How to Store and Use Leftovers

Do you know how to use leftovers and store them for later?

How to store and use leftoversWhether it’s a large family gathering or a weekday meal, we often find ourselves with uneaten food. Have you ever found yourself not knowing what to do with it, or how long you can keep it before throwing it all out?

My husband doesn’t like to eat leftovers, so it’s up to me and the kids to finish them off, and I usually end up throwing out several containers at a time, long after they’re okay to eat. It’s wasteful, and costly. The smarter thing to do would be to save those leftovers and reuse them in different ways so my husband wouldn’t notice! Sneaky, I know.

In order to try to eliminate some of the wastefulness, save money, and prevent food borne illness, I’ve put together some “leftover guidelines,” compiled from eHow and What’s Cooking America.

  • Never leave food out at room temperature for longer than 2 hours from the time it’s cooked. It’s safer to cool it in the refrigerator than on the counter, so as soon as you’re done with the meal, put it away.
  • Leftovers containing meat should be used or thrown out within 3 days. Other foods will last up to 5 days in the fridge.
  • If you must store leftovers in the original pan or dish, cover them tightly with foil or plastic wrap. A better solution, though, is to divide the dish into smaller, shallow containers. They will cool faster, and you’ll be more likely to eat them or use them in another dish if they’re in individual servings. For example, pasta is an easy lunch to reheat the next day, if it’s already in a a grab-and-go portion size.
  • Try to switch up the meals made from leftovers. Turkey or chicken can easily be tossed into fajitas, wraps, quesadillas, even enchiladas. Ham is perfect for dicing up and cooking into a breakfast casserole. Rice is great for stir-fries or fried rice. Think outside of the box—you’re more likely to use up your food if you’re not eating the same thing over and over and over. Love Food, Hate Waste has a great recipe index for using leftovers of all kinds.
  • Don’t overload the fridge. Food needs to stay between 35 and 40 degrees F, and  packing too much in the fridge will inhibit the cool air from circulating effectively. Spread the containers out as much as you can.
  • Label everything! Write the date on the container or on a removable label so you never have to question how long it’s been in the refrigerator.
  • When you reheat the food, make sure you heat it to 165 degrees F, instead of just warming it up, and stir the food to ensure that it is all reaching the appropriate temperature. Leftover liquids, such as sauces, gravies, and soups should be brought to a boil before being eaten.
  • When you’ve had a chance to relax a little (or even before you cook your meal in the first place), plan what you’ll use the leftovers for. Having a meal plan ahead of time is the easiest way to make sure you eat the food instead of throwing it out.

My family OFTEN passes sicknesses to each other (especially between all of the kids), but unlike a cold or the flu virus, food poisoning is preventable! And hey, I’m a busy mom. The less food I need to buy, and the less I have to cook, the better.  Reusing leftovers can save us time and money!!

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About MOMables - Laura

Mom to 3 awesome people and MOMables CEO. I work hard in my kitchen so you don't have to. I'm obsessed with tacos and coffee -not always in that order.