In my experience, people fall into two camps: leftover lovers and leftover avoiders-at-all-costs.

I love my homemade chili on the second day. I look forward to Thanksgiving leftover cranberry sauce and roasted veggies as much as the main event. The thought of tossing uneaten quinoa is sacrilege to me: it repurposes into an amazing cold salad for tomorrow’s lunch.

Still, I’m feelin’ ya if you are wary of day old eats. Being skeptical is a good thing. Improper or questionable storage can skeeve me out, too.

I’m sharing 6 rules to eating leftovers so you can feel most confident about your food’s safety and storage. (I know it may sound dry, but you’ll learn something, I promise).

6 Rules for Eating Leftovers

No leftover-leftovers. You get to heat up your leftovers once and only once. When you’re reheating, take out only the portion you plan to eat. Heat it thoroughly to 165℉ to kill off any potential cooties. Do not heat up the whole tray of lasagna if you’re just going to have one serving. If you don’t finish the serving, toss it.

2 + 2 + 4 rule. You’ll want to refrigerate or freeze your food within 2 hours of cooking. Store your food in dishes that are 2” or less so they can cool safely. Eat leftovers within 4 days. All of these minimize potential for foodborne illnesses to grow.

Keep it covered. Tightly cover your leftovers to minimize contamination from the air and to prevent drying out your food. Take the extra minute to pull the plastic wrap to make an airtight seal, or it may not be worth storing your food.

Contain wisely. I strongly recommend storing your food in glass, porcelain and stainless steel, but if you choose a plastic container for storage or drinking, make sure it’s BPA free.

We know that BPA is released with heat, so don’t heat your foods in plastic, allow plastic wrap to touch your foods in the microwave, or drink from the water bottle after it has baked in the sun.

BPA is in the lining of many aluminum cans too, so don’t heat your food in a can. Ever!

Know the rules. Each food has a different shelf life. Dairy is a little more resilient than seafood, for example. If you’re in doubt, check it out. The look, smell, taste test isn’t the most reliable!

Health benefits 101. Honestly, you probably do lose a little nutrition the older most of your leftovers get. Light, air exposure and time chip away at some of the healthfulness, but they’re far from nutritionally useless.

My rule of thumb tip is to pair your leftovers with a big bed of greens to maximize the nutrient value of your meal.

Told ya you’d learn something! Happy center-staging your leftovers to all!

About Nutritious Life Editors

The Nutritious Life Editors are a team of healthy lifestyle enthusiasts who not only subscribe to — and live! — the 8 Pillars of a Nutritious Life, but also have access to some of the savviest thought leaders in the health and wellness space — including our founder and resident dietitian, Keri Glassman. From the hottest trends in wellness to the latest medical science, we stay on top of it all in order to deliver the info YOU need to live your most nutritious life.

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