Downsizing from a family with 5 siblings was an adjustment for me that took a bit of adjustment when I started cooking for my new family as a young adult. I find myself adjusting once again to just my husband and I. Until I get the hang of it, how do I deal with leftovers?

My husband is quite particular about what he will and will not eat for leftovers. I’m not nearly so picky, but I wonder how long they can sit in the fridge until I’m pushing my luck on the food poisoning scale. I love eating leftovers for lunch. It saves so much time and money. When my husband and I cook dinners, sometimes we make extra on purpose because we like it so much. How long can I stretch this family dinner dollar?

Leftovers? Yes Please. How to Stretch the Idaho Family Dinner

To keep food safe, you need to know there’s a sweet spot for bacteria.

  • The USDA advises avoiding temperatures from 40 degrees to 140. Putting a big container in the fridge directly from the stove is not the best idea since your fridge will have to work twice as hard, but don’t leave food to cool for longer than two hours.
  • Portion the food into containers just the right size for separate lunches. There’s an option of putting food in an ice bath first before placing it in the fridge if portions aren’t going to work for your particular dish.
  • Keep your food covered. This protects the food from cross-contamination and also helps your fridge to keep from being stinky. Stackable containers can save space and keep lids on well.
  • Put leftovers on the shelves, not in the doors. The doors get hit with warm air each time they are opened. A warmer spot equals food spoilage.

How Do I know if My Leftovers Are Still Good?

If you follow those simple rules, the general rule is 4 days in the fridge and 4 months in the freezer. Following the rule doesn’t guarantee leftover health, though. Look out for warning signs your dinner is showing.

  • Look - Is your lunch growing mold? Is it slimy? Has it dried out? If yes, toss it and get a fresh burger.
  • Aroma - Rancid is bad. Even if it may be just a little off, play it safe.
  • Taste - A change in flavor means something may be off. Spit out that 1st bite and try yesterday’s dinner instead of 4 days ago.
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Finally, reheat leftovers properly. Heating to at least 165 degrees will kill off bacteria. Using a stovetop or microwave will be the best option. Avoid food poisoning. I’ve had it before. It is an overrated experience that you don't want to have.

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