Planning for leftovers can help stretch meals, dollars

April 21, 2004|by LYNN F. LITTLE

Leftovers can simplify meal preparation to a point where experienced cooks often cook more than needed so they can have several meals with minimal effort. Planning for leftovers can stretch meal and food dollars.

When saving leftovers, consider packaging in single servings. These can be handy for lunch and snacks and also good when added to soups and stews. Combine several single-serving containers of leftovers such as spaghetti sauce to complete a family meal.

Some tips to keep leftovers safe include:

  • Cool food in the refrigerator and not on the kitchen counter. The general rule is this: Food left sitting out for more than two hours should be discarded. Be sure to chill leftovers as soon as you are finished eating.

  • Transfer large quantities of food (for example, a pot of soup) to shallow containers to speed uniform cooling; cover food as it cools to prevent mingling of flavors.

  • When cool, transfer leftovers to food storage containers, freezer wrap or bags.

  • Intended use can dictate the choice of food storage wrap or container. If, for example, leftovers will be used in a day or two, storing them in a covered container in the refrigerator usually is adequate. If leftovers will be frozen for future use, mark contents and date stored clearly on the package to be frozen.

  • Container or bag? Some foods lend themselves to space-saving freezer bags. Fill freezer bags with soup and then lay the bags in a single layer in the freezer. Once the soup is frozen, stack the bags to save freezer space. Noting the date and the contents on the freezer bag or food storage container are helpful in choosing and using leftovers in a timely manner.

  • Recommended refrigerator storage time for most leftovers is three to four days; recommended freezer storage time is one to three months.

  • Reheat sauces, soups, marinades and gravies to a boil. Reheat all other leftovers thoroughly to at least 165 degrees. If using a microwave oven, cover the container and turn or stir the food to make sure it is heated evenly throughout.

For more information on food safety, contact Maryland Cooperative Extension - Washington County office at 7303 Sharpsburg Pike, Boonsboro, or call 301-791-1504; or visit the following Web sites for food safety information:


Lynn F. Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

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