Do you know how to use leftovers and store them for later?
Whether 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 care 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, which is why I chose to take a different approach.
Instead of tossing leftovers, I find other ways to reuse them so my husband and my picky eaters feel like they are getting an entirely new meal! Sneaky, I know.
In order to try to eliminate some of the wastefulness, save money, and prevent foodborne illness, I’ve put together some “leftover guidelines,” to help you know how long you can keep each item of food plus, some of my favorite ways to repurpose leftovers into a delicious new meal!
How Long Do Leftovers Last
Naturally, how long you can keep leftovers depends on the type of food, and where you are keeping it. Here are a few guidelines to get you started.
Leftovers at room temperature
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 in the Fridge
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 don’t think you’ll be able to use up your leftover food within this amount of time, go ahead and place it in the freezer.
If you save it for a week or so in the freezer, it’s more likely your family will forget that it’s a “leftover” meal, and they’ll be happy to eat it reheated for another family dinner.
Tip: Don’t overload the fridge. Food needs to stay between 35 and 40 degrees F. Packing too much in the fridge will inhibit the cool air from circulating effectively. Spread the containers out as much as you can.
Best Ways to Store Leftover Food
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 grab-and-go portion size.
I like using my glass containers for storing leftovers in the fridge, because they don’t stain as easily as plastic ones, and it’s still easy to see what is inside each container.
Whether you are storing your leftover food in the fridge or the freezer, 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 there, or try to remember when was the last time you had spaghetti.
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.
Leftover Food Recipes
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.
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-fry 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.
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.
One way to serve up healthy school lunches every day is by repurposing dinner from earlier in the week, into a nutritious lunch. Here are a few of our favorite school lunch ideas with leftovers:
And it doesn’t have to stop with lunchtime leftovers. There are so many ways to re-purpose leftover food into a delicious dinner the whole family can enjoy too. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Taco leftovers become Homemade Nachos
- Buffalo Chicken Lettuce Cups leftovers can turn into Loaded Buffalo Chicken Pizza
- Turn leftover grilled salmon into these Salmon Nicoise Salads
- Sunday’s breakfast pancakes become this Build Your Own Pancake Lunch
- Grilled chicken from dinner are perfect in these Chicken & Hummus Bistro Boxes
- Asian Chicken Lettuce Cups = Asian Chicken Wraps
- Leftovers from Salsa Chicken Tacos are incredible in Salsa Chicken Burrito Bowls.
As much as I love to cook delicious meals for my family, the less food I need to buy, and the less I have to cook, the better. It frees up my time to do other things like manage my business or spend time with the kids.
And of course, reusing leftovers can save a lot of time and money every single week.
Do you have favorite ways to repurpose leftovers? Share in the comments!