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Make-Ahead Cooking

The Best Storage Containers for Your Make-Ahead Meals

When making food ahead of time, having the right storage supplies on hand is key.
By Published June 20, 2017

When thinking about storing food in a container, there are a lot of questions. Does it fit in the fridge or freezer? Will it leak if it tips over? Can you microwave in it? Should you worry about possible health risks with plastics containing bisphenol-A (BPA)? These are important questions, and finding clear answers can be difficult.

In search of a food storage container that would put these questions to rest, we ran eight 8-cup rectangular and square containers made from purportedly safer BPA-free plastic through a battery of tests. In a separate series of tests, we tried out three containers made from glass, a worry-free yet heavy and breakable alternative to plastic.

What's Better: Press or Snap Storage Containers?

There are two main categories of food storage containers: those with seals that close by pressing all around the rim, and those that close with snap down flaps that project like wings from the lid. Five of the eight plastic containers we tested relied on snap seal flaps, though we found that the tightness of the seal was more important than the style of lid.

In addition to their sealing power, we also found that containers differed in how easy they were to close. Some took force to snap—threatening pinched fingers—and a lot of wiggling to align the lid. One particularly fussy unit wouldn't close unless its lid was fitted in a particular (yet poorly indicated) direction.

Three Key Considerations

1. Beware Odor Absorption: While we found that most of the glass and polypropylene containers were resistant to odors, one of the “disposable” supermarket containers didn't fare so well—even after a run through the dishwasher, we could detect odors of previously stored food.

2. A Good Container Should Hold Its Shape: Whether in the freezer or microwave, a good container should cope without warping, melting, or staining.

3. Containers Should Fit In Freezers and Refrigerators: We prefer low, flat rectangles that slide onto any shelf, leaving room for other items, and simple, stackable, flat—not bulbous—lids.

There's also a food-quality reason to opt for flat: more efficient chilling and heating. After 24 hours in the freezer, water in tall containers was still liquid at the center but frozen solid in lower, flatter models. In the microwave, the chili we reheated in deep containers overheated at the edges before heating through in the middle.

The Best Plastic Storage Container

Rubbermaid Brilliance Food Storage Container, Large, 9.6 Cup

Our new favorite passed every test and looked good doing it. Its clear, lightweight Tritan plastic material stayed as clear and stain-free as glass, and its audibly snug seal didn't leak, even when we turned the container upside down and shook it hard.  
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The Best Glass Storage Container

Oxo Good Grips 8 Cup Smart Seal Rectangle Container

With a plastic lid that latched easily and securely and an airtight, leakproof seal that didn't drip or let moisture in, this container is our top choice for glass storage.  
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In the end, we’ve found good options in both the plastic and glass camps. (Although it’s worth noting that many consumers have decided to avoid plastic storage containers after learning about the possible ill effects of microwaving in plastic, leading to the resurgence of glass food storage. Our favorite is the Oxo Good Grips 8 Cup Smart Seal Leakproof Glass Rectangle Food Storage Container.)

But our favorite plastic container—the Rubbermaid Brilliance Food Storage Container, Large, 9.6 Cup—might be your best bet in the end. It worked nicely out of the box, survived all our tests, and met all our long-term goals. It just might be the last container you’ll have to buy for quite a while.

The Complete Make-Ahead Cookbook

How many times have you wanted to make lasagna or chicken pot pie in advance, only to be discouraged by recipe after recipe that doesn’t tell you how? Should you make it, then store it, or vice versa? The experts here at America’s Test Kitchen have eliminated the guesswork of cooking in advance with 500 recipes that spell out all the make-ahead options.  
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This article was updated on 4/11/18 with the new winners of our reviews of plastic food storage containers and glass food storage containers.

How do you store your make-ahead meals? Let us know in the comments!