Ask Unclutterer: Food storage containers

Reader Carla submitted the following to Ask Unclutterer:

After too many episodes of struggling to find a top to match a Tupperware in my mother’s kitchen I’ve decided to buy her a new set of food storage containers. Can you recommend the best type of food storage containers? The requirements I’d like to fulfil are:

  • a few different size containers all with the same interchangeable lids
  • stackable
  • high quality

I seems to be difficult to find all of these qualities in one product. Do you have any recommendations?

Food storage containers, until recently, were some of the most ridiculously designed items for the kitchen. Additionally, they easily stained, warped, and lost their lids like socks lose their mates in a dryer. Research now shows that some were even made of plastics that leeched chemicals into the food — yummy!

Thankfully, food storage containers have advanced quite a bit in recent years. Today, if I were replacing my food storage containers, I would buy Rubbermaid’s Easy Find Lid Containers. They’re BPA free, the lids all snap together and to the bottoms of the containers so you don’t have a giant mess in the cabinets, and many of the lids can be used for different-size bases. Plus, $11 for 24 pieces won’t be too painful on your pocketbook.

I know that not everyone loves plastic storage, but based on your qualifications it’s pretty much the only option available to you. There aren’t any glass or stainless steel brands right now that have interchangeable lids (at least not that I have found). Also, they’re not usually stackable. If any of our readers know of a brand of glass or stainless steel food storage containers that hasn’t yet made it onto my radar, please share that information in the comments.

Thank you, Carla, for submitting your question for our Ask Unclutterer column, and good luck taming the kitchen clutter!

Do you have a question relating to organizing, cleaning, home and office projects, productivity, or any problems you think the Unclutterer team could help you solve? To submit your questions to Ask Unclutterer, go to our contact page and type your question in the content field. Please list the subject of your e-mail as “Ask Unclutterer.” If you feel comfortable sharing images of the spaces that trouble you, let us know about them. The more information we have about your specific issue, the better.

46 Comments for “Ask Unclutterer: Food storage containers”

  1. posted by Mrs.Mack on

    This is helpful, thank you! I’ve been wanting to replace my tupperware, which is stackable and the lids all fit each other, but is really cheap (weird scars appear when you microwave certain foods in them).

    But Carla, be sure your mom is okay with you replacing it before you do. My sister-in-law, for example, has the same problem and my brother keeps wanting to replace it all with what you’re wanting (after seeing our neat little stacks), but she’d have a COW if he did. For some reason she likes her tupperware just the way it is.

    So, make sure she’s willing so you end up doing her a favor, rather than doing harm.

  2. posted by harriet on

    We have a set of Snapware that has proved durable and reasonably space-efficient. Each size of lid goes with a shallower and a deeper container, so there’s some interchangeability.

  3. posted by Flora on

    I love the “Smart Spin” containers ( I love that every container uses the same lid. The carousel fits in a small space and works in a variety of cupboard/drawer configurations. The only downside is that the biggest container only holds 3 cups of food. I have a big family, and that is often not large enough.

  4. posted by PottedPlant on

    I use 16 and 32 oz. Anchor Hocking refrigerator containers. They’re glass, stackable, oven and microwave safe. The lids aren’t interchangeable, but two 16 oz will stack on top of a 32 oz. No knobs or handles, so there’s no wasted space. The seal on the lid is not airtight (think Corningware versus Tupperware). I did a lot of research before I bought them, and I think that they’re the most space efficient storage system out there. They’re also made in the U.S., so that’s an added bonus.

  5. posted by Sarah on

    Although they’re not really stackable, I use Mason jars *all the time* for storage in my pantry, fridge, and freezer. With the lids off, they go happily into the microwave, and the regular-mouth lids fit 8 oz, pint, and quart jars. (A $5 canning funnel will make your life a lot better with these :->) They cost about a dollar a piece and I break about two per year, which seems okay to me.

  6. posted by Marie Williams on

    What are your thoughts on Pyrex glass storage containers? My co-workers swear by them for bringing lunch to the office and since they’re glass they don’t stain like plastic containers do. The lids are also interchangeable. It’s more on the expensive side but I imagine they would last forever and it’s not THAT much more expensive ($14.99 for a 10-piece set). I also noticed the Pyrex set has six times as many reviews as the Rubbermaid storage on Amazon, yet still has just as high a rating of four and a half stars. Pretty impressive.

