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!
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? Check out our handy guide to find storage times for cooked meats, seafood, casseroles and more. Then, read on to find out the best way to store all your leftovers.
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 5 to 7 days past the best by date (or, 2 to 3 days for fresh bread). Extend its shelf life up to 6 months in the freezer, storing it in a freezer-safe bag or wrapping the loaf tightly in aluminum foil.
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 3 to 4 days on the counter (but they never last that long in my house!). Refrigerated cakes lose their quality after about two days.
Find out the best way to store other baked goods, like cookies, muffins and cupcakes.
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Unless you’re meal prepping for the next 3 to 4 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. If your freezer is getting full, read up on how to pack your freezer meals like a pro.
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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 3 to 4 weeks.
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Go ahead and pick up an extra rotisserie chicken at the store. The leftovers are good for 3 to 4 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 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
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.
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 them 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 in an ice cube tray and transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer-safe bag. For best quality, use frozen sauces within four months.
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Your mashed potatoes might not taste great as a side dish the next day, but don’t throw them out! There are a ton of creative ways to use up leftover mashed potatoes. Place them in your favorite airtight storage container and keep them in the refrigerator, where they’ll last for 3 to 4 days.
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.
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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 3 to 4 days, but it’s usually all gone the next day!
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 3 to 4 days, store it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Otherwise, pack into individual serving bags and freeze them for 2 to 3 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 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator.
Anytime you’re roasting vegetables, go ahead and make extras. They store well in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 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.
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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.
Soups and Stews
Soups and stews almost always taste better the next day! Store soups for 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator in airtight containers, or freeze them for 4 to 6 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 them in large round containers so you can pop the contents out into a stockpot.
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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 3 to 4 days in the refrigerator. Give it a try with these tuna salad recipes that are just like Grandma made.
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