How Do I Prep That? (Food Prep A-Z)

A comprehensive guide to the very best foods for meal prep…and how to prepare and store them!

How often has this happened to you? You make this incredible plan of meals for the week, spend more than you’d like to admit at the grocery store, get a ton of prep-work done on Sunday and then by Thursday you open the fridge to a variety of odd smells and off-color meals. Yuck. 

I feel like this let down can definitely put us off to the idea of meal planning. No one wants to waste time, money, and energy on anything, let alone preparing meals. (Unless you’re like me, and the kitchen is your “zone.”) Regardless, let’s overcome this obstacle together by going through an A-Z list of the best foods to incorporate into meal planning, and how to prepare and store them properly. 

Please be aware that I am calling this list “comprehensive” because I did extensive research to help me best determine what foods would work best for a week (or more) of meals. That certainly doesn’t mean I’ve covered everything! I’m hopeful that reading through this list will provide inspiration, and perhaps get the wheels turning as to what other things can be incorporated into this list. Send me your ideas in the comments below!

A

Apples– apples have a pretty long shelf life, provided you made some good choices at the grocery store. (See my in-depth guide to Grocery Shopping here.) They will last whole in the produce drawer of the fridge for two to four weeks in a sealed plastic bag. 

You can also peel and slice them and store them in the fridge in an air tight container filled with cold water, or toss them with a little lemon juice to prevent browning. (Be aware that this will lend to a slight lemony flavor, however.) Apples will last like this for a week.

Arugula– arugula can be stored up to two weeks in a sealed plastic bag or an air tight container in the fridge. Keep a slightly damp paper towel in the container and change every few days as needed. 

Asparagus– trim the stems of the asparagus stalks about ½” store and in the fridge upright in a container with water. (Think of flowers in a vase.) Stored like this they should last a week.

You can freeze asparagus by “blanch and shock.” Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and allow your vegetables to “cook” for just under 2 minutes. Immediately transfer your vegetables to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Allow to thoroughly drain and then freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Transfer to a freezer safe bag or container and keep frozen for up 3 months. 

Avocados– avocado can be tricky. When you are at the grocery store, take into consideration when you will need to use them. The harder the flesh, the less ripe the fruit. They will also ripen much slower if refrigerated whole. 

When preparing avocado it’s best to keep them in their skin until you need them to prevent browning, but there are ways around this. Scoop the flesh into a bowl and mash with a little oil, lime juice and a pinch of salt and pepper. Transfer into a container with an air-tight lid and cover with a layer of plastic wrap before sealing. Avocado will last up to five days in the fridge like this. 

B

Bacon– In my opinion, the best way to cook bacon is in the oven, on a rack on a sheet pan. Bake at 400 F for about 10-15 minutes, but once you can smell it, check on it. Blot with paper towel and let cool. Once cooled, crumble, chop, or leave whole. Store either version in an air-tight container for up to five days. Wrap cooked slices wrapped in a paper towel before storing.

Baked Goods– (muffins, pancakes, waffles, quick breads, etc.) These will last in the fridge for one week and are best frozen for up to one month. I wouldn’t store out at room temperature for longer than a day or two, due to moisture and mold. Store in an air-tight container. 

Bananas–bananas are subject to brown in the fridge, peeled or unpeeled. Your best bet, if you can’t leave them whole, is to peel, chop or slice, and freeze in a single layer. Transfer frozen slices to a freezer safe container and store for up to four months. Take out and thaw as needed. 

Beans (cooked)– Cooked beans, and most other legumes, will last a week in fridge stored in an air-tight container in liquid (water or broth.) They also freeze very well. Spread cooked beans onto a sheet pan in a single layer to freeze. Transfer to a freezer-safe container. They will last up to 6 months. 

You can buy them canned, or buy them dry for much cheaper. Pick a day where you’ll be home. Soak them overnight and cook gently in a large pot of water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to simmer. Actual cooking times can vary by age and type of bean, but can span anywhere from one to four hours.

