This Is How to Store Every Type of Leftover Food
What's the best way to stash your leftover food? Should it be refrigerated or frozen, wrapped in aluminum foil or sealed up in plastic bags? Find out!
What to do with leftovers?
Whether you’re cooking for one or a crowd, leftovers always seem to be a thing. How long will they last, and how should you use them up? First, try these genius ways to use up your leftovers and then use the following methods to store the rest of them.
When one slice of bread gets a spot of mold, it’s time to toss the whole package. Keep your bread fresh by storing it in a bread box, where packaged bread lasts five to seven days past the best-by date (or two to three days for fresh bread). Extend its shelf life up to six months in the freezer, storing it in a freezer-safe bag or wrapping the loaf tightly in aluminum foil. Learn more about how to keep bread fresh here.
Unless it’s a dairy-based cake or made with fresh fruit, cakes will actually stay fresher at room temperature. Store them under a cake keeper to preserve the frosting work, or press a piece of plastic wrap against the cut sides. Cakes should last about three to four days on the counter (but they’re never around that long in my house!). Refrigerated cakes lose their quality after about two days.
Unless you’re meal prepping for the next three to four days, we recommend storing leftover casseroles in the freezer. Cut them into individual portions, place them in freezer bags or freezer-safe containers, and thaw them for an instant meal. Just make sure you’re not storing these foods in your freezer with it.
Anytime you open a new package of cheese, it’s best to toss out the original plastic and store it in a new container. After testing all the viable cheese storage methods, we definitely recommend a cheese vault (like this one), but airtight plastic bags work pretty well, too. Soft cheeses last about a week in the refrigerator, while hard cheeses are good for three to four weeks.
Go ahead and pick up an extra rotisserie chicken at the store. The leftovers are good for three to four days in the refrigerator, and they can be used in over 100 chicken recipes! It’s easier to pull the meat off the bone when it’s hot, so shred the chicken and store the meat in airtight containers. Don’t forget to save the carcass; toss it in a freezer-safe bag and make a batch of stock when you have a spare minute.
Seafood loses its quality quickly, so we wouldn’t recommend cooking much more than you need. If you do have leftovers, allow them to cool before wrapping them tightly in plastic wrap. They’re best consumed the next day, but can last three to four days in the refrigerator. Learn which foods are probably expired in your fridge right now.
The best way to store hard-boiled eggs is in their shells. To prevent them from absorbing odors from the fridge, keep them in a plastic bag or an airtight container. If you’ve already peeled them, pop ’em in a bowl of cold water and change the water out daily. Either way, they’ll last a week in the refrigerator. Beware, though—eggs are one leftover food that can make you sick.
Gravy and other sauces
Unless you’re planning to use leftover gravy or sauce within a day or two, the freezer is your best option. Depending on how you plan to use the sauce later, you may want to freeze it flat in freezer-safe bags. Or use round containers so you can cook them from frozen in an Instant Pot. To use the sauce a little bit at a time, freeze it in an ice cube tray and transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer-safe bag. For best quality, use frozen sauces within four months.
Your mashed potatoes might not taste great as a side dish the next day, but don’t throw them out! Place them in your favorite airtight storage container and keep them in the refrigerator, where they’ll last for three to four days. Plus, check out this handy tip to prevent your potatoes from going brown.
Whenever possible, it’s best to store pasta separately from sauce. Otherwise, the starches will soak up excess liquid in the fridge, plumping up the grains and making them soggy. If you really want to make the leftovers taste as good as the original, eat within three days and reheat the noodles by dropping them into boiling water for a few seconds. You could also try freezing your leftover pasta—here’s how.
When it comes to storing pizza, you have a few choices. If I know I’m reheating the pizza in the oven, I’ll wrap each slice tightly in aluminum foil. Otherwise, I’ll layer saucy or topping-heavy slices between pieces of parchment paper and wrap the whole batch in plastic wrap. If the pizza is light on toppings, skip the parchment and stack them directly on top of each other in an airtight bag. The pizza is good for three to four days, but it’s usually all gone the next day! Make sure you’re reheating your leftover pizza this way.
Pulled pork is the ultimate leftover food! Pork shoulders are huge, and they almost always yield a few extra servings. If you’re planning to eat the pork within three to four days, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Otherwise, pack it into individual serving bags and freeze them for two to three months. If you have a vacuum sealer, now would be a great time to use it.
Rice is one of those leftovers that needs to be treated carefully. Be sure to cool it down as quickly as possible because of its moist nature; room-temperature rice can begin growing bacteria in just two hours. Properly cooled and stored in airtight containers, rice will last about three to four days in the refrigerator.
Any time you’re roasting vegetables, go ahead and make extras. They store well in the refrigerator for three to four days, and tossing a handful into egg dishes, soups, salads, and power bowls is a great way to get a serving of nutrient-dense veggies at every meal. Airtight containers are best for roasted vegetables, although you could also store them in a bowl wrapped with plastic wrap.
If your salad is already dressed, don’t even bother saving the leftovers (unless it’s a grain-based or pasta salad). The acidity in the dressing will wilt the greens, and they’ll be slimy by morning. Any undressed lettuce mixes or extra salad dressing can be stored separately in mason jars or storage containers. To create on-the-go salad leftovers, build a salad in a jar with this handy trick.
Soups and stews
Soups and stews almost always taste better the next day! Store soups for three to four days in the refrigerator in airtight containers, or freeze them for four to six months. To maximize storage space, freeze soup flat in heavy-duty plastic bags. If you know you won’t have time to thaw the soup before reheating it, freeze it in large round containers so you can pop the contents out into a stockpot.
Once you’ve opened a can of tuna, you’ll have to store it in the refrigerator. Unused tuna fish and prepared tuna salad are best stored in small airtight containers (I love these deli cups), and they’ll last about three to four days in the refrigerator. Try this, plus these other methods to cut back on how much food you’re throwing away.
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