Home > Blog > How Long Can Meal Prep Last
Author:

Kevin Curry

How Long Can Meal Prep Last

how long does meal prep last

How Far in Advance Can You Meal Prep

We’ve all had prepared food disappear into the back of the fridge for far too long. 

Have you ever opened a meal prep container that’s been hanging out in the back of the fridge for who knows how long and said to yourself, “I’m sure it’s still good.” 

Or maybe you’re more of a “better safe than sorry” kind of person and toss everything after a day or two.

Whichever side of caution you fall on, if you crack open a container and the food is slimy, stinky, or moldy, it’s sure to hit the trash. So when you want to save time and money with meal prep meals, the thought of throwing away spoiled food can be a major hang-up to getting started.

Food safety is important – ain’t nobody wants food poisoning! 

But there is a way to meal prep that gives you the convenience of a quick balanced meal with the confidence that your food is still safe to eat.

Below you’ll find a guide for making meal prep that lasts a week or more.

HOW LONG DO MEAL PREPS LAST IN THE FRIDGE

According to the USDA, most food lasts safely in the fridge for about four days. Some foods can last longer depending on the ingredients and storage container. Foods stored in the freezer generally last three to six months.

MEAL PREP: IS IT SAFE TO MEAL PREP FOR FIVE DAYS?

Short answer: it depends. 

You should feel fairly confident that your meal prep will last up to four days, but after that food safety can be questionable.

Here are a few factors that impact how long you can safely store food in the fridge:

  • Citric Acid. Sauces that contain citric acid (think oranges, lemons, and limes) last longer since the citric acid works as a preservative.
  • Temperature. Check the thermostat of your fridge – food lasts longer when stored closer to 30 degrees Fahrenheit instead of 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Ingredients. Some foods attract bacteria faster than others (rice and quinoa last about a day longer than cooked pasta dishes), so using foods with a longer shelf life can help your meal prep last longer throughout the week.
  • Storage container. A quality, airtight container protects your food and helps it last longer and taste fresher.
  • Fridge capacity. Filling your fridge to the max increases its overall temperature, so avoid overstuffing your fridge to make sure the food stays cool enough to avoid spoilage.

Most people will tell you to make a meal plan for two separate cooking days to cover 7 days worth of meals. We often recommend this as well. We usually cook half a week’s worth of meals on Saturday and the other half on Wednesday. And that’s a great way to manage your meal prep. 

But if you’re wanting to experience the magic of cooking only one day a week, keep reading – we’ve got an FMC meal prep hack for you! (And no… it doesn’t include eating the mystery meal from the back of the fridge. )

CAN YOU TELL HOW LONG DO MEALS LAST

When it comes to food safety, your first rule of thumb should be when in doubt, throw it out. If you’re questioning whether or not something is safe to eat, it’s best to avoid the risk of food poisoning. 

For a more detailed guide on food spoilage, the FDA offers helpful tips to keep you safe. Here are a few to keep in mind for your meal prep.

How It Smells

Our nose can be the best guide for detecting spoiled food. If your food smells bad or if it smells “off” it’s most likely growing bacteria that will make you sick. The food should smell the same as when you first cooked it. 

How It Looks

Color changes are a sign that your food may be spoiling. Produce (think lettuce and avocados) becomes brown and meat gets patches of gray as they go bad. Not all spoiled food changes color, though. Foods full of preservatives hold their color well, even after they’ve spoiled. So look for color changes as a hint for spotting spoiled food, but don’t assume a meal is automatically safe to eat just because it’s held its color.

How It Feels

If it smells normal and looks good but feels slimy, it’s still on its way out the door and should be tossed. Any major changes in texture are a sign that the food has gone bad.

Mold

This one is the easiest to spot. If your meal is developing mold, it’s time to throw it out. Eating mold can cause allergic reactions and respiratory problems. Even if you spent a lot of money making a meal, if it has developed mold it’s not worth the risk of serious illness to eat it.

A QUICK CHEAT SHEET FOR STORING MEAL PREP

Always check for mold or smell, color, or texture changes to help you determine if a food is safe to eat. But here is a quick guide on the shelf life of your favorite meal preps to help you determine if your healthy meal is no longer healthy. 

