The Art of Eating Leftovers

tomatoe herb sauce

For anyone with a packed schedule, leftovers are a necessity. You can bag them up for lunch, reheat them for dinner, or portion them out into snacks for the week. No matter how you use your leftovers, you’ll likely find that having some on hand saves time. Many people even prep one big batch of a meal at the beginning of the week and divvy out the leftovers for lunch or dinner until the following weekend. If you’re someone who appreciates a cold slice of pizza or a bowl of chili hot from the microwave, see our guide about the art of eating leftovers for some fresh ideas and information:


Most leftovers come about accidentally. You make a big batch of spaghetti and meatballs, expecting you and your family to scarf it all down, and yet a few servings remain untouched. This variety of unplanned leftovers can be a welcome surprise if you were wondering what you were going to take for lunch the following day.

“Planned-overs,” on the other hand, could totally reinvent the way you look at dinnertime. Planned-overs are simply leftovers that you intended to have after cooking—that is, you make more food than you and your clan or roommates will eat for dinner. If you do decide to have planned-overs for tomorrow, there are a few different ways you can approach the cooking process. You can just make a huge batch of a food that keeps and reheats well (like soup or chili), or you can make one component of your meal in excess and use it as a building block for different meals throughout the week. For instance, rice and quinoa are versatile ingredients that reheat well with some added water. Beef, chicken, and other proteins are also ingredients you can use later on in different ways.

Doggie bags.

Many people take home leftovers when they go out to eat. If you fall into this camp, there are a few things you should take into account before digging into the doggie bag. First things first: write the date of your meal on the container or bag. You don’t want to eat leftovers past four or five days after you brought them home (two or three days is ideal). Also make sure that you refrigerate the item properly. Even leftover pizza can only stay at room temperature for about two hours; after that it needs to be refrigerated, or your risk of contracting a foodborne illness skyrockets.

Food safety.

Speaking of foodborne illnesses, anyone who regularly eats leftovers needs to know how to avoid them. Proper storage, thawing, and reheating are all key. As we mentioned, you should pop foods into the fridge or freezer within two hours of serving them hot. If you opt for the fridge, eat leftovers within five days. Freezers can keep foods indefinitely, but for the sake of flavor, try to eat frozen leftovers within four months.

When you go to thaw the foods, never leave them on the counter at room temperature. That may cause bacteria to flourish. Instead, use cold water, the microwave, or an overnight stay in the fridge to defrost them. There are a few ways you can reheat items once they’ve thawed—basically any method you’d use to cook them in the first place. If you want to take a food straight from frozen to hot, you can always microwave them or stick them in the oven.

Cook Once, Eat Twice: Using Leftovers [How Stuff Works]
Leftovers and Food Safety [U.S. Department of Agriculture]
Tips for Reheating Leftovers [Home Food Safety]


Attribution: CC BY-SA 2.0/ Flickr/Annie Mueller