5 Mistakes to Avoid When Dealing with Leftovers

updated Sep 16, 2019
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I used to truly loathe leftovers. That’s because I grew up eating quite a lot of them — we’d eat our way through a big pot or pan of something that was made at the start of the week and then repeat the cycle. It was usually fine for the first few days, but the microwaved leftovers got mushy and sad by day four or five and I often wanted out. So when I began cooking for myself as an adult, I flat-out banned them.

That’s easier said than done, of course. If you cook food, you will end up with leftovers whether you want them or not. The secret, I learned, is to treat them properly. If handled the right way, leftovers can be as good, if not better than, a fresh meal. Here are five mistakes to avoid.

You go straight to the microwave.

Yes, the microwave is a modern marvel. And I hate to hate on it, but it really doesn’t let leftovers be their best selves. Plenty of foods enter the microwave only to get overcooked and mushy in some spots while remaining ice cold in others. Yes, the microwave is faster, but the oven and stove will yield better results when you’re reheating most foods — especially foods like pizza, where some crispiness goes a long way. Considering that you’re already saving time by not actually cooking the food, I think the extra few minutes are worth it.

Follow this tip: Reheat your leftovers in the oven or stove instead of the microwave.

You don’t have a good set of storage containers.

Plastic wrap over a plate can only do so much. If you’re serious about storing your leftovers, it’s worth getting serious about storage containers. Take a moment to evaluate what you already have and recycle any old containers that are smelly and stained. Then pick up a new set. I personally like OXO’s sturdy glass ones; they won’t absorb stains or odors as easily, and they stack well in the fridge.

Follow this tip: Toss old, soiled storage containers and invest in a new set with sturdy airtight lids.

You’re storing leftovers that stain in plastic.

This is a corollary to the advice above: If you do like to keep plastic containers on hand (and they’re great in many instances!), be sure to have at least one or two glass containers for storing sauces any anything that can stain: Spaghetti sauces, curries, and the like will turn your plastic unpleasant colors, not to mention that the smells from the food will linger. Opt to store these foods in glass containers instead.

Follow this tip: Store anything with tomato sauce, turmeric, or chili oil in glass storage containers to prevent staining.

You aren’t using them in other dishes.

Sure, sometime leftovers really are best eaten the way they were intended to be eaten (looking at you, chili), but so many of them are better when reinvented. Rather than eating leftover roasted vegetables as a side dish again, stuff them into corn tortillas for a taco night. Shred leftover cooked chicken and turn it into a dinner salad. Or take day-old rice and a little bit of everything else and make fried rice.

Follow this tip: Consider leftovers tools to create a new, fresh dinner rather than simply eating them as is.

Credit: Dan de Jesus

You forgot the freezer.

If you do end up getting overwhelmed with your leftovers, or simply just tired of them, consider the freezer. Sure, there are things that just won’t freeze well, but many things freeze great, and your future self will thank you.

Follow this tip: Consider freezing some or all of your leftovers if you can’t consume them before they go bad.