Laws of Leftovers: How Long do they last?

One of my top five suggestions on how to make eating properly an easy thing to do in terms of time and cost management has always been to make leftovers a regular part of your regime.

Whether you prefer to prepare extra dinner to have the rest tomorrow at lunch, or include two ‘Hour in the Kitchen’[1] sessions in your weekly routine, or a combination of the two, there’s no doubt that wasting precious time or food is not the way to go.

But what if your schedule is so tight that you really can’t do more than one kitchen session per week?   Can you really cook food on Sunday afternoon and plan on eating it on Friday?

Not really.  

Not, that is, unless you’ve planned and portioned ahead in order to freeze some of it and defrost as the week progresses.

The guidelines for how long fresh and raw, as well as some cooked foods will be safe to keep in the fridge, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services[2] are as follows:

  • Raw ground meat: 1 -2 days fridge, 3 – 4 months freezer
  • Fresh meat including steaks, chops and roasts: 3 -5 days fridge, 4 -12 months freezer
  • Fresh poultry: 1 -2 days fridge, 9 months – 1 year freezer
  • Leftover cooked meat: 3 -4 days fridge; 2- 6 months freezer

As far as fish is concerned, ideally you’re buying wild fish locally[3] and you’d eat it the same day you buy it, while you keep it on ice in the fridge.

And for veggies and fruits, same thing goes- the less time that elapses between picking and eating, the better!

Anything you’re planning on eating after this type of timeframe, then, needs to be rethought a little.

First off- what can you freeze or store without having to add preservatives of any measure?

The National Center for Home Preservation[4] makes it easy by providing a short list of foods that simply don’t freeze well for various reasons involving changes in texture and taste. The healthy foods on that list include:

  • Cabbage, celery, watercress, cucumbers, lettuces, radish
  • Cooked egg whites

Not all that limiting, actually!

Another option to consider rather than freezing foods you were going to eat or prepare in the form you initially planned, is how you might repurpose said foods.

For instance, why not take those extra heads of lettuce, that carcass left over from the roast chicken you made and that extra cup of fresh basil and puree it into a soup that can easily be frozen, defrosted, eaten as is, or used as a base for a soup or sauce?

Another incredibly way to reuse, or rather, recreate extra foods especially during this back to school time of year is to implement some simply strategies to take leftovers from any meal and pack them up for the kids to take to school. (Incidentally, it’s not just the kids that can take their foods with them to go- it’s also spouses and any other adults in the household!)

Grilled asparagus and grass fed flank steak can be diced, doused in olive oil and packed up on an ice pack to go in a safe-plastic container in a thermal tote.   Similarly, making a chopped salad out of avocado, cucumber, tomato, last night’s roast chicken and squash with a drizzle of fresh lime juice is an easy and tasty way to make sure your leftovers aren’t going to waste and that your family is eating well at the same time.

The key thing to remember above and beyond all else when it comes to using up leftovers, including the time line recommendations listed above, is one key phrase: “when in doubt, throw it out”.

If it smells funny, looks funny or raises even a shadow of a doubt, toss it (and that doesn’t mean shoveling it into the dog’s bowl, either!).

No amount of money is worth getting a case of food borne illness!






[1] Stephenson, Nell. Paleoista: Gain Energy, Get Lean and Feel Fabulous with the Diet You Were Born to Eat. New York: Touchstone/Simon & Schuster, 2012

[2] “Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer.” Storage Times for the Refrigerator and Freezer. US Department of Health and Human Services, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2015

[3] Spiegel, Alison. “How Long Does Fresh Fish Last In The Fridge After You Buy It?” The Huffington Post., n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 2015

[4] “General Freezing Information.” National Center for Home Food Preservation. University of Georgia, n.d. Web. 18 Aug. 201