Green Salads

Fridge: 3-4 days

Freezer: no

FMC Tip: keep salad dressing separate until ready to eat

how far in advance can you meal prep


Overnight Oats

Fridge: 4-5 days

Freezer: 3-4 months

FMC Tip: add chia seeds and dried fruit before storage but add nuts, seeds, fresh fruit, granola, and coconut flakes just before eating

how long can meal prep last


Rice and Grain Bowls

Fridge: 3-4 days

Freezer: 4-5 months

FMC Tip: batch cook rice and freeze individual portions so you always have a quick grain on hand

meal prep how long does food last


Sheet Pan Meals

Fridge: 3-4 days

Freezer: no

FMC Tip: when possible, reheat food using the oven or air fryer to get a crispier texture

how long do meal preps last in the fridge


Pasta Dishes

Fridge: 3-4 days

Freezer: 4-5 months

FMC Tip: slightly undercook your pasta before freezing to avoid mushy pasta

how long meal prep last in fridge


Soup, Chili, and Stews

Fridge: 4-5 days

Freezer: 5-6 months

FMC Tip: lay freezer bags on a sheet pan when freezing so they flatten out for easy stacking

meal prep that lasts a week


Baked Goods

Fridge: 7 days

Freezer: 5-6 months

FMC Tip: wrap each item individually in plastic wrap and then store in a freezer bag

how long do factor meals last in fridge


Foods to Avoid for Meal Prep

If you want longer-lasting meal prep ideas, avoid these foods and you’ll get a longer shelf life out of your meals. 

  • Creams: sour cream, mayonnaise, yogurt, creamy soups, and creamy sauces 
  • Crunchy or Fried: foods with a crunchy texture tend to get soft and mushy in storage
  • Salads: lettuce and other salad ingredients should not be frozen and typically only last a few days

Some of these ingredients can lead to faster spoilage and some just don’t taste as good after hanging out in the fridge or freezer. While these foods can make great short-term meal prep, choose different foods for the meal plan you eat at the end of each week.

Use the Right Storage Container

Not all storage containers are created equally. A high-quality container will help your food stay fresh for longer. 

Tips for selecting a container:

  • When storing your food, make sure your containers are airtight
  • For freezer storage, use freezer-safe containers. 
  • Consider how your food will be reheated and whether you need a microwave-safe container. 

Tips for storage:

  • Always leave extra space in the container when storing liquids – liquids expand when frozen.
  • Fully cool meals before placing them in the fridge or freezer.
  • Keep the freezer door closed for several hours to ensure the new food freezes completely.

HOW MUCH TO MEAL PREP FOR A WEEK AND BE SURE NO MEALS GO BAD?

Are you ready for an FMC hack that will get you 7 types of meals with one day of cooking?

We use a combination of fridge and freezer meals to help our meal prep last.

Here’s what that looks like: 

Step 1: Batch cook several meals that freeze well and pop individual portions into the freezer for long-term storage. You only need to complete this step once a month if you batch cook enough meals.

Step 2: Cook your meal prep for the first 4 days of your week and store it in the fridge. 

Step 3: On the fourth day of the week, move your freezer meals for days 5-7 to the fridge so they can thaw. 

BAM! You’ve got a full week of meal prep in 1 day of cooking. 

Use the power of the freezer to extend the life of your meal prep. Test different meal prep recipes to see which holds up best for freezer storage. An easy way to stock your freezer over time is to double a recipe and use half of it fresh and store half in the freezer for later use. This helps add variety to your menu since you don’t need to eat the double batch all at once and can pull out a mix of foods from your freezer later.

SUMMARY

How far ahead can you store your meals? It depends. The type of food and location of storage impact how long food will last. Make a meal plan of about four days of safe storage in the fridge and about four months of safe storage in the freezer. Watch for changes (smell, color, texture, and mold) to your meal prep food as a sign that it’s gone bad. If you’re unsure if food has spoiled: when in doubt, throw it out. A combination of fridge and freezer meal prep is the safest way to prep an entire week of cooking meals at one time.

For meal prep ideas to get you started, check out our meal prep recipes here

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Hey, I'm Kevin

My name is Kevin. My life changed when I realized that healthy living is a lifelong journey, mainly won by having a well-balanced diet and maintaining an active lifestyle.

By experimenting in the kitchen and sharing my meals on Tumblr, I learned healthy eating is not boring! By making a few adjustments to my favorite foods, I could design a diet that could help me achieve my wellness goals while satisfying my desire for BANGIN food! 😅 Now I try to help people around the world realize that same level of freedom in eating regardless of budget. Welcome, let's #DemocratizeWellness together!

Subscribe

Join The Fit Cook Newsletter

Subscribe to our newsletter and get latest updates right in your inbox.