself some plastic containers that:
- Are PVC, phthalate and BPA free
- Have leak-proof lids
- Are freezer, microwave & dishwasher safe
If you want to avoid using plastic meal prep containers, some alternatives include silicone, glass and stainless steel.
Silicone Meal Prep Containers
Silicone is a flexible, heat-resistant, resilient material. Some people claim it is a plastic, and other people claim it isn’t.
Silicone is made by heating silica at extremely high temperatures with petrochemical-derived hydrocarbons in an industrial furnace. The silica is a natural product, but some of the additives that can be used in the process of making the finished silicone are not. The resulting product is therefore a synthetic one.
Silicone behaves much like a plastic. Food storage containers made from silicone carry many of the same advantages that plastic ones do. They aren’t prone to breaking, they resist water, and they are nonstick. Not only that, some silicone meal prep containers are collapsible, which allows for convenient storage when they are empty. Some manufacturers are making silicone versions of food storage bags that are intended to replace single-use plastic food storage bags.
There is no one single formulation for making silicone, so its composition can vary. Silicone can be used for constructing a broad variety of industrial products besides food storage containers. It comes in varying grades. Ideally, if you plan to use silicone food storage containers, you’d want to buy food-grade containers at a minimum.
Silicone is a promising material, but it has not yet been studied sufficiently to definitively say that it is always safer than plastic. In one study, scientists discovered that small amounts of substances from silicone bakeware and nipples did have the capability to leach into milk and baby formula. So whether it is actually safer than plastic is up for study and additional debate.
Glass Meal Prep Containers
There are many reasons to choose glass food storage containers for meal prepping. Unlike plastic containers, they are oven safe; it’s fine to warm up your prepped meals in the oven if they’re stored in glass. You don’t have to worry about glass leaching toxic chemicals into your food.
Glass containers have multiple advantages over plastic ones. Glass holds its shape and doesn’t warp. Glass containers will look a lot fancier. Another advantage of glass is its stain resistance. Glass containers are easier to clean than plastic ones, and they also have superior odour resistance.
The two big downsides to glass food storage containers are their breakability and their weight. They’re heavier to carry around than their plastic counterparts, and there’s always a worry if you accidentally drop them.
Our verdict: Plastic for on the go, glass for home.
Stainless Steel Meal Prep Containers
If you’re looking for the most durable and rugged meal prep containers, it would probably be stainless-steel ones. Stainless steel is completely recyclable and can last a lifetime.
One problem is that stainless steel meal prep containers are not microwave friendly – so unless you’re planning to fire up a campfire to heat up your meal, it’s more or less just a stainless steel lunchbox for cold food.
Stainless steel also has the potential to leach nickel and chromium into your food when you cook it. This can result in an increased risk of contact dermatitis.
Researchers determined that the grade of stainless steel and the cooking duration were both contributing factors to the amount of leaching that occurs. So if you use stainless steel cookware or meal prep containers, you can reduce your risk of leaching by using better grades of stainless steel and by cooking your food for the shortest acceptable duration of time.
Where to Buy Meal Prep Containers
Coles, Woolworths, Target, etc. all carry BPA free leak-proof containers in both plastic and glass varieties. They’re great when there are specials on but not so great at RRP.
Some of the better containers include those that were made by Lock & Lock, FitPacker, or Pyrex. You can find them all on Amazon as well.
If you’re just starting out meal-prepping, it’ll be sensible to get some budget-friendly containers first to see if they’re a good fit. Depending on how much you eat, and how many meals you’re preparing, your container requirements will change. Figure it all out as you go and add more containers progressively.
|Product||Material||Type||Freezer & microwave friendly||Leakproof||Compartments|
|Lock & Lock Airtight||Plastic||Reusable||Yes||Yes||Single|
|Simply Life 3 Compartment||Plastic||Reusable||Yes||Yes||3|
|Lock & Lock Glass||Glass||Reusable||Yes||Yes||Single|
|Royal Beei Stainless Steel||Stainless steel||Reusable||No||No||Single|
|Hefty Slider Freezer Bags||Plastic||Disposable||Yes / No||Yes||Single|
|Disposable Lunch Box||Plastic||Reusable||Yes||Yes||3|
|Tritan 1040 ML 2 Compartment Glass||Glass||Reusable||Yes||Yes||2|
|Disposable Hot & Cold Containers||Paper||Disposable||Yes||No||Single|
|Biodegradable Containers With Vented Lids||Cardboard||Disposable||Yes||No||Single|
|3 Compartment Plastic Containers||Plastic||Reusable||Yes||Yes||3|