    I am also trying to figure out a system for taking food to work, so I’d be interested in everyone else’s thoughts! Right now, I’m leaning toward Pyrex based on the influence of my co-workers.

  7. posted by chacha1 on

    I use Gladware for toting lunch components, but for refrigerator storage at home I prefer glass. I have a mix of Pyrex and some other brand; they are “nestable” – biggest lid, biggest dish, next biggest lid inside that, next biggest dish – et cetera. And in fact I can stack a lidded casserole on top as well.

    The only real downside to glass IMO is that it’s a bit heavy. For older people who don’t have the hand/wrist strength of their youth, I think plastic is ultimately a safer choice.

  8. posted by Jack on

    Snapware is awesome! They’re #5 plastic and the lids are interchangeable w/in their shape (there are tall and short versions of most pieces). There is even glass Snapware, with plastic lids, that I believe are similarly interchangeable like their plastic counterparts.

    As an added bonus, the Snapware lids have a silicone gasket (dishwasher safe) and the 4, snap-down sides which makes closing them a lot easier, especially for kids and arthritics.

    We also use Corningware, but those aren’t very see-thru and are usually used for cooking and left-overs, but they are glass/ceramic, so not as many concerns over plastic.

  9. posted by AlexisJulian on

    If mixing up lids and containers is a problem, try numbering them! Use a sharpie to write 1 on the container and it’s corresponding lid, etc. Numbers, letters, etc, should all work!

  10. posted by Fred E. on

    Okay, this is an easy one for me. You know the food-safe, microwavable plastic “deli” containers good delis and restaurants use for delivery and to store small quantities of food? Like these:

    Well, thats the 32 oz size and they also come in 16 oz and 8 oz. All of them stack and the lids are all interchangeable. They are leak-resistant so you can take them to work with lunch–Chinese restaurants use them for delivery for soup, noodles, and sauces on the side. They are also air tight, odor resistant, dishwasher safe, bleach safe.

    I use them for dry good storage, in the refrigerator, and in the freezer. The 8 oz is perfect for ginger or to freeze a broken-up banana in for smoothies, or a little cheese or sauce. Also for giving your neighbor a couple of cookies or to salt glass rims for margaritas. The 16 oz holes half an apple or onion or a typical serving to take to work for lunch. The 32 ounce will hold asparagus upright in water (no lid of course), cornmeal, oatmeal, pasta, dried beans, etc. I use both 8 and 16 oz in the spice cupboard for things like peppercorns and cocoa.

    Occasionally I have seen 12 oz containers but I only have 2 of those and am not sure where I got them.

    Whenever I make salad or noodle with peanut sauce or soup I fill up a row of the 16 oz ones to have single portions ready to grab out of the fridge. So handy!

    If you don’t accumulate enough of them free from delivery, dollar stores sell them in sets, usually 3-4 for a dollar depending on the size. Most of mine I got from delivery or from bringing leftovers home from a friend who is a professional chef but most of the 8 oz I got from working in an office where people ordered from a restaurant that used that size frequently–I just let people know I wanted them and they would give them to me instead of throwing them away. I have only bought 4 of the 32 oz because they are harder to come by than the most popular 16 oz size.

    The only thing these don’t do well are full bags of flour or sugar. Cereal is no problem to keep in multiple 32 oz containers. I prefer the 32 oz containers to handle and store so I also pour flour and sugar in them (in the sink) for storage. I keep my coffee in a 32 oz and turbinado sugar and tea in 16 oz containers–so handy to pull sugar and coffee out of the cabinet at the same time with one hand.

    Also, the containers stack well when empty but are designed to pull apart easily. If you orient the lids the same way, they stack securely as well.

    Oh, I forgot, I don’t just use them in the kitchen. In the bathroom closet I use them to store razors, cotton balls, cough drops, matches, condoms, earplugs etc. and in my “office” area I use them for odds and ends like paper clamps and erasers an rolls of tape. They are also perfect for hardware like nails and screws and are small enough to fit in a tool box or in larger storage containers like plastic shoe boxes.

    Okay, if you can’t tell, I love these things!

  11. posted by Fred E. on

    Oh, sorry for the double post, but I live in an apartment building and the laundry is in the basement so I use the 32 ounce size for powdered detergent and the 16 oz size for powdered bleach. Never leaks or is affected by moisture.

    Also have a bunch of these under the kitchen sink with plant food, lava soap, orchid clips, and old toothbrushes for cleaning around the sink and the grout.