The only way to know if your beans are done is to take one out and try it. Add salt at the end of the cooking process to prevent starches from breaking down too soon. 

Berries– Soak berries for up to 5 minutes in a 1:3 ratio of white vinegar and water. Drain and pat dry. Store in an air-tight container lined with paper towel for up to a week.

I wouldn’t recommend trying to store delicate berries, such as raspberries or blackberries for much longer than a few days, but strawberries and blueberries store very well like this. I have even cut up strawberries and this method kept them in great condition for a week. 

Bread– Bread is another tricky one. Your best bet is to either store at room temperature and use within a few days, or to portion out the loaf, place in air-tight container, push out as much air as possible, seal it and freeze it. Bread will last frozen for up to three months. When you are ready to use, take out and bring back to life in the oven. (350F for five – ten minutes.) 

Broccoli– Broccoli stores best raw, cut into florets and stored in an air tight container. They will last like this for well over a week. Take out florets and cook as needed. 

You can freeze broccoli by “shock and blanch.” Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and allow your vegetables to “cook” for just under 2 minutes. Immediately transfer your vegetables to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process.

Allow to thoroughly drain and keep in an air-tight container in fridge for one week, or freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Transfer to a freezer safe bag. Store in a freezer-safe container for up to six months. 

Broth/Stock­– Store in an air tight container (I think a large glass Mason Jar like this one works best) with a tight fitting lid in the fridge for one week. Pour cooled stock into freezer safe gallon bags and lay flat in freezer, or pour into ice cube molds and store in freezer safe bags in freezer for up to four months. 

C

Cabbage– Whole cabbage will last in the produce drawer for three weeks or more. Wash, peel the outer leaves and store whole leaves, shreds, or slices wrapped in paper towel in an air tight container for up to two weeks. 

Cauliflower– See broccoli for preparation and storage suggestions. 

Celery– store whole heads wrapped in aluminum foil in the produce drawer. You can reuse the foil for several heads, but toss once the foil starts to “shred.”

If your celery is already cut into stalks, store in an air-tight container submerged in cold water, for up to three days at peak quality. 

Chicken– (Oh chicken. I could write a novel about it. Let’s just keep things simple, however, and talk about cooked chicken) 

Season portioned out pieces of chicken meat with a little oil, salt, and pepper. Bake at 400 for 20-40 minutes. (Cooking time depends on breast, thigh, drumstick, etc.) Bake until internal temperature reaches 165F minimum. Allow to cool and then slice, shred, chop, etc. Store in air-tight container in fridge for up to four days. 

Don’t take any chances with proteins. When in doubt, throw it out! 

Chickpeas– See Beans for preparation directions, but allow a little longer to cook. Cooked chickpeas can be tossed with oil and your favorite seasonings and roasted at 450F for 30-40 minutes. Allow to cool and store in air-tight container in fridge for up to four days.

Citrus Fruits– Store in the fridge for two weeks for maximum freshness, but bring to room temperature before eating or using for best flavor. Segmented citrus fruits (slices, jewels, wedges, etc.) will last refrigerated for up to five days. 

Fresh citrus juice will last refrigerated for three days and frozen for three months.

Fresh citrus zest will last in an air-tight container in the fridge for one week or for up to three months in the freezer 

Cucumber– thoroughly wash and dry your cucumbers and store them whole in a plastic bag (left opened for air flow) in the produce drawer of the fridge. They will last whole for a week if stored this way.

Sliced cucumber can be stored submerged in cold water in an air-tight container for a week. 

You can also “quick pickle” your cukes by bringing 1 cup vinegar, 1 cup water, ½ cup sugar and 1 tbsp salt to a boil until sugar and salt have dissolved. Allow to “brine” to cool and pour over a total of 1lb of cucumbers (or any vegetable you’d like to pickle!)  Make sure the containers you are using are very clean and dry, and can be sealed air-tight. Pack as many vegetables as will fit into your storage containers and seal shut. Let pickles sit refrigerated for at least 24 hours before using. Your refrigerator pickles will last about one month if kept in the fridge and stored in air-tight container. 

