Food storage woes - the seventh circle

Dinner is complete.  A sense of a.) accomplishment b.) relief or c:) some mixture of of the two washes over you.  The calm is shattered and dread enters the hall - the dread of putting up leftovers.  There’s just a bit of fresh corn pudding left - save or not? Four Italian sausages remain - should you package them for kids lunches?  Several quarts of homemade chicken and rice soup are staring at you.

This mini-drama, the ‘what to do with leftovers’ drama plays out in kitchens across the world nightly*

I have a pet fascination with how folks handle this rather mundane task.  It is not the act of storing one’s food but the storage and subsequent retrieval of the vessels themselves that intrigues me.

Storing leftovers pose a few challenges:

  1. Finding the correct sized container
  2. Finding the lid for the identified container
  3. Maximizing consumed storage space (in the refrigerator)

Food Storage - finding the correct container

Even the OCD amongst us has encountered the preview of hell on earth that is the food storage section of the kitchen.  You have the nice big pull out drawer in your newly redone kitchen and yet the square containers nest, if at all, awkwardly with the previous generation of round containers.  You’ve changed brands of storage vessels and have a mix of red, off-white and blue tops.  It is my contention that folks that can keep this organized would make awesome auditors for the GAO - ferreting out those pockets of wasteful government spending.

The frustration of finding the perfect container but no matching lid or even worse finding several possible lids none of which fit is way more painful than the missing sock syndrome.  It has come to pass several times in my life where I’ve declared food storage bankruptcy.  A fit of hopeless rage finds all such storage containers in a box headed for the Goodwill while a new set of matching containers and lids takes it place.  I’ve done the math and I can assure you that this path is way less expensive than therapy.  This new matching set begins with hope, an unproven confidence that this time will be different, better.  That a Grranimal like matching system will ensure that tops and bottoms always match.  That the tethered lid system (as seen on TV) will ensure that cleaning up after dinner will be quick and painless.

This has never happened.  I’m quite sure that if a cult of food storage nirvana promisers were to show up at that delicate moment that I’d be writing home from the commune in short order.

Food Storage - Maximizing Space

In the case of the zombie apocalypse we’re good on pickles

So let’s assume that we all have normal sized refrigerators and further assume that it contains an average collection of stuff (parenthetically I will add that my man-son when organizing our refrigerator the other day called out ‘In the case of the zombie apocalypse we’re good on pickles’ - a condition caused in no small part by finding a lovely eastern european market in Asheville.  I’m a sucker for Cyrillic labels).

If you save leftovers you’ll end up in one of the following groups (and I’m not judging here):

  • The reused food containers for leftovers group (old spaghetti jars, greek salad containers etc)
  • The tupperware group (this has subgroups of which we’ll speak)
  • The pyrex/corningware group
  • The ziploc/foil group

Two issues - finding and storing.  The perfect system (IMO) would be:

  • infinitely nestable containers
  • single lid size for all containers
  • maximally efficient space consumption in the refrigerator

Without devolving into an infomercial like zeal I have guarded optimism that I’ve arrived at a solution.

Notwithstanding the dubious safety of placing a Le Cruset dutch oven full of steaming chili directly into the refrigerator,  unless you live a monastic life the fridge will groan under the gross inefficiency of storing food in cooking vessels.

Ziploc and foil storage - modulo the storage of leftover pizza which defies all known storage mechanisms went out just as mandatory seat belts came in.  Tin foil prices now rival those of gold, palladium and Kaffir lime leaves.  Ziplock bags get that shiny look when hot food is placed within - almost certainly a degassing of life impairing chemicals.

Pyrex is pretty close to optimal even if you’re not going for the Breaking Bad Construction Kit aesthetic.  It’s resistant to the staining power of Turmeric - which by the way if Billy Mays was still with us would be the ultimate challenge for the ‘oxygen power of OxiClean’.   My issue with Pyrex, unless you have ample storage space, is the stackability of the vessels.  Finally, I’m not sending Pyrex out into the world for school (or work) lunches.

Tupperware, Rubbermaid, Glad plastic containers with their promise of both nestability and matching lids tick a lot of boxes —until they don’t.  One night with a curry within and most containers of this ilk will assume a yellowish hue until its lid goes missing and finds its way into the trash bin.

Without devolving into an infomercial like zeal I have guarded optimism that I’ve arrived at a solution.

Go into a commercial kitchen and look at food prep containers.  Similar in shape and size to those found at the grocery store olive bar but in a more substantial gauge of plastic.  They are uniform in shape, a slight taper to the top and wait for it — the same size lids regardless of volume, 8oz, 16 oz and 32oz containers that vary only in height.  They nest uniformly and lids stack without end.  The stackability extends from the cabinet into the refrigerator.  Beef barbacoa broken into 8oz containers for lunch stacked atop of yesterday’s Korean scallion cuke pickles.

A few minutes on amazon and I had containers in 3 sizes carted up and on their way to me.  This is a good opportunity to form a buying club as the quantity of each may exceed your immediate and mid-term needs.  I split the lot into two and took half to the lake house where refrigeration is at a premium.

So far this new food storage system has worked out brilliantly. The whole collection occupies about 1/5th of the space of my once prodigious yet motley collection of tupperware.  Lunches have been low friction.  Big bonus points for the giveability - the per unit cost is such that delivering dinner to to others makes the ‘keep the containers’ which is somewhat more impractical with pyrex or your turmeric stained tupperware.

The containers are dishwasher safe (top shelf) and until someone comes forward and tells me that future generations health and welfare are in peril because of these containers I’m sticking with it.

I haven’t found these locally but you may find them at a restaurant supply house.

Here’s a few links to the ones I got at Amazon

Each man’s burden is the greatest man

  • I’m admitting and acknowledging up front that this is a total first world problem.  Having enough food to have leftovers is a blessing.  Having one’s biggest challenge nightly to be kids homework and finding dishes to store leftover food is to be truly fortunate.  As an acquaintance once reminded me ‘Each man’s burden is the greatest man’

More delicious recipes

This one of the many fanastic recipes available on this blog