  12. posted by Sandra on

    I would not recommend the Easy Find lid containers. The lids are actually rather hard to get all the way sealed, in my experience, and I’ve found that I would vastly prefer containers where the lids were also transparent.

    I would instead recommend the Rubbermaid Lock-Its. The lids are mostly clear and easier to use, but they still come in interchangeable sizes and in relatively inexpensive sets.

  13. posted by Darci on

    If you have an Ikea nearby, I swear by these:

    They come in a few sizes. You can microwave them (it’s safe!), freeze ’em and throw ’em in the dishwasher. They stack well, store well and are cheap. Only downside is if you decide to put pasta sauce in them, they will stain, but I don’t see that as a big deal.

  14. posted by Jill on

    Crate & Barrel sells a whole bunch of different sized glass bowls & lids. Their set of 12 2-cup bowls & lids is only $20:;f=33113

  15. posted by david e on

    if there’s a choice between the anchor and the pyrex glass storage, go with the pyrex. the anchor lids, every one i’ve ever owned, has cracked and become useless within a month. i thought the culprit was the dishwasher so i started handwashing a new set but they cracked over time as well. i just don’t think the plastic they use can handle refrigeration. the pyrex lids, on the other hand, have outlasted some of their containers (we’ve dropped a few).

  16. posted by jen on

    Mason jars. You can get one-piece plastic lids (wide-mouth and regular) that make accessing the contents easy. They’re cheap and come in a variety of sizes, with only two sizes of lids to worry about. I use them for everything.

  17. posted by Elizabeth on

    We’re a fan of these Rubbermaid containers – we bought a set that came with a couple of the Produce Saver containers, all of which we use heavily.

  18. posted by NancyV908 on

    I am a Snapware fan as well. Easy to open & close (important for my little one), with a tight seal. Fairly stackable, with fairly interchangeable lids. I have found that they have warped a bit (from the dishwasher, I guess) so sometimes some of the lids take a bit of extra work to get on. I also have some of the glass ones. I often find the tops very hard to close on all four sides of those, & for my set, at least, the tops are not interchangeable. And they’re much harder to store because they are not as stackable.

    One thing that bothers me about a lot of these containers is that they’re usually round. Such an inefficient use of space! I’m glad that Snapware has so many square & rectangular sizes.

  19. posted by michele on

    I have these same bowls and LOVE them.

    I also got them for my sister for her birthday. Every time I went to her house I could never find a bowl and lid that matched. Ever since I got her these, it’s never been a problem. I open up the drawer and there they are all neatly stacked. It makes after dinner clean up a breeze with leftovers…

  20. posted by Morfydd on

    SmartSpin (or one of the no-name clones) are dirt cheap on Ebay (so among other things you can treat them as disposable if something goes awry or to send food home with friends), solid, and have only one size lid. They are the best thing ever.

  21. posted by Jessica on

    I use the Rubbermaid Premier (a step up from the Easy Find containers), and they are well worth it. Costco had them in stock for a while, and Target usually has them on sale rom time to time. I can freeze/microwave them, and throw them in the dishwasher, never get any stains (I put spaghetti/chili in them all the time), and they fit onto a single shelf in my pantry.

  22. posted by Stephanie on

    I just got the Rubbermaid Easy-Find set recommended by Erin and I love it. I have 5 sizes of containers and only two sizes of lids.

  23. posted by caroline on

    I thought I wouold share how we tamed the “Tupperware” beast.

    We have a shelf dedicated to our odds and sods of plastic storage. The whole shelf is nuthin’ but plastic.

    To keep it neat, we bought 1 extra “larger” Rubbermaid container, and stack all the lids end up in it (its own lid too). You pull it out, look for the lid you need, and slide it back in. Then, all the bottoms get nested into one another (round with round, square with square, rectangle with recta…. oh you get the picture…). It works ok, even with lots of different sizes and brands since we have lots of room to nest like-with-like. Like a weird, Jetson’s-esque Matryoshka Doll.

    If we lose a lid, the container gets re-purposed for crafts, to hold seedlings for our garden, a scoop for the step de-icer… There is always a need for a container sans lid. If we have no need, then in it goes to the recycle right away.

    And we all know Murphy’s Law states that no bottom shall ever go missing, only the lid ever wanders astray of its mate, and you will only discover said missing lid once you have put food in the lonely bottom.

