Meal Prep Rules You’re Breaking When It Comes to Food Storage

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Meal prepping is something people either really love or really hate. While the idea of being prepared with food for the entire week can seem like a daunting experience for the novice meal-prepper, people who meal prep swear by its benefits. A lot of people find meal prep helpful for them to either lose weight or eat healthier because it allows them to hold themselves accountable for what they’re eating and when they’re eating it. If you’re one of the people who consider meal prep night your safe haven, then you probably think you’re pretty solid in your meal prepping routine — but how do you really know if you’re following all of the correct meal prep rules for storing food?

You don't want your efforts to go to waste, so make sure you're storing the food you make the right way and at the right time. Here are some tips that will help make your meal prepping journey that much easier. 

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The Biggest Mistake People Make When Meal Prepping

One of the most important things to keep in mind while meal prepping is the timing of when you move your food into the fridge or freezer. If you’ve been leaving your food out to let it cool down after cooking it, you may want to think again. According to the FDA, the “2-Hour Rule” is the golden rule for meal prepping. This rule states that you should properly store all food within two hours of making it. If food has been left out for more than two hours, the FDA says you should throw it out because it can develop bacteria (which the USDA says is one of the biggest causes of foodborne illness). We know you don’t want you, or anyone in your family, to get sick, so make sure to store your food soon after you cook it to avoid any unwanted, food-related illnesses. 

You Can't Prep Once for the Entire Week

Many people choose to meal prep on a Sunday night so they’re set with meals for the whole week. While this sounds like a great time-saving plan, it turns out that may not be the best option. Why? Most foods, including cooked meats, along with most vegetables and fruits, only stay fresh for about three to four days in the fridge. So if you cook food on Sunday, that means if you don't eat it before Wednesday, you should be throwing it away. There are some foods that are exceptions to this rule: raw meat only stays fresh for one to two days, while citrus fruits and vegetables, like beets and carrots, can stay fresh for up to two weeks. In order to avoid any confusion, use the three to four day rule for cooked meals as the best frame of reference.

If you only want to meal prep once for the whole week because that's all you have time for, there may be a loop hole. Freeze the meals that are for later in the week and then defrost as needed.

Are You Using the Right Containers?

There are lots of factors to consider when thinking about what sort of containers you should use to store your prepared foods, but two of the biggest factors are size and material. Talia Koren, the founder of Workweek Lunch, revealed to Shape everything you need to know about your meal prep containers and what sort of things you should look out for to make sure you’re getting the best bang for your buck. 

When it comes to the plastic vs. glass debate, Koren said it’s okay to use both as long as you’re using BPA-free plastic — either material will keep your prepared food fresh for as long as possible. In terms of sizing, Koren said it’s important to note that different sizes work for different people. She usually recommends 25 oz. containers for most meal preppers but also recommends considering bento boxes, which are containers with multiple compartments for storing different food in the same box in separate spaces. Bento boxes are definitely a handy tool if you're looking for easy ways to control portions since all of the compartments are already sectioned out for you.

Meal prep can seem intimidating at first, especially because people on the internet make it look so perfect and easy. But with a little practice, a little planning, and these helpful tips you can meal prep like a pro. Whether it's your first time or your 50th time meal prepping remember to follow these rules to meal prep your way to an easier, healthier week.

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