E

Eggs– Eggs are about as versatile as chicken. And like chicken we are talking about cooked eggs today. 

Scrambled eggs will last in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. Eggs “muffins,” frittatas and quiches can be stored in an air-tight container for up to four days. To reheat, microwave for 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on size and density of product. 

Don’t take any chances with proteins. When in doubt, throw it out! 

G

Grains– (rice, quinoa, bulgur, etc.) Cook these according to package directions. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to five days, or in the freezer for up to six months. Grains reheat best on the stovetop with just a little bit of liquid (water, broth, milk, etc.) on medium-low heat, but you can also microwave as well. Reheat in portions to avoid drying-out. 

Green Beans– fresh green beans will last in the fridge for about a week. Before cooking or prepping to freeze, trim the ends.

You can freeze green beans by “shock and blanch.” Bring a pot of salted water to a boil and allow your vegetables to “cook” for just under 2 minutes. Immediately transfer your vegetables to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Allow to thoroughly drain and then freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Freeze for 8-10 months in a freezer-safe bag.  

Ground Meats­– Cooked ground meat lasts longer in the fridge than raw. Your best bet is to season your meat as desired and then cook through. Drain any fat out and allow to cool thoroughly. Store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to four days, or in the freezer for three months. 

Don’t take any chances with proteins. When in doubt, throw it out! 

H

Herbs (fresh)– Parsley, Cilantro, and other leafy herbs: snip ends off and store in the fridge in a cup filled with cold water. Place plastic bag over leaves. Change water every few days. Herbs should last over a week. 

Store basil the same way as above, at room temperature; the cold can damage the leaves. Store out of direct sunlight.

You can also chop up your herbs and freeze them in olive oil in ice-cube trays. Pop out once frozen and store in a freezer-safe bag. Use them like this in sauces or thaw them out and mix into marinades and salad dressings and pesto. Your herbs will last frozen for three months. 

Hummus– fresh hummus will last in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to ten days. Pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top of the hummus before storing. You can freeze hummus, but you will lose some of the texture and quality. Frozen hummus will last for up to three months. 

J

Jams/Jellies– once opened, jams and jellies should be stored in the fridge for one month. 

K

Kale– fresh kale should be washed, trimmed and stored in an air-tight container with a paper towel to absorb moisture. Change the paper towel every few days. Kale can stay fresh if kept like this for two weeks or more. 

Don’t cook kale until day of service. Dress kale leaves with salad dressings up to one hour before serving.

I recommend gently scrunching and squeezing (aka “massaging”) your kale leaves a bit before dressing to reduce bitterness. 

L

Leaves/Lettuces– I like to store my delicate greens in a Rubbermaid Freshworks produce saver. The website states not to wash before storage but I don’t like that idea. No matter how you store your leaves and lettuces, I recommend this washing method:

Fill a large bowl or container with cold water. Submerge leaves in water and gently “agitate” leaves. Transfer leaves to a colander and allow to drain and then transfer to a kitchen towel to dry, or dry them in a salad spinner. 

You can also very successfully store leaves and lettuces in the fridge, wrapped gently in a thin layer of paper towel and placed in an air-tight bag or container. Change the paper towel every few days. I’ve stored salad greens like this for over two weeks. 

Lunch Meats/Cheese– transfer these from the bag they give you at the deli and store in an air-tight bag or container. These products are typically best for three to five days. Freezing is not recommended. 

Do not take any chances with these highly perishable products. When in doubt, throw it out! 

M

Melon– It is best to store cut melon on an as-needed basis. It doesn’t have much of a shelf-life once it’s been cut, three to four days, tops. You can store the remainder of the whole melon wrapped in plastic wrap for up to a week. You can also cut and cube the melon and freeze it for up to six months. 

Mushrooms– Fresh mushrooms do best in a paper or cloth bag in the refrigerator. They will last this way for up to one week. 

When cleaning your mushrooms do not submerge them in water! To wash the caps, simply rub them clean with a damp paper towel. For mushrooms with gills, simply scrape them out with a spoon. 

