They’re not fancy at all, but these cheap plastic food storage containers are durable and they come in three perfect sizes.
There are lots of fancy plastic storage containers on the market these days: they nest, they stack, they have lids you’ll never lose (yeah, right), and on it goes. I’ve tried them all. I always lose the lid to my favorite size, they never fit quite right in my pantry, and they're a pain to pack in the fridge or my bag. But my favorite containers, the ones that I keep in my home kitchen at all times, aren’t fancy at all. They’re sturdy, stackable, and at about 50 cents a pop, an investment you can't say no to.
My love of the “deli container” started when I was a wee babe working in restaurants. Peek behind the curtain at your favorite restaurant and you’ll find stacks upon stacks of deli containers in heavy rotation. They’re used for storage in walk-in refrigerators, freezers, and pantries, and “on the line.” Line cooks—the people actually cooking your food—use them to hold bits and pieces for finishing dishes: freshly picked herbs, thinly shaved radishes, or fennel soaking in ice water (keeps ‘em crisp). They get packed with ice cream, homemade syrups, and sauces. They're filled with ice water (or coffee) to help get cooks and chefs through 14-hour shifts. They are, in a word, indispensable.
Restaurants order deli containers by the case. And so should you. They’re sold under many names but I like DuraHome Food Storage containers best. They come in three sizes: a quart (that’s 4 cups), a pint (2 cups), and 1 cup (duh). They’re made of BPA-free plastic so they're microwave and dishwasher (top rack) safe. They’re lightweight, ideal for packing lunch, and they're see-through so you always know what you’re grabbing. They nest neatly when they’re empty and stack tidily when they’re full. The lids are all interchangeable so you’re never left without a top.
Taking a quick mental inventory of my fridge at home, I am currently using quart-size containers to store soup, chicken broth, a big batch of quinoa, and some boiled potatoes. When I had a baby last fall, dear friends stocked our freezer with quarts upon quarts of ragus and bolognese and dals, which we rationed for the easiest most delicious weeknight meals (forever grateful). Pint size containers hold a surprisingly spicy chili sauce, half an avocado, and some leftover oatmeal. And the cup size? Several of those are stacked neatly and filled with colorful purees of homemade baby food. Just kidding, I only have one of those about a quarter full of mashed peas—baby wasn't that into it. But a girl can dream.
Buy the containers online, or keep them when you buy slaw, salad, or other prepared foods from the deli section at your grocery store. Or hold onto the ones the takeout place uses for the wonton soup. One word of caution: not all deli containers are created equal. If they are truly clear, they are likely not dishwasher safe—you’ll know when they melt in there. Recycle those and hang on to the good ones. They’ll last you a lifetime. Or, at least until you get through that bolognese.