The Best Ways to Store Lots of Leftovers

November 23, 2016

In the spirit of abundance, holiday cooking almost always results in an array of leftovers: already-mixed salads, dinner rolls and breakfast biscuits, cooked meats, extra granola, and half-full baking dishes of every side dish imaginable. The first best solution is to give as much as possible to your guests, because it's giving season, and then to get creative with the rest (even if that's just by using the ever-effective method of serving a flash-fried egg on top).

But in both cases, what are the best ways to store them? We polled our editorial team to find the answers: Here's how to prep for and best store your leftovers, for easier access later:

Weck jars offer airtight storage that's cute enough to send home with guests. Photo by James Ransom

For Freezer-Safe Leftovers in Large Quantities: The Flat Baggie Method

For organization and easy access, I like freezing anything stewy or liquid—let's say chicken broth, soup, mashed potatoes, or even granola (which freezes alarmingly well)—in quart-sized, freezer-safe plastic baggies. Label them with a permanent marker and tape, lay them flat in the freezer to solidify, and then stack them like inch-thick books in a neat little line.

Then, when you feel like some mashed potatoes with dinner in December, just thaw as many of the baggies as you need to feed your crowd (or just one, for just you).

Deli containers also double as excellent pantry organizers. Photo by Mark Weinberg

For Small Amounts: The Deli Container Method

According to our managing editor Kenzi Wilbur, deli containers—those round plastic vessels with tight-fitting lids that dumpling soup arrives in when you order takeout—are "not cute, but so functional." Being transparent, lightweight, and inexpensive (not to mention excellent stackers), they're what we use in the office when sending home leftovers from a photoshoot. In your own home, they're great for storing a small amount of any leftover (like those last five bites of steak that nobody finishes), or things that wouldn't freeze well, since you can standardize the amount and stack them in an orderly way.

Leslie Stephens uses so many deli storage containers that she decided to re-arrange her refrigerator shelves to best fit the stacked vessels "Once you've chosen your storage container, change around your fridge so that they work for you—and to maximize space!," she says. If you prefer something a little classier, like glass containers with snap-on lids, the same system could be employed.

For Giveaways: The Weck or Canning Jar Method

As our intern Taylor Rondestvedt noted, rounded glass Weck jars double as bowls when you're ready to consume what's in them. Plus, they're airtight and cute—a combo that's ideal for food you want to send home with guests (we might take home all kinds of deli containers from our office, but they're really not the most attractive thing to pass off as a gift at the end of a night). Stock up on small and larger sizes so you're ready to send home as much food as you want to get off your hands.

Wash greens, dry on paper towels, then roll up and store in gallon-sized plastic baggies.

For Fresh Ingredients: The Bagged Paper Towel Method

"I layer greens and washed herbs between layers of paper towel in gallon-size plastic bags," says our co-founder Amanda Hesser, who also recommends pressing all the air out before zipping them up. Not only is this an effective means of keeping delicate ingredients perky for longer—"greens will stay nice this way for a week or more," she says—it's also a great way to fill underused nooks in a stocked fridge, since the bags are light and flexible, as "they can fit either stacked in a vegetable drawer or on top of a container."

In the event of more greens than a single bag can hold, opt to use a large plastic container in the same way.

This article originally ran last holiday season, but we brought it back so you'd be ready to stow those Thanksgiving leftovers pronto (well, after second helpings).

And in all cases, label everything! How do you keep your leftovers lasting for longer? Let us know in the comments.

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Robin December 27, 2015
I am with McVey, thaw. De-thaw equals frozen.
Unless someone changed the definition of thaw in the 15 years since my last grammar class.
Dugdale M. December 25, 2015
Great ideas! I love the little Weck jars -- I might just go on a hunt to see if I can find them anywhere in Canada, as shipping costs from the US will likely be prohibitive.

One minor correction is needed. In this phrase:

> just de-thaw as many of the baggies as you need

Change "de-thaw" to thaw. "De-thaw" (or the oft-used "un-thaw") means freeze, which of course is not the intent of your instruction.