The only difference between meal prepping and regular cooking is the size of the batches involved. Technically, it’s all the same work, but high-volume cooking requires a slightly different approach than smaller portions do—especially when you have to store and transport a week’s worth of meals.
When it comes to big batch cooking, the right tools make all the difference. You don’t need anything fancy or expensive; the most useful meal-prep equipment is cheap and easy to find. In fact, you probably already have most of these items kicking around somewhere. Here’s everything you need to prep, cook, store, and transport large quantities of food like a pro.
Step 1: Prep and cook
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If you’re serious about meal prepping, these four workhorse items will save your life. Dig them out of storage if you already have them or track them down online; you won’t regret it.
Half-size aluminum sheet pans
Honestly, what can’t you make with a half-size sheet pan? Whether you’re roasting vegetables, cooking multiple pounds of bacon at once, slow-cooking chicken breasts for salad, baking chickpeas for a crispy garnish, or doing whatever else you need to do in the oven, it’s almost always the right tool for the job. Big enough for serious batch cooking, small enough for home ovens, and inexpensive enough to buy at least a few, I use half-size sheet pans for literally everything—and so will you.
Oven- and/or microwave-safe cookware with lids
Being able to cook and store a meal in the same container cuts down on dishes and makes wrangling your fridge a little less stressful. I love being able to make lasagna, enchiladas, or a big ol’ casserole in a stoneware dish, pop on its lid, and put it in the fridge for later. For sheet cakes and anything else I’d rather bake in aluminum, I am deeply devoted to my Nordic Ware lidded covered baking pans—the lid snaps on super tight and doubles as an extra sheet pan when not in use as a lid. They’re pricier than other items on this list and can’t go in the dishwasher, but they’re so useful I don’t even care.
A salad spinner
Salad spinners are useful for more than just leafy greens. They make it easy to wash, rinse, and most importantly, dry just about any kind of produce you can think of. Considering that washing produce is one of the most tedious parts of meal prepping, a cheap salad spinner is a worthy investment that will save you a ton of time.
A bigger cutting board
Please stop trying to cut a week’s worth of onions on a tiny little cutting board from IKEA. You deserve better! Treat yourself to a spacious, heavy-duty, and ideally dishwasher-safe model from the restaurant supply store (or the internet). Pro tip: Measure your dishwasher before you hit “place order” so you don’t realize too late that it doesn’t fit.
Step 2: Store
Once you’ve prepped a week’s worth of lunches, you’ve got to figure out how to store them. This is where they get you, as they say: Specialized “meal prep” containers can be expensive, and they’re not really necessary. As long as you can see what you’re working with, you’re good—and you really only need two items for that.
Tape and a Sharpie
Besides a decently sharp knife, the single most important meal prep tool is a good labeling system. Tape and a Sharpie cost very little money and enable you to see exactly what you have in the fridge, freezer, and pantry in a single glance. I use masking tape, but painter’s tape is another popular option that works really nicely.
Stackable, see-through containers
The correct meal-prep storage is easy to stack in your fridge and easy to see through. Period. Several types of containers fit the bill here: Deli containers, aluminum pans with clear plastic lids, Pyrex or other glass containers, or even repurposed containers from other food products would all work great.
Step 3: Transport
If you’re preparing meals to go, you need a way to get them from point A to point B without their contents ending up all over your bag, lap, car, train or bus seat, or some combination of the above. In other words, you need a lunchbox that doesn’t suck.
Everyone likes slightly different things in a lunchbox, but a tight-fitting, spill-proof closure is non-negotiable. Beyond that, look for something that meets your specific needs: Do you prefer something soft and flexible or rigid? Do you want insulation? Does it need to be dishwasher-safe? No matter what kind of container you’re looking for, the high demand for meal-prep-friendly lunchboxes means the perfect option is definitely out there.