Today I want to talk meal-prep essentials. Or, at the very least, what in my opinion, are the absolute “must-haves” for prepping and portioning out your meals for the week. I want to note that I’m intentionally not including kitchen and cooking equipment on this list because a) I’m going to share my thoughts on that in another, more extensive, post and b) because I like to think of cooking and then serving/storing food as two separate activities. I like to get crazy and break down my tasks into activities.
These are my “must-haves” for adults and school-age kids. I share my thoughts on baby and toddler food storage in this post here: Feeding Your Toddler.
First let’s talk about the obvious: Cooler/Lunch Bag and Water Bottle. It doesn’t matter what brand or type that you use, but what does matter is that they can fit everything you need to store and that they don’t fall apart on you.
I will say that I personally recommend a glass water bottle, simply because of the many, many benefits of glass versus plastic for food storage. But do you. One thing if you are using a plastic water bottle is to make sure yours is BPA free.
(I feel like that is common knowledge nowadays, but you just never know. I care about you, so even if you already knew that, just bear with me.)
I like this nifty little cooler bag for my lunch, we use this adorable bee bag for Brynne and Glen likes your standard flip top playmate cooler. Everyone gets breakfast, lunch, and snacks packed every day. Glen and I use water bottles and we send Brynne to daycare with the stainless-steel tumblers and silicone sippy lids I discuss in Feeding Your Toddler.
Now…let’s talk containers!
There are so many different sizes and shapes of food storage containers available, it can get overwhelming quickly.
I stick pretty exclusively to Pyrex and Ball jar brand for my containers. I also have a couple of those teeny tiny Rubbermaid ones that are only hold a couple ounces, because I haven’t found a “perfect” replacement for them just yet. Using only a handful of brands keeps things neat and consistent. It allows my crazy type-A personality to breathe just a little bit.
I like to use glass mostly because glass is chemical neutral and therefore won’t transfer stuff I don’t want to consume to my food if they’re really hot or cold.
My first rule is to only buy what you know you’re going to over the course of a couple of days, and then if you find you need more of something, get more. But don’t go nuts right out of the gate and fill your shelves with stuff you aren’t even sure you’ll use. That’s how clutter begins.
My second rule is to periodically go through your food storage inventory and get rid of anything that doesn’t have a matching lid. Yes, I’m serious. Unless you are using glass (Pyrex, anchor, etc.) and actually go to the outlet or wherever and buy replacement lids. (Yes, they do sell them.) But do yourself a favor, if you aren’t going to buy the replacements, just get rid of the container. It might seem wasteful, but you’ll just wear down whatever lids you have faster, and that’s if you even have another one that matches.
Please do not let your cupboard become this black hole of mismatched Tupperware and various lids strewn about. Everything should be in neat stacks, arranged by size, so you can actually see what you have, and every lid should be under or right next to the container it belongs to.
As far as what sizes you should own? Well, that’s up to you, but here is what I suggest:
Individual Servings – I like to use the Pyrex glass storage, and the 3-cup rectangle containers are awesome for on the go lunches and individual portions of dinner.
Family/Entrée Servings – Here I use a variety of Pyrex storage; the 11 and 6 cup rectangle dishes, and the 10 and 7 cup round containers. I also love the Pyrex mixing bowl set, and use the 3 largest sizes depending on what I’ve prepared.
Sides – depending upon how much of something I’m making, I’ll either use the 7 cup or 4 cup round containers.
Sauces – I usually store sauces, gravies, etc. in the round containers, the 4 to 2 cup containers work best for my needs. If it’s a small amount, I’ll store individual portions of sauce in the Ball jelly jar 4 oz size with a plastic lid. (SO much better than the metal screw top lids that they come with, if you’re exclusively storing food and not canning.)
Smoothies/Parfaits/Oats – Again, I use Ball jars and matching plastic lids here because they just work so perfectly. I use either the 16, 12, or 8 oz jars.
Broth, Soup, Etc. – I like to store large servings of liquids in the ½ gallon (64 oz) jars with a plastic wide mouth lid.
Lids/Covers – The lids you are using should obviously fit the containers you have. Junk cracked or broken lids. Get rid of mismatched pieces. You can get replacement Pyrex lids on their website, or at their outlet stores.
Snacks – depending on what I’ve made, I’ll store baked goods in the 11 or 6 cup rectangle Pyrex containers, in a reusable gallon sized zip-top baggie, or the snack sized reusable zip-top baggies when I’m on the go.
Food Scale – I bought this scale on Amazon. It was $20 with prime, and worth every penny. I like it for many reasons. It’s extremely durable. (Brynne throws the thing around on a daily basis and it still works perfectly.) It’s also quite washable, and I especially like the fact that you can use it with or without the bowl. (The bowl is very handy for getting exact measurements with baking ingredients.) I can’t recommend this scale enough.
Just a caveat here, before we go on. The food scale isn’t necessarily an essential per se. You don’t need to have a food scale to portion and pack meals. You can eye things out or use measuring cups. But, if exact measurements are a requirement for your meal planning goals (weight loss, muscle building, calorie control, whatever) than a scale is an essential.
Measuring Cups (liquid & dry) – don’t go nuts on buying the absolute best quality here, because truth be told, as long as your measurements are accurate, that’s really all that matters. I like to use Pyrex liquid measuring cups, and these dry measuring cups are just super cute that I found at Michaels’ craft store. They make me happy. It’s the little things that matter.
Funnels (various sizes) – funnels make the transfer of liquids from a larger container to a smaller one so much easier. They really make the job so much less messy. Another thing to not splurge on, just find a few sizes that will work for the containers you use. The blue one came with my Ball jar canning system and it’s the best thing ever for transferring liquids into any size Ball jar. Best thing ever.
And there you have it! My kinda comprehensive, kinda brief overview list of meal-prep essentials. If you’re new to meal-planning, or needing to reevaluate your current strategy, I hope this will help you get started or get inspired.
Just about all of these items can be purchased on Amazon, the hardware store, or Target. Nothing cost more than $30. Everything is reusable and durable and gets the job done for me on a daily basis. Win-win-win in my book.
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Thanks for your time friend, talk soon!