N

Nuts– nuts maintain their oils and taste if stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to six months or frozen for up to one year. 

If making nut milk, soak 1 cup raw peeled nuts in 2-3 cups cold water for up to two days. Drain and rinse soaked nuts, and then pulse until finely ground in a blender with 2 cups cold water. Pour “milk” through a fine mesh strainer or nut milk bag into storage container (I love these Mason jars here.)  Add sweetener if desired, to taste. Store in air-tight container in fridge for up to four days. Shake if separation occurs. 

Do not discard ground “nut meal.” Allow to dry thoroughly by “cooking” at 200 F on a sheet pan for a few hours. Store in air-tight container in freezer for up to four months. 

O

Oatmeal (cooked)– to store cooked oatmeal, add an extra splash or so of liquid so that oatmeal is a little more “wet” than preferred. Transfer to an air tight container and store in fridge for up to four days or freeze in individual portion sizes and store in a freezer safe container for up to six months.

Onion– whole onions will store best if left in their skins and kept in a cool dark place. I’ve heard some people have successfully stored them this way for months! I keep mine in their skins, in the bowl on my counter out of direct sunlight and they last for several weeks. 

Cut/peeled onion can be stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for a week. Make sure you wash the bulb after peeling and before chopping. 

Chopped/diced onion will keep in an air-tight container in the freezer for up to one year! 

P

Pasta– to store pasta, cook it just slightly under al-dente and drain and rinse thoroughly. Toss with a little olive oil and transfer to an air-tight container. It will stay fresh in the fridge for three to five days, or in the freezer for up to two weeks. Keep sauce separate.

Thaw frozen pasta before reheating. To reheat cooked pasta from the fridge, toss in a pot of boiling water for about 30 seconds. Serve as desired. 

Pear– ripen pears at room temperature. Once ripe, you can store them for up to two weeks in the fridge. Leave them whole for best quality. If you need to slice them up, keep them in an air-tight container for no more than a day or two. 

Peppers (bell)- bell peppers store best whole stored in a plastic food storage bag in the fridge for one to two weeks. You can also but keep them for up to five days if cut up and kept in the fridge in an air-tight container, wrapped in a layer of paper towel. 

You can freeze pepper slices too, simply cut them as desired and allow to freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Transfer frozen peppers to a freezer safe storage bag and freeze for up to one year. 

Pesto (fresh)– store fresh pesto in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to one week. Cover with a thin layer of olive oil or plastic wrap to slow browning.

Pesto can also be kept frozen for up to six months. 

Pineapple– cut pineapple can be stored in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to four days. Toss them in citrus juice to revive if they start to brown. 

Pomegranate– whole pomegranates will last at room temperature for a week and in the fridge for two. You can break them open in a bowl of water and remove the seeds (or arils) by gently pulling them out of the pomegranate flesh. 

The arils will stay fresh in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to five days. They can also be stored in the freezer for up to three months.

R

Radish– chop the leaves at the top of the root and store your radish in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to two weeks. 

Sliced radish will store submerged in water in an air-tight container for up to one week.

You can also quick pickle radish by bringing ½ cup of vinegar, ½ cup sugar, ¼ cup of water and 1tsp of salt to a boil. (You can add mustard seeds, black peppercorns, bay leaf, and crushed red pepper if you’d like) allow to cool and pour over sliced radishes. Store in a clean, air tight container for up to one month in the fridge. 

Roasted Vegetables– to roast your vegetables, preheat your oven to 400-450 F and arrange chopped vegetables (approximately the same size/shape) in a single layer on a sheet pan. Drizzle with oil and a little salt and pepper. Roast for 30-45 minutes, “stirring” vegetables about halfway through for even browning. Allow to cool thoroughly. Transfer to an air-tight container and store in the fridge for up to one week. 

Root Vegetables (raw)­– cut the greens off (if storing carrots, parsnips, etc.) Brush off any soil. Whole potatoes store best in a cool, dark place. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, etc. will store best in the fridge, wrapped in a damp towel. 

