How To Keep And Reheat Your Leftovers

Leftovers can be difficult to keep track of. You throw them in your refrigerator and instantly forget about them for a few days. Often they’re still good, but it’s hard to make sure. We’ll take a look at storage time for some common leftovers and tips for reheating them the right way.

Photo by Chris Baranski.

The biggest step you can make to ensuring your leftovers last a long time is to follow our guidelines for food storage, which includes tips for picking out the right type of packaging, safely handling your food, and choosing between the freezer and the fridge. But what about all the meals you’ve already cooked? Let’s take a look at the expected time limits on your leftovers and the best practices for storing them.

How Long Common Leftovers Keep For

A good general rule of thumb to follow is that most cooked foods should last four days when stored in an airtight container in the fridge within two hours of being cooked. It’s also worth noting that the smell test isn’t always an accurate way to tell if your leftovers go bad, so if you’re ever in doubt, throw it away. Mark your containers with a pen and the date it was cooked instead of relying completely on your sense of smell.

That said, the four-day rule isn’t universal and a few common foods won’t usually make it all the way to four days. Cooked chicken and mince will only last three days, sandwiches with mayonnaise won’t even make it a day, and most pasta with sauce can only make it two days. If you’re wondering about the best practices for storage and shelf life, StillTasty is a webabb that breaks everything down in an easily searchable manner. As a general rule, you want to put food in a sealed container in the fridge and don’t expect it to last too long. Freezing foods can make them last near-indefinitely, so consider freezing if you don’t have a definite plan to eat something within a few days.

Other good habits include:

  • Keep your refrigerator temperature below 4 degrees Celsius to slow bacteria growth.
  • Spread leftovers evenly in the container so the cold air hits the food evenly.
  • Leave space between the items in the fridge so the cold air can circulate.
  • Keep leftovers in the front of the fridge to prevent forgetting about them.

That said, good storage doesn’t mean a thing if you can’t reheat those leftovers in a way that captures the taste of the original meal. Let’s look at some good reheating practices.

Photo by Andrew Nash.

Clever Ways To Reheat Leftovers

While we often think of leftovers as not tasting as good as the original, quite a few ways exist to restore your leftovers to their former glory. In fact, if you cook with lots of spices, onions or garlic, your leftovers can get better over time. Taste is just part of the battle; reheating can dry foods out or make them soggy, neither of which make them enjoyable to stuff down your throat. Here are a few of our favourite tips for keeping food appetising on all fronts.

Reheat with a damp paper towel: If you’re microwaving foods to reheat them, you can either mix in a little water, or wet a paper towel and place it over the leftovers. This creates a little steam cooking to go along with your reheating and keeps the food from drying out any more than it already has. You can use this to your advantage with all types of foods. For instance, if you’re reheating rice, microwaving it with a small mug filled with water will help rehydrate the rice. If you’re reheating turkey, placing a damp paper napkin over it will moisten it up and make it taste as good as when you carved it.

Reheat pizza in a skillet for a crispy crust: If you hate soggy pizza, an easy way to reheat a leftover slice is to do it on a skillet with an aluminium foil lid. The lid captures the heat and spits it back at the toppings while the skillet uses the residual oil left in the crust to reheat it without making it all floppy and sad. The result is a crispy slice of pizza that doesn’t taste like it has been sitting in a cardboard box in the fridge for two days.

Reheat pasta and rice by sautéing it: Two foods that seem to lose their flavour and consistency quickly are rice and pasta. It turns out, if you sauté with a little olive oil, it makes them both taste good and feel right on your tongue when you’re shoving them down your mouth.

Photo by peapodsquadmom.

Do you have any tricks you use to make leftovers taste good? Share them in the comments.

The Cheapest NBN 50 Plans

Here are the cheapest plans available for Australia’s most popular NBN speed tier.

At Lifehacker, we independently select and write about stuff we love and think you'll like too. We have affiliate and advertising partnerships, which means we may collect a share of sales or other compensation from the links on this page. BTW – prices are accurate and items in stock at the time of posting.


2 responses to “How To Keep And Reheat Your Leftovers”

Leave a Reply