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At the risk of discounting the effort and dedication I brought to the arena, a set of super-basic food storage containers turned me into a master of meal prep. To describe them is to inspire the opposite of awe — they are round and plastic (BPA-free, though!) and they have lids — but to use them, oh! To use them is divine.
These inexpensive and lightweight food storage containers do everything I need them to do. They're stackable; freezer-, microwave- and dishwasher-safe; safe for hot, cold, solid and liquid foods; and they're clear, so I can see what's in them.
Are they eye-catchingly attractive food storage containers? Not really! Will the stash of restaurant-style food storage containers in my fridge make me a meal prepping TikTok star? No. Do I care? Also no! Because these food storage containers have changed my life. That sounds dramatic! But if you have ever struggled with implementing a habit that’s important to you and consistency in that habit has eluded you, making you feel like a dumb failure for not being able to commit to this thing that’s important to you, you know that the dramatics are warranted.
In Jan. 2021, I wrote an article about meal prep containers for which I interviewed a number of experts to ask, “What are your go-to food storage containers for meal prep? Oh and also: Literally how are you doing this and sticking with it?” The tips they shared helped me overcome one of the meal planning struggles I’ve had in my own life. Before 2021, I had never, ever been able to eat breakfast consistently. (Spoiler alert: I eat breakfast every single day now.)
How I found the 4U’Life deli containers
There were three distinct things that helped me become a regular breakfast eater. One, hitting on two appealing breakfasts that I could rotate. Two, discovering that, while I am a person who loves to cook, I am not a person who loves to cook in the morning. And three, observing that when I was meal prepping, I routinely reached for the two stray deli-style to-go containers I had in my collection of food storage options.
Those deli-style food storage containers allowed me to use a technique espoused by several of the experts featured in the meal prep tips guide. They suggested reframing what meal prep looks like: Instead of individual prepared meals, focus on the “prep” part by filling the refrigerator with ingredients that are prepared and ready to go. One expert called this the “assembly line” approach, another thinks of it as her “in-fridge salad bar.”
The assembly line approach solved breakfast challenge two. As long as I take 30 minutes on Sunday to prepare the elements of breakfast, all I have to do, Monday through Friday, is take containers out of the fridge, assemble the components on a plate, and sit myself down to eat my breakfast. There’s virtually no prep required, and very little cleanup.
Amazon solved breakfast challenge three. Despite having a decent collection of aesthetically pleasing mason jars and rectangular lidded food storage containers, it was those two rather homely takeout containers that I kept reaching for on meal prep Sundays. So I went to Amazon and treated myself to a proper set of these life-changing, if not terribly attractive, containers.
The 8-ounce size containers have all the same great features of the 32-ounce containers that are my meal prep go-to, but in a smaller size that makes them perfect for parceling out snacks, or for storing sauces, dips or garnishes that help to elevate pre-made meals.
Why they’re so good
Deli-style food storage containers do everything I need them to do, including several things that their more attractive glass counterparts cannot! Sorry to mason jars, you are lovely, but you do not work for my meal prep needs.
Before telling you about all the many fine qualities of the 4U’Life deli containers, let me tell you the problem I have with mason jars when it comes to meal prep: They are heavy, and they take up a massive — MASSIVE! — amount of storage space. I live in a tiny box in the sky in Manhattan, I do not have the shelf space for an entire meal prep set worth of mason jars. And even if I did have room, they’re heavy! I do not want to be fooling with heavy glass containers and two-piece metal lids in the morning; I want to fling a few leak-proof plastic containers on my counter, heat up a tortilla, scoop some browned ground turkey and pico de gallo on top and call it breakfast.
The 16-ounce containers are somehow always the perfect size for storing leftovers, and because they are microwave-safe, they make heating up those leftovers a breeze.
With that said, here is a list of the fine qualities the 4U’Life deli containers have to offer:
- They are inexpensive!
- They are stackable!
- They are lightweight and durable!
- They are leakproof!
- They are easy to wash!
- They are microwave-, freezer- and dishwasher-safe!
- They work equally as well for storing soups, stews and sauces as they do for storing cut-up vegetables, drained and rinsed canned goods and cooked grains!
- They also work equally well for pantry storage as they do for cold storage!
- They are made of BPA-free plastic, and they are recyclable!
My Amazon order history tells me I purchased my first set of eight containers on April 11, 2021; food storage container attrition being what it is, I ordered a second replacement set on Dec. 13, 2022. I plan to order another set down the line in a smaller size to facilitate an improvement to my snack game.
After interviewing nutritionists about healthy snacks, Sargento Balanced Breaks became one of my go-to snacks; I keep a stash of them in the fridge and I’m always grateful when I have them on hand. But the rising price of groceries has made them cost-prohibitive for what they are, so I’m switching to buying nuts and dried fruit in bulk for the savings. I’ll use the smaller deli containers to portion out nuts, dried fruit and some sliced cheese so I can recreate the grab-and-go convenience of the Balanced Breaks at a much lower cost.
If I had one quibble with the 4U’Life deli containers, other than the inexplicably horrible name of these wonderful things, it’s that I wish they offered a multi-size set. Finding this type of container in reasonable quantities is more difficult than it should be — 4U’Life’s set of eight is the most reasonable quantity I’ve found, and even eight is a lot of meal prep containers! I would love to be able to buy a set of, say, four 8-ounce, four 16-ounce, and four 32-ounce 4U’Life deli containers, but such an option is not yet available. Perhaps one day! Until then, I will look into starting a 4U’Life deli container co-operative and swap meet.