Peeled and cut root vegetables (except onions or garlic) should be stored submerged in water in an air-tight container in the fridge. They will last three to four days. 

S

Salmon (cooked)– cooked salmon will stay fresh in the fridge for up to four days if stored in a shallow air tight container, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. 

You can also freeze cooked salmon for up to three months. Allow individual portions to freeze on a sheet pan and then transfer to an air-tight, freezer safe bag, or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and then foil. 

Don’t take any chance with seafood. When in doubt, throw it out! 

Salsa (fresh)– store fresh salsa in an air-tight container in the fridge for one week. You can freeze salsa but it will impact the quality. 

Shrimp (cooked)– store cooked shrimp exactly the same way as cooked salmon. Store in a shallow, air-tight container or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil in the fridge for up to four days. Store in an air-tight, freezer safe bag or wrapped tightly in plastic wrap and foil in the freezer for up to three months. 

Don’t take any chances with seafood. When in doubt, throw it out! 

Squash (summer)– store whole, unwashed zucchini and summer squash in the fridge in a plastic bag opened to allow for air flow. They will keep for up to two weeks, but you might notice the skins start to wrinkle.

To freeze these squash, “blanch and shock” your cut up vegetables by bringing a pot of salted water to a boil and allowing your vegetables to “cook” for just under 2 minutes. Immediately transfer your vegetables to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process. Allow to thoroughly drain and then freeze in a single layer on a sheet pan. Transfer to a freezer safe bag or container and keep frozen for up 3 months. 

Squash (winter)– whole winter squash can be stored in a cool, dark place for several weeks. Check on them periodically to make sure they do not develop any bruises or blemishes, as they will get worse during storage. 

You can store cut raw winter squash in a plastic food-safe bag or in plastic wrap for up to five days.

You can freeze cut raw winter squash in a single layer on a sheet pan and then transfer to a freezer safe storage bag. Frozen squash will keep for up to three months. 

Sweet Potatoes/Yams– Store whole sweet potatoes in a cool dark place for up to two weeks. Refrigeration is not recommended for raw sweet potatoes. 

Peeled, raw sweet potatoes can be stored for up to two days in the fridge if kept totally submerged in water. 

You can bake sweet potatoes (poke a few holes in them with a fork first) for about an hour wrapped in foil or on a sheet pan at 350 F. They will last stored in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to five days. 

Frozen cooked sweet potatoes will last for six months if stored in a freezer safe container. 

T

Tofu– tofu will last for a week in the fridge if kept in an air tight-container and covered with cold, preferably filtered water. Change the water frequently. If you need to store it for any longer, the freezer is your best bet, in a freezer-safe container for up to three months. 

Tomatoes­– fresh tomatoes taste best if stored at room temperature. They will last on the counter for up to one week. You can refrigerate them and will get a few more days of life, but the fridge will definitely compromise the taste. 

Canned tomatoes, in any form, that have been opened need to be transferred to an air-tight container and stored in the fridge for up to one week. 

Tortillas- these will do best in an air-tight bag or container in the fridge for up to two weeks. Take out and use as needed. Revive them in the microwave for 10-15 seconds. Tortillas can also be frozen in a freezer-safe, air-tight container for up to three months.

Tuna (canned)– prepared canned tuna salad will be best in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to three days. I usually make a can at a time; one is enough for two servings or sandwiches. 

Here’s my favorite way: drain the tuna in a small colander to get all the liquid out and mix with mayonnaise, finely minced celery, shallots, rosemary, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Yum! 

Y

Yogurt– transfer from packaging to an air-tight container and store for up to five days on the bottom shelf of the fridge. 

....oof! There you have it! An “A-Z” (…well, A-Y with a few letters in between missing…) guide to preparing and storing foods for meal prep. Like I stated above, I’m sure there will be some items I may have missed. I’d love for you to share your thoughts and suggestions in the comments below.

I love getting ideas and inspiration from others. 

Take care for now!

Cara