The One Thing All Italian-American Families Have in Their Refrigerators

updated May 26, 2020
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Credit: Kitchn

The other day, I opened my parents’ fridge in search of a snack. (We’re quarantined together in the suburbs of New Jersey.) I wanted some plain yogurt; just a few spoonfuls to eat with the batch of granola I made over the weekend. So I located the quart-sized plastic container clearly labeled “yogurt,” cracked open the lid, and gasped at the slightly congealed, sulfuric-smelling contents within. Ma! Something’s wrong with the yogurt!

Before she came to my rescue, I did some quick detective work: The stinky gel was not yogurt at all, but rather homemade turkey stock that my mom had put in the fridge to defrost overnight … in what was formerly a yogurt container. It’s a lesson I should have learned by now.

Credit: Lauren Masur

My whole life, my family has up-cycled plastic containers that previously housed things like yogurt, ricotta, butter, cream cheese, grated Parm, sour cream, cottage cheese, and Cool Whip. The washed-and-emptied vessels are then filled with red sauce, gravy meat, homemade stock, and the drips and drabs of whatever’s left from dinner and tucked away in the fridge or freezer. We call it Italian “Tupperware.”

Credit: Lauren Masur

It’s a term of dubious origin that my family did not coin and is by no means exclusive to Italians. According to the official definition on, it consists of “reusable plastic containers and the matching lids, such as store-bought Cool Whip (sic), butter, and sherbet (sic) containers.”

There are even a few memes circulating the internet, which you can view here, here, and here, that further legitimize my claim that this is very much “A Thing.” But why? Aren’t there so many other, much more aesthetically pleasing, functional, and leak-proof ways to store leftovers? The answer is yes, yes there are. But I have my theories.

First, the multiple generations of Italian women that I personally know don’t like to waste a thing, especially when it comes to food — and the containers food comes in are no exception. Enter: Italian “Tupperware,” which is practical and economical (read: free) to boot.

Second, our family gatherings (when we’re allowed to have them) tend to be on the larger side. If you’re throwing a party and want to send your guests home with food, there’s always plenty of this stuff to go around. The best part is that you won’t miss it when whoever you sent it home with inevitably forgets to give it back — unless you’re my mom, who is always an exception.

I recently caught my mom in the act of organizing her stash, the little lids and bottoms toppling all over the kitchen island. (It may be practical and economical, but no one said it was efficient!) Since quarantine started, my mom has been shipping off leftovers to nearby family members even more than usual to make up for the lack of being together. The magical thing is that the containers always, always, always find their way back to our house — probably because when you try my mom’s food, you’re going to want more where that came from.

Credit: Lauren Masur

Does your family do this, too? What do you store in your empty containers?