The Best Ways to Store Leftover Ingredients

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

Ever chopped up too much of something for a recipe, only needed part of a can of beans or tomatoes, or threw half a cucumber into the back of the fridge and completely forgot about it?

Dealing with leftover ingredients so that they stay as fresh as possible but don’t get lost in the recesses of your fridge is a skill everyone should master. Save yourself the guilt from having to throw out spoiled food you forgot you had or improperly put away! Here are five tips to help you store leftover ingredients properly so they won’t be forgotten.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

1. Keep prepping.

When doing food prep like shredding cheese or chopping up fruits or vegetables, finish prepping the whole item even if you don’t need it all. It probably takes a little bit more time to do the extra prep, but in the long run, you don’t have to haul out equipment like vegetable peelers, cutting boards, or salad spinners again, and you’re more apt to use the leftovers if they’re ready to be eaten or cooked.

Think about what you would use the leftovers for to determine how you finish prepping. For example, if you have half a head of lettuce left, think about whether you’ll use it as salad or as lettuce wraps and prep accordingly.

2. Don’t store in cans.

Once you open up canned foods, don’t store the leftovers in the cans. The cans will start to give a tinny, off taste to foods, and since it’s not airtight anymore, it can scent foods around it or absorb unwanted scents. It’s best practice to transfer the remaining contents of a can of food to an airtight container.

(Image credit: Faith Durand)

3. Airtight is your friend.

Airtight containers are best for storing leftover ingredients because you don’t worry about leakage or an accidental spill. They also keep pungent smells from scenting other foods and keep you from getting an unpleasant whiff every time you open the refrigerator.

For cut fruits and vegetables, wrap tightly in plastic wrap to keep air out and prevent further moisture loss.

4. Choose clear containers.

Ever see a container of something and wonder what’s in it? If you store things in clear ones, you can always tell what’s inside at a glance without even opening the container. Even containers with just a see-through top will make it a lot easier to figure out what’s inside.

(Image credit: Christine Gallary)

5. Label and date.

If you have similar-looking ingredients in your fridge or tend to forget how long something’s been in there, it’s worth the extra time it takes to label and date it. Just use some masking tape so the tape doesn’t stick on permanently, and either write the date you threw it into the fridge or the date you need to use it up by on the tape.

Don’t forget that the phrase “Out of sight, out of mind” works both ways: place things that need to be used up soon near the front of the shelf so you don’t forget about them.

If you can put these simple tips to practice, it’ll make finding what leftover ingredients you have and actually using them a much simpler, less frustrating process!

→ More on making the most of what you have: 8 Essential Tips for Avoiding Food Waste