If you like leftovers like I do, then you know the value in having lots of food storage containers. However, you don’t have to go broke trying to save money by making food last longer.
Here are some of the best budget-friendly food storage ideas with items you may already own. These are ideas that I got from Jenn Allen, a retired chef turned cookbook author and blogger at CookWhatYouLove.com.
Food storage container ideas
There are all kinds of food storage ideas. From fancy plastics to glass and even beeswax pouches, there are plenty of ways to store your leftovers safely. But what are the best picks if you’re looking for affordable solutions?
The following are some of the best budget-friendly food storage ideas and why they’ve made this list.
Reusable Food Storage Bags
My husband found great reusable food storage bags at Aldi, in the Aisle of Shame (which Aldi shoppers know is the center aisle of the store, filled with household goods). These reusable bags are a great alternative to disposable plastic bags.
We’ve found the bags to be handy for storing a variety of items, including sandwiches, snacks while hiking and leftover foods.
Reusable food storage bags are typically made of durable materials like silicone or cloth. You can wash and reuse them repeatedly.
However, we haven’t quite figure out how to wash them well. I should probably just put them in the dishwasher and call it a day.
In addition, these reusable storage bags are cost effective. You can usually get them for between $1 and $2 per bag, depending on the size of the bag. And they last a long time.
Final tip: don’t store tomato-based products in them. We’ve found that this stains the bags red, and then they never look clean again–even if they are.
Want to know my favorite, almost free way to get mason jars that I can use as food storage containers? Pasta sauce jars. And not just any brand of pasta sauce–Classico Organic Pasta Sauce.
If you look closely at the Classico jars, you’ll see that they’re mason jars. Well, they may not be the mason brand of jars–they are actually the Atlas brand of jar– but they’re definitely reusable glass containers with a top. Just remove the label, put them in the dishwasher after use and you’ve got great-looking mason jars for storing food or even using as drinking vessels.
One of the reasons I love mason jars is that they are a versatile and budget-friendly option for food storage. They can be used to store a variety of dry goods, such as grains, nuts, and seeds. They also keep liquids like soups, stews and smoothies.
Mason jars are made of glass, a non-porous and safe material for food storage. They are also easy to clean and can be reused repeatedly.
Finally, if you use my tip about reusing pasta sauce jars as your mason jars, keep in mind this: while they may be perfectly good for food storage, the Classico pasta sauce jars are not reusable for food canning.
You may refer to all plastic containers as Tupperware, but only those with the Tupperware brand name are really those. And I do have some Tupperware.
In fact, these days you can buy beautiful Vera Bradley X Tupperware containers. They’re almost too pretty to use.
Brands of plastic containers
However, by and large, my store-bought plastic containers are from Rubbermaid. I’ll usually buy the kind with the interlocking lids so they’re easier to store in drawers and cabinets.
The newer Rubbermaid plastic containers have a valve in the lid so that when you put away hot things in the refrigerator or freezer, they won’t create a suction seal as they cool off. Without that suction, that makes them easier to open later on.
Also, I inherited what we call “click clack” plastic, airtight containers. The brand is Lock n Lock. My mother in law gave them to me when she moved out of her home and into an assisted living facility.
She was a devout QVC watcher and shopper, which is where she bought them. And you can still buy Lock n Lock food storage containers on the network. In fact, Lock n Lock offers containers made in three different materials:
Other ways to get plastic containers
Growing up, my mother reused all kinds of plastic containers for food storage. Sour cream or Cool Whip tub? Check.
Deli containers that cole slaw or potato salad came in? Check.
Yogurt tubs? Check.
When they’re empty, wash them and use them to pack up soups, stews, meatloaf or whatever you’ve had for lunch or dinner. They’re also great for storing dry goods like ruby chocolate.
Write the name of the contents and the date on the top so you can quickly and easily identify what’s in them. You don’t get much more budget-friendly than reusing these plastic containers.
The only drawback? These kinds of food-safe containers likely can’t be used in the microwave. So, if you’re toting your lunch in them, make it a cold lunch only.
Finally, food containers are one of the four largest plastic pollutants in the oceans. When done, always reuse and recycle them. This helps to keep them out of landfills and the oceans. Because plastic takes a long time to decompose.
Silicone Stretch Lids
Silicone stretch lids will fit bowls, pots, cups, casserole dishes and more. They allow you to pack up your leftovers in reusable dishes and store them in the fridge.
Another, even cheaper hack are shower caps. Are you like me and have collected dozens of shower caps from hotels rooms? Well, put them to good use in the kitchen as stretch lids over bowls and other containers. You can even stretch a shower cap over a watermelon half.
What You Can Store in Food Storage Containers
Food storage containers aren’t just ideal for leftovers, but they can be used for any number of consumables. From pantry staples like rice, flour, sugars, oatmeal, and spices to freezer jams, frozen soups, and tasty stews, preserving the freshness of your food will help reduce the amount of waste in your home.
You can also use these containers for non-edibles. They are perfect for organizing craft supplies, pet food, jewelry, things you want to keep dry while camping and much more.
Don’t Forget the Labels
There’s nothing worse than opening your fridge to see a sea of food storage containers filled with mystery ingredients. You can use tape and a pen to label the top of your food storage containers to identify what’s inside.
I prefer using blue tape and a Sharpie marker to label containers. Sharpies have a thicker point that makes them easy to read, and the ink lasts forever.
Why blue tape? Because it won’t adhere permanently to your container and ruin it.
Plus, by adding a date, you’ll know when you put those leftovers in the fridge. Then, if you’re worried about food expiration dates, you can toss as necessary.
Finally, labels are especially helpful when freezing leftovers. That’s because once frozen, it’s harder to tell what’s inside the container.
Food Storage Tips
Many foods are sensitive to temperature and can spoil or become unsafe to eat if stored at the wrong temperature. For example, always keep perishable foods like meat and dairy in the refrigerator to keep them fresh.
On the other hand, store dry goods, such as grains and legumes, in a cool, dry place away from direct sunlight.
Always follow the USDA guidelines for food storage. Among other things, the USDA recommends storing refrigerated food under 40°F.
Also, make sure you consume most leftovers within three to four days. This is especially important to remember at Thanksgiving time.
Portions of this article originally appeared on Food Drink Life.