Meal prep is a way of life for many of us, helping to streamline food options and save time (and money). Just how long can you leave your prepped meals and ingredients in the fridge?
When it comes to meal prep, there are so many different recipes and variations that it’s impossible to keep track of everything. A few popular ingredients, however, seem to show up more often than most. Why are things like chicken, quinoa, and overnight oats so popular? It’s partly because of their versatility, but also because they’re among the foods that last the longest. Here’s how long you can keep these and other meal-prep faves in your fridge—plus how to store them for the greatest longevity.
Of all the meats out there, chicken is by far the most popular for meal prep recipes. It’s a tasty lean protein that can be cooked with any number of additional ingredients and spices, making it a versatile choice for meal preppers.
If you’re prepping chicken for your meals, here’s how long you can keep it at each stage:
- Raw and frozen: Raw chicken can stay in the freezer for up to nine months (or 12 months if it’s a whole chicken).
- Raw and refrigerated: Raw chicken can stay in the fridge for one or two days; by then, it needs to be cooked or tossed out.
- Cooked and frozen: Cooked chicken can last in the freezer for between two and six months, depending on how it’s prepared.
- Cooked and refrigerated: For meal prep, storing cooked chicken in the fridge is the most common technique. You can safely leave chicken in the fridge for three to four days.
Store cooked chicken, on its own or as part of a prepared meal, in airtight containers. Raw chicken can stay in its original packaging until used—just wrap it in plastic wrap or paper towels to keep it from leaking on anything else.
Quinoa makes a delicious grain base for many meal-prep recipes. It’s versatile and easy to make, and it’s also super easy to store all week.
If you’re pre-cooking plain quinoa to use as a base throughout the week, you can store it in an airtight container for up to a week. If you mix it with other ingredients right away, the shelf life might go down a little bit due to the interactions between ingredients. Still, it’s a safe bet that the quinoa is good for at least three to five days after cooking.
You can cook quinoa in a regular pot with a well-fitted lid, or use an Instant Pot for super-fast cooking, depending on what your specific recipe calls for.
Here is one of my favorite Quinoa Recipes:
Veggies are a key part of most meal prep, and they’re pretty easy to handle. In most cases, prepping vegetables to use later in the week is just about cutting them up rather than actually pre-cooking them.
Once you’ve sliced, diced, and chopped your vegetables, store them in airtight meal prep containers. The exact length of time each vegetable is good for can vary. Here are a few general guidelines:
- Pre-washed vegetables, particularly leafy greens, go bad faster than unwashed ones because of the excess moisture.
- Sturdy, crisp vegetables (like celery, carrots, broccoli, and cauliflower) can last up to a week in the fridge.
- Softer vegetables (like squashes, bell peppers, and tomatoes) last around three or four days in the fridge.
Making overnight oats is practically a rite of passage for meal preppers. The easy, mix-it-and-leave-it approach to preparing oats typically produces a tasty breakfast that is easy to customize a million different ways. You can experiment with different nut butters, yogurts, milks, and mix-ins to find a recipe you love—and then you can make enough to last a full work week.
That’s right, overnight oats can last up to five days when kept in an airtight jar or other container. Be aware, though: the oats will continue to absorb liquid and soften. That means that your first day or so of oats will still have some “bite” to the texture, while later in the week you might find yourself with softer, creamier oats.
Eggs are a great protein to start your day or give you a midday lunch boost, but cooking them fresh every day just isn’t an option for many people. Meal-prepped egg bites or egg “muffins” combine eggs with mix-ins such as veggies, cheese, ham, or other options, then can be stored to grab quickly during the week. You can make them in full-sized muffin tins, or you can use a specially-designed egg bite maker for bite-sized mini versions.
If you’re whipping up egg bites to cover meals for the week ahead, you’re in luck. Cooked egg bites can stay in the fridge for up to four days, although the texture may get a little firmer and/or drier near the end.
Meal prepping can be a big help in your busy life, but it’s important to know just how long your prepared foods can last. Keep these tips in mind every time you make your favorite meal prep recipes, and you’ll be good to go.