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Storing Leftovers

Julie Hartigan
Storing Leftovers
You menu-planned, grocery shopped, prepped, cooked, served, and hosted…whew! But now that the meal is over, what will you do with all those leftovers? This plan can help you make the most of what’s left.
  • Step 1: Assess perishables


  • Before you do anything else, scan your leftovers for foods that spoil easily, such as meats, dairy, mayonnaise-based dressings or dips. You have a “keep vs. toss” call to make here: Should you keep them?
  • A good rule of thumb is that highly perishable dishes should only be at room temperature for a total of two hours, max. As you’re deciding whether something’s still good, remember: When in doubt… throw it out!


  • Step 2: Divide and conquer


  • Now that you know what you’re keeping, be realistic about how much of any large portion you’ll be able (or want) to eat in the next few days. After all, even the best dish may not be delightful the 3rd day in a row.
  • If there’s more left than you want to eat right away, you can either freeze some to enjoy later, or pack it up and send it home with your guests.


  • Step 3: Freeze strategically


  • Getting the most out of frozen leftovers is all about planning. Your goals: Keep things fresh, easy-to-find, and easy-to-use. These tactics can help:
  • Save flavors. When freezing leftover roasts and meats, it’s a great idea to slice them up first and store them in the sauce or gravy you served them with. This helps them defrost and reheat more evenly and keeps them juicy and delicious. Think meals. Don’t automatically scoop each side into a separate container. Instead, assemble an entire meal from turkey to gravy to sides in an oven-safe gratin. Wrap tightly in heavy-duty foil and tuck it away for a holiday feast on a frigid February night.
  • Prep leftovers as ingredients. Dice, shred, or crumble bits of leftover items (like bacon, turkey, ham, or raw veggies) to stash in small freezer baggies and keep at the ready for soups, stews, frittatas, and stir-fries later.
  • Choose containers carefully: Glass freezer-and-oven-safe storage containers are great for easy viewing, stacking, and defrosting, which will help keep your freezer organized—and also prevent container avalanches. Vacuum-bag storage systems are another excellent option. Because they leave leftovers exposed to less air, vacuum-sealed foods prevent freezer burn and can store food longer. Plus, those vac-bags can also squeeze into tight freezer spaces.
  • Label everything. Because trust us, in a few weeks you won’t remember what lurks in those frosty depths! You don’t need a fancy system; you can just use some masking tape and a marker to note dates and what’s inside wherever it’s not obvious.


  • Step 4: Use the Fridge Creatively


  • After a big holiday meal in particular, refrigerator space can be hard to come by, so you may need to work to get everything where it needs to be.
  • Get organized: Designate a spot specifically for leftovers so they don’t get mixed up (or hidden behind) everyday staples or new purchases. Use the back of the shelf for foods that will keep a while (or you won’t be reaching for as often) to avoid constant digging. Rotate foods that need to be eaten soon to the front so they won’t be overlooked and go to waste. First in, first out!
  • Transfer from platters. These take up precious shelf space, aren’t stackable or airtight, and often allow sauces to drip and cause a sticky-fridge situation. Stackable, clear, lidded storage containers or bowls are a much better way to go.
  • Combine foods. For example, if you’re storing crudité and dip–try placing them together in one container. You’ll have it ready to pull out for an easy, healthy snack for yourself or to serve if neighbors drop by.
  • Bag it. Out of containers or tight on space? Zippered plastic storage baggies are a great simple solution for raw veggies, cheese, small appetizers, salads, etc. A little trick to keep veggies & salads fresh: tuck a paper towel in with them to absorb moisture so they’ll stay crisp and un-wilted.
  • With the right storage plan you’ll have less waste, less mess, and be able to enjoy your delicious holiday dishes through the season and beyond. So none of your food—or your effort preparing it—will go to waste.

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