Food preservation

How to Store Meal Prep: Maximize Freshness and Flavor

What could be better than having delicious homemade meals available every day? Meal prepping has become a hot new trend that makes healthy eating convenient and fun. The only downside to preparing meals days in advance is that to remain tasty and not cause any foodborne illnesses they must be stored correctly.

Cooked meal prep meals last 3-4 days in the refrigerator and indefinitely in the freezer. Deli food, like cold meats, must be stored in airtight containers in the fridge. Salads and soups will stay fresh if refrigerated in mason jars. Dry food must be sealed and stored in a cool, dry area.

It is reassuring to come home to a healthy homecooked meal every day of the week, even if you work long hours. Let’s find out how to pack and store food confidently so that it stays fresh, safe, tasty, and nutritious for as long as possible.

How To Store Meal Prep

Before moving into the nitty gritty of how to store specific foods, some basic food safety guidelines apply, no matter what meals have been prepped. Even the most delicious meal stored in the freezer could be damaged if it wasn’t inside a suitable container!

7 Basic checkpoints to keep in mind when storing meal-prepped food:

  1. Food must be stored in airtight containers. That will stop it from drying out inside the refrigerator and prevent freezer burn if it is frozen.
  2. Set the refrigerator temperature at 40F or less. The cool setting is to inhibit the growth of bacteria in food.
  3. The ideal temperature setting for a freezer is 0F.
  4. Never store meal-prepped food in the refrigerator door as the temperature fluctuates more than on a shelf. Meals that must stay coolest should be placed at the bottom of the fridge, while salads and dairy can be on the top shelves.
  5. Always use fresh, quality ingredients. What you put in at the beginning will affect the quality of the meal.
  6. Label all meal-prepped food. Always include the date it was prepared and the expected best-before date. Also, detail what each container includes so you don’t have to open each one to inspect it each time you are ready to defrost a meal.
  7. Allow freshly prepared meal prep food or leftovers you plan to store to cool down for a maximum of two hours. Never leave hot meal prep food standing out for extended periods in the danger zone of between 41F-140F, which is when bacteria proliferates the fastest. Get the food through this zone and into cold storage as quickly as possible.

To keep cooked food safe, transfer it into smaller containers while it is hot. Large portions of food prepared in bulk cool down faster around the edges, which may leave dangerous warm spots in the center where bacteria could get a foothold.

How To Store Meal Prep Meals In The Fridge

The method selected to store your meal prep meals should depend on two factors:

  1. How long before it will be used? Most meals stored in a fridge are safe to use within 3 to 4 days.
  2. The type of food being stored. Deli foods, like sliced cold meats and fresh salads, can only be stored in the fridge as freezing them will cause a significant deterioration in quality.

Cooked meal-prepped food that will be used within 3 to 4 days can be safely stored in the refrigerator. Keep all meals in airtight containers and space them so cold air can circulate between them.

Package meal prep food according to how it will be reheated. If you plan to have a salad with a pasta dish, the pasta will need to be reheated while the greens will be served cool. They should therefore be stored in separate containers.

Hearty, nourishing meal prep soups also do well stored in the refrigerator in mason jars. Disposable containers are also handy, but ensure they are BPA-free before using them to store meal-prepped food. If you intend to travel with your prepared meals, it is also a good idea to ensure they won’t leak.

Cooked meals, or leftovers, should be stored in quality, airtight containers near the bottom of the refrigerator. Take note of which meals need to be used first as some ingredients, for example, cooked fish, may not last as long as others.

Storing Meal Prep Fruit And Vegetables In The Fridge

The method used to pack meal prep food will affect how long the food will last and how well it retains its texture. Some easy hacks can keep cut salads, fruits, and vegetables, like shredded carrots, fresher for longer:

  • Add a paper towel sheet to the container to absorb moisture from raw, cut vegetables or fruit. Line the base of an airtight container with a sheet of paper towel before placing the cut fruit or vegetables on top and sealing tightly.
  • Store salads in mason jars in the refrigerator. Since glass doesn’t absorb odors, it will keep the ingredients tasting fresher for longer. Mason jars are also attractive, and the prepped food will look inviting and appetizing for longer.
  • Uncut fruit can be stored in an unsealed bag. Add a spritz of water to prevent the fruit from drying out.
  • Washed leafy greens should be thoroughly dried in a salad spinner before being sealed in a plastic bag. Leave one corner open so it still gets air. Loose lettuce leaves spoil faster than a head of lettuce, so consider keeping it intact and adding loose leaves to freshen up meal prep food as you use them.

How To Store Meal Prep Meals In The Freezer

There is a common misperception that freezing food destroys nutrients. While freezing may occasionally alter the texture of some food, freezing is an excellent method of preserving food that has minimal effect on the overall nutritional value.

Packaging is the most important consideration when storing meal prep in the freezer. Although freezer burn doesn’t make food unsafe to eat, it does make it less appealing.

Choose thick vacuum-sealed packets or freezer-safe, airtight containers for storing meals in the freezer. Avoid using glass in the freezer as the food can expand, which will cause the glass to crack.

Freezing meal prep food is the safest way to store meals if you are prepping far in advance. Cooked poultry, beef, fish dishes, vegetables, and cut fruit can be safely frozen for extended periods.

For the best results, take food out of the freezer and let the meal thaw overnight in the refrigerator before reheating the following day. For the best taste, use frozen meals within six months.

How To Store Dry Meal Prep Items

Meal prep food is usually cooked and only needs to be reheated to be as healthy and delicious as when it was first prepared. Adding fresh, crispy toppings like croutons or nuts to reheated meals can make them even more delicious.

Store dry ingredients or toppings in airtight containers in cool, dry areas to lock in freshness. Mason jars work well to keep dry ingredients looking and tasting fresh for longer. Nuts can remain at room temperature for six to twelve months. Croutons can be kept in a sealed container in the refrigerator but only last about a week.

Always check the expiry date of individual dry products and store them away from causes of premature spoilage like bugs, air, light, and moisture. When in doubt, most dry products can be safely stored for long periods in the freezer.

Should I Put My Meal Prep In The Fridge Hot?

There is a two-hour meal-prepping rule. If hot, cooked food has been standing out for longer than two hours, it should be discarded.

Bacteria thrive in temperatures between 40F and 140F. The trick is to get food through the danger zone from piping hot to cool and refrigerated as quickly as possible.

Food can be packed into individual meal prep servings and placed in the refrigerator when it is hot. Small portions cool quickly, and the faster the meals cool, the less time bacteria has to get a foothold.

Take care not to place new, freshly prepared hot food near meals that have already cooled. Once food has cooled off, a constant temperature of below 40F should be maintained until it is reheated to eat.

What Is The Best Way To Reheat Meal Prepped Food?

For best results, frozen meals should thaw in the refrigerator overnight before use. When reheating meals, there is often a trade-off between the most convenient and the best methods.

The most convenient method to reheat meal prep food is using the microwave. Glass containers can be placed directly into the microwave. Food stored in plastic containers should be moved to a microwave-safe plate before reheating.

For a more pleasing, delicious result, spread the food on a baking tray and oven-heat it at 325F for 25 minutes. This works especially well to retain the texture of vegetables which could become soggy in the microwave.

Soups can be warmed on the stovetop or in a microwave. Toaster ovens are excellent for reheating crispy meals like pizza or burritos.


Meal prepping is a practical way to stay in control of your diet and enjoy the convenience of home-cooked healthy food each day. To remain safe to eat, meal prep meals should be stored in airtight containers in the freezer or fridge. Food that will be used the following day should be removed from the freezer the night before and placed in the refrigerator to thaw.

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