Dealing With Leftovers and People Who Need To Eat Away From Home

As our family has grown up, more and more people are eating at least one meal a day away from home.  These people all have jobs and could buy food out, but then their nutrition suffers, and also their savings accounts.  I have somehow managed to raise fiscally responsible – and health conscious – young adults!  It’s not always easy or convenient to pack leftovers from the fridge, so I’ve developed a little system that I’ve been using for over a year with excellent success.  It takes just a few minutes after dinner, and it saves the children and husband several dollars a day on fast food.  It also allows us to deal with any special dietary needs.

Here’s how it works.

After dinner, I evaluate the leftovers, and I package up complete meals in containers.  I write the contents of the box on a sticker, and if it has some special characteristic – low-carb, meatless for Fridays, gluten-free – I write that on the label, too.  If it needs something fresh, like greens, I write it on the box – NEEDS GREENS.  I also include the date so I know how long it’s been in the freezer.  If it languishes too long, they maybe don’t want it and it can be fed to the dog.

The reason this system works so well is because it doesn’t really take any extra work.  You already made dinner, and that was the hard part.  Now all you need is a freezer, some containers, stickers and a pen.  Your family’s special needs can easily be managed, because you already cooked for them.  All you have to do is note it.  Allergen-free?  Write it on the box.  Fasting friendly?  Write it on the box.  Vegan?  Write it on the box.  Dairy-free?  Write it on the box.  Meatless?  Write it on the box.  Filling out the stickers is the most time-intensive part, but around here, it’s something of a show, because the children think I have amazing handwriting.  (Yes, watching me write labels passes for fun in these parts!  What is she going to call it?  How will she fit it all on there? What color pen will she choose?  Oh, the suspense!)

Pop the finished boxes in the freezer, and you’re done!


The outgoing people can now choose their meal based on preference and/or dietary need.  Ideally, they remember to take it out of the freezer the day or the morning before, so it can thaw, but they use the microwave to quick-thaw a meal when they forget.  They all have access to a microwave at work or school, except Meg, who works at a pizzeria; she puts her food into a foil container and sends it through the oven.

I usually have twenty to thirty meals in the freezer, but we’re a little low right now because of a stomach bug last week that had us neither cooking or eating for some five days.  People still had to work, though!  And so they still ate.  I can usually add at least one meal per night, but sometimes three, and I often intentionally make extra, especially of meatless meals, so that I can add them to the freezer.  The kids like meatless meals even on non-Fridays and eat them up pretty fast.

That’s it!  It’s easy to start, easy to maintain, and easy to utilize.  What more could you ask for?


I use:

These containers because they can hold a man-sized meal, but are inexpensive. I’ve been surprised by their durability, too. The lids are a little finicky when they’re frozen especially, but as long as you pry them off carefully, they hold up. I think we’ve only cracked one, and I’ve been using these since October.

These stickers, which I love, because they melt away in water!  They completely dissolve, people!  But they also hold up well in the freezer.  Some adhesives have a tendency to become unstuck in cold temps, and these don’t.  Totally worthwhile!  I’ve had this role since October, too, and I expect it to last at least until next October.  500 is a lot of meals.

These marker pens because I’m a planner nerd and I like the pretty colors.  They do bleed a bit on the stickers, though, so you have to write fast. 🙂


11 Comment

  1. Charity says:

    Love the description of the kids breathlessly watching you write labels :). Had never thought of that kind of thing as “writing” or art before, but I guess it really is.

  2. Charity says:

    Oh, and I do that same thing all the time – dinner leftovers in plastic containers as lunches, though my turn-around is usually next day, so I don’t freeze. My people would probably appreciate a selection at times though, since I get very different feedback from different ones about what is appropriate and worth consuming as leftovers.

    1. Too funny!

  3. I have a calligraphy pen I use for every day writing that gives the to-do list an extra special flair. Make art anywhere!

  4. Beckie R. says:

    We’ve done this for years! Miguel always takes last night’s meal to work today, so we always package the leftovers for him and if there’s enough, one for the freezer to give to needy relatives (or the fridge, because we don’t keep our food long). Can’t really do it for school bound children, because, well, no microwave access. Although some intrepid parents I know use those hot/cold emergency medical things that you can freeze or heat, depending on need. If I’m sending a kid to school with a hot lunch, it’s in a thermos.

    1. The kids in question are older and are eating either at college or work. School meals would work out differently, but lots of people I know pack lunch for husbands and quite a few have trouble with Orthodox fasting meals.

  5. Rebekah says:

    I so LOVE this idea!! I would do it mostly for meals so I may use glass containers I have but those labels seem like the perfect solution to a bothersome problem!

    1. Glass you can write on with a sharpie and it scrubs right off. I don’t think the ink would run in the freezer…

  6. I used to do this when my husband worked at an office!! (He now works from home or travels). But even when we’re at home, we eat supper leftovers for lunch. I don’t stock “lunch” food like sandwich meat or anything.

    Also, I see in your comment above that I can write directly on glass with a sharpie and it scrubs right off?!?! I must try this! I use mostly glass for food storage, and I do use freezer tape/sharpie to label things, but just a sharpie would be even easier.

    1. Yes! You can scratch it off dry, but it comes off in the sink with a scrubbie.

  7. Jennie, I love how you figure this stuff out because it shows your desire to be a good homekeeper and your love for your family, and then you go the extra mile and share it with us! Thank you! I pack Anthony’s meals from the previous day’s lunch (our large meal). I usually don’t pack more than two days ahead, but I am keeping this idea for later when I might have more people to pack for. I use rectangular Pyrex containers with rubber lids and Mason jars for all his food, and he carries it in a cooler so that protects the glass.

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