Photo-Illustration: Courtesy Retailer
The Home Edit–style decanting of absolutely all your food into clear boxes and jars is not my thing (and, practically speaking, pretty unnecessary). There is, however, a happy medium between that level of aesthetic organization and a storage-container cabinet or drawer that looks like it got hit by a tornado — a random collection of stained plastic vessels from three roommates ago, mismatched bottoms and tops, and oddly shaped pieces that would take up too much room in the fridge (if you ever bothered to use them). The point is: Having the right storage containers will make your pantry and refrigerator so much easier to navigate and food less likely to go bad. To that end, I asked a bunch of experts (meaning people who cook a lot and keep their kitchens together) what they use to store dry goods, prepped foods, and leftovers.
Material: Glass containers are the easiest to wash, and you can see through them completely. But they’re also the heaviest (an important consideration if you’re looking to transport meals on the regular). Plastic ones are transparent and lightweight. While they clean up well if you throw them in the dishwasher, they can be a bit of a pain to scrub by hand. Silicone is similar to plastic in terms of cleaning and weight, but you can’t see through it. Basically, there are pros and cons to each, so I’ve noted the material of all the containers below, including if the lids and bases differ.
Shapes: Some people might like a uniform shape, while others may prefer to have a mix; it all depends on what you plan to use each piece for. For this, I say whether the shapes in each container set are uniform or a mix.
Sizes: Again, this will depend on use (maybe you’re looking to organize all the dry goods in your pantry or you want to ensure your various leftovers stop going bad). For this, I also say whether they’re uniform or a mix.
Glass containers, silicone lids | Mix of shapes | Mix of sizes
Pyrex is a tried-and-true favorite brand that came up most among experts. “The glass containers don’t absorb the smell or color of the food stored inside of them,” says recipe developer (and soon-to-be cookbook author) Jessie Sheehan. “I don’t want chana masala mixing with leftover egg yolks from baking.” She and cookbook author Erin Gleeson both note that all the pieces are dishwasher- and microwave-safe, even the lids, which is great for heating up food. “You don’t have to worry about putting a plate over the top,” Sheehan says. Mei Lei, co-founder of Food Waste Feast, notes that “it really helps not waste food when you can see what’s in your containers.” But her praise of Pyrex doesn’t stop there. “Their lids fit well,” she tells me. “I find that some of the clip-on ones get warped over time, but these suction on nicely. Plus they’re remarkably unbreakable.”
Pyrex makes a myriad of mixed sets that include different shapes and sizes, so it’s worth poking around to find the one that best suits your needs. Or you can be like recipe developer Desirée Daniels
and get one with identical containers. Or, if you’re interested in storage that doubles as kitchenware, Sheehan notes in particular how “100 percent brilliant” the Pyrex mixing bowls are. You can cook in them, store in them, and serve in them. Lei agrees. “If you have a dip or something like that, you can take it from the fridge to the table and then back into the fridge,” she says. “They look nice.”
Plastic containers, plastic lids | Same shapes | Different sizes
My personal food-storage containers of choice are restaurant-grade deli containers — incredibly durable, sturdy, and dishwasher- and freezer-safe. (I have the 32-ounce ones full of stocks, pasta sauces, stews, and more in my freezer at all times.) They hardly take up any room at all when empty, as they stack super compactly. But they also fit perfectly, one on top of the other, when they’re full. They’re lightweight, great for bringing to the office or on a picnic, and cheap enough that I never mind doling out leftovers to friends and saying, “Keep the container” as they leave. Perhaps best of all, the three different sizes use the exact same lid, so you’re never without one.
Plastic containers, plastic lids | Same shapes | Different sizes
Chef and author Virginia Willis says that Cambros are a remnant of her restaurant days. “They come in different sizes, but no matter what, they stack perfectly,” she explains. “And because they’re square, you’re not losing any fridge or cabinet space. If you have rounded containers, you lose that space in between. They’re also especially durable.” Willis likes the two-quart size, the smallest that Cambro makes. She says it’s large enough to hold all the leftovers after dinner without being crazy-big. And for reference, that two-quart is twice the volume of the largest deli container — and they go a lot bigger. Just note that you have to buy the lids separately.
Silicone containers, plastic lids | Same shapes | Different sizes
If you’re low on space, or your main priority is commuting with food, consider these nifty Thin Bins recommended by Nikki Ostrower, founder of NAO Wellness. She has tried many containers over the years, and most proved to be impractical for her to carry around all day in her backpack, as well as difficult to stow in her small New York City kitchen. Finally, she found these collapsible silicone containers that can go in the microwave (without the lids), dishwasher, and freezer. Of course, best of all, she says, “when you’re done with your food, they collapse like an accordion.”
Glass containers, tin-plated steel lids | Same shapes | Different sizes
Beyond her Cambros, Willis endorses Mason jars. “I love canning and preserving, so I always have a lot of them on hand,” she says. Professional organizer Faith Roberson uses them too for pretty much everything — leftovers or prepared foods, of course, but also dry goods like lentils and beans; herbs and vegetables in water; and, when she’s on the go, salad ingredients with dressings in these handy cups that fit snugly inside so the components don’t mix until she’s ready to eat. No matter how many ounces, both Willis and Roberson like the wide-mouth jars best. “I can add a scoop if I want the jar to hold powders or smaller seeds like flax or chia,” says Roberson. “But if I want to put something bigger inside, like dried lemons, I can do that too. Plus it’s easier to stick my hand in to clean.” Her favorite thing of all is how multipurpose they are, from the kitchen to the dining room and beyond. “I always find a way to keep them occupied,” she says, “whether it’s for holding flowers on the counter or as candle votives for tea lights on my dinner table. I even put my makeup brushes and cotton swabs in them. And if I find I’m in desperate need of one to store food, I simply disinfect a used one in the dishwasher.”
Silicone | Different shapes | Different sizes
If you’re in the market for storage bags instead of hard-sided containers, Stasher is a Strategist favorite. We’ve written about them many times over the years. Contributor Alison Freer, who wrote about how she couldn’t stop buying reusable storage bags in general, says, “I have every size, shape, and fun color they make, and while they are pricey, I reach for them above all other food-storage options I have in my kitchen. They can go in the microwave, freezer, and dishwasher; absolutely never stain or leak; and even though I’ve washed mine in the dishwasher hundreds of times (with the high-heat drying cycle on, even), they haven’t fallen apart or degraded in any way.” Multiple sustainability experts told us they swear by Stasher for this story on environmentally minded kitchen products. And Gleeson named them too. “We use them for kids’ lunches,” she says. “The smaller ones fit snacks like pretzels, crackers, and fruit. The bigger ones fit sandwiches. They’re durable. We’ve had them for four years at least.”
• Desirée Daniels, recipe developer
• Alison Freer, Strategist contributor
• Erin Gleeson, cookbook author
• Mei Lei, co-founder of Food Waste Feast
• Nikki Ostrower, founder of NAO Wellness
• Faith Roberson, professional organizer
• Jessie Sheehan, recipe developer
• Virginia Willis, chef and author
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