My name is Rachel, and I have a problem.
As I put some clean dishes away recently, I opened our slide-out cabinet drawer of plastic food storage containers. The overflowing drawer barely contained this oddball assortment of containers of various shapes, sizes, and brands.
I stood before the chaos, contemplating possible solutions.
“I wonder if I have some slightly larger plastic bins in the basement that I could use to sort these containers into?” I asked myself.
That’s when it hit me: this is my rock-bottom moment. I need more plastic to hold… too much plastic.
And so, I literally brought it out into the light to deal with. Behold, my shame:
It’s not that I’ve bought any new plastic containers recently. (See, I am totally in control!) You see, I have a husband who not only celebrates my strengths, but also knows my weaknesses. Sometimes, when we’re shopping, I’ll walk down a certain… specific aisle. You know the one. The kitchen organization aisle, aka The Forbidden Zone.
“Rachel?” he says.
And sometimes I actually hear him. But I just want to touch them – to feel their snug little seals, how easily their lids nest together. Ooh, this one has a separate little container for my salad dressing! The colors are so pretty!
Right, ok. Back to reality. And that reality is usually, “where would I put these?”
The problem is not only storing and organizing a million little plastic containers and their lids. It’s also the curation, care, and feeding of this menagerie.
For example, some of the containers have a small silicone ring nested around the perimeter of the lid. The lids usually clean up easily in the sink or dishwasher, but sometimes there’s something that has snuck under that little sealing ring, necessitating a search for the nearest table knife or other semi-sharp implement to pry it off. Then, you have to hope the ring stays the same size after you’ve washed it in hot water, which is not always the case. And if it doesn’t fit on the lid again properly, here you are with another orphaned, lidless container.
Another problem: I don’t microwave in plastic. I’m not completely certain that microwaving food in plastic is bad for my health, but the evidence seems to point in that direction. Might as well be cautious, right? So using a plastic storage container pretty much guarantees that I’m going to be washing two containers. No thanks!
Secondly, if you microwave anything with oil or tomato products in a plastic container, you’ll probably end up feeding that container to your recycling bin. It’ll be stained, pitted, or permanently warped. I had a few containers hanging around with these little pits in them, and I have to wonder what sort of germs were hiding in them. Eww.
And so, determined not to waste another minute of my time on the care and feeding of my plastic empire, I put serious thought into those that I would keep, and those I would donate or recycle.
First, I thought about the kind of things I usually store:
- Large-quantity leftovers: a big pot of chili, soup, or curry.
- Condiments we make in batches and keep on hand: salad dressings, pimento cheese, fig jam, basil oil, Peppadew Relish, etc.
- Odd-size solid leftovers: usually meats, such as part of a roasted chicken, one or two sausages, or a piece of leftover fish.
- Pre-prepped vegetables and fruit: sometimes I chop onions, spiralize vegetables, or slice produce in advance.
- Liquids: stock, cold-brew coffee, iced tea, infused water.
- Non-refrigerated pantry items: breadcrumbs, spice mixes, nuts, snacks, baked goods.
Next, I called upon my favorite, time-tested type of storage container: Mason jars. True to form, we also have plenty of these on hand, in sizes from half-pint to half-gallon. And with only two standard lid sizes to work with, our Mason jar lids are already easily organized in a single place.
I already use Mason jars for leftover soups and pot dishes: wide-mouth quart jars for keeping leftovers at home, wide-mouth pints for packing in lunches. I also use them for condiments, liquids, and non-refrigerated pantry items. That leaves some specific use cases for a plastic container – namely, when the item to be stored is large or awkwardly-sized, or there is a large quantity of items (such as biscuits cupcakes.)
The most difficult containers for me to let go of were the assorted small lunchbox-sized containers. I have a weakness for tiny cute things, as well as matching sets of any sort. Most of my tiny cute containers are a matching set. But however much I might like them, they are the biggest part of the problem, with their tiny little parts and lids of various sizes that are difficult to match. I replaced them with a set of these elegant swirled-glass 4-oz Mason jars, a size that should be easy to pack in a lunch, and perfect for holding little refrigerated bits.
I have also ordered some stainless steel Mason jar lids with silicone sealing rings. As much as I love Mason jars, the old-school tin sealing rings are susceptible to rust and corrosion, especially when storing pickled foods. I wanted something that would last longer and be totally dishwasher-safe. I’ll let you know what I think after I use them for a while.