    My personal guess is you will find the missing lids with all the socks we lose in the laundry, and the missing pieces of your toddler’s sorting toy.

  24. posted by Kate on

    I’m another fan of the pyrex containers. In my set all the bowls nest into each other, and I keep the lids on the side, upright in a mail sorter. Pyrex also makes baking pans with plastic lids, which I love for storing larger amounts of food, or transporting it to potlucks. While these things don’t meet your criteria for interchangable lids, all in all I’ve found them easy to keep organized.

  25. posted by Charity on

    I love Pyrex storage containers. I have two sets of them and they’re wonderful! They are stackable and can go in the microwave, freezer, fridge everything. I’ve had them for over 2 years and not had a problem yet. I’ve even had soup in them and tipped the sealed container upside down and sideways and had no leaks. They are also Made in the USA which I love!

    I got them at Bed Bath & Beyond with a 20% coupon from the mail…they’re cheap too.

  26. posted by Courtney on

    I have the Rubbermaid ones you describe and absolutely love them!

  27. posted by Sky on

    I use glass Rubbermaid with plastic lids. They are safe for microwaving and don’t stain. For pantry storage you can’t beat “Click-Clack”.

  28. posted by Amanda on

    A few people have asked about lunch containers. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE my laptop lunch boxes for my kids and for me!
    They are awesome!

  29. posted by Melanie on

    I vote for Pyrex, too. I threw everything else away once I received a nice set of these for Christmas this past year.

    For storage I put the lid on it; then stack them. Then I never I have to search for a lid. I simply reach in the cupboard and get the entire set.

  30. posted by Lori on

    I also like the Pyrex and I am hoping to replace all of my containers with Pyrex in the future. Like Melanie, I put the lid on each of my containers and then stack them in the cupboard. I have never had any problems with any of the Pyrex containers or their lids.

  31. posted by Ash Haque on

    I have two sets of those, very good containers, but the smaller ones are hardly ever used. I’ll have to find some other use for those.

  32. posted by Mickey on

    Oxo TOP containers are my favorite at the moment. Three size lids with six size containers (deep/shallow of a size) so there is some interchangability. But they are BPA free, don’t stain on the tomato sauce and my favorite – LEAKPROOF. They are less expensive than the glass Snapware, but they are plastic so I can’t put them in the oven. I do have a few pyrex I use just for that purpose.

    I’ve found that I don’t buy sets anymore cause I tend to gravitate to a few particular sizes. So another reason why I love OXO (and Snapware). I get a few of the same size and only have two or three sizes to worry about. I tend to focus on single or double serving size

  33. posted by Jenny on

    I use old dairy containers and they work just fine for me. They meet the first two of your requirements, interchangeable lids, different sizes, and stackable. They are not high quality, but because they come free with food you buy anyways, they are a constantly replentishing supply. I use sour cream/yougurt/cottage cheese containers for smallish amounts of leftovers, and for portioning cooked ground beef in my freezer, and I use margarine tubs for larger things. These plus a couple of sandwich tubs for work lunches is all I need.
    I keep them stacked together in my cupboard, with a shoe box to hold all the lids.

  34. posted by megan on

    I’m with Flora – the SmartSpin system solved what had been a nagging annoyance for years. I also agree though that the largest container sometimes isn’t large enough, so I still keep a couple of larger ones around. At least they aren’t all tumbling out on my head the way they used to!

  35. posted by Eileen on

    I have an older Rubbermaid set that is still in decent shape but all the lids are different sizes. I could never come up with a good system for keeping the lids orderly and match them to the containers quickly, so I’ve started storing them with their lids on. I just make sure everything is completely dry after washing and pop the lids on and stack them.

    I also found that we had way more food storage containers than we needed so I paired down the collection (and we probably still have too much), so it only takes up half the space it used to, and this is with lids on.

    Also, my kids love to play in that cabinet, so the containers stay clean on the insides since they can’t get the lids off (yet) and put their hands inside.

  36. posted by Darius on

    Pyrex. Never plastic.

  37. posted by Bridget on

    I have 8 sets of pyrex bought from World Kitchen:

    Cheap, interstackable, and wonderful for freezing and heating. And I know the tops are plastic, but the plastic doesn’t touch my food (I’m a scientist-environmentalist…and not really all that thrilled about plastic and my food for many different reasons).

    They are heavy to bring to work, but if you want something light, go for a steel tiffin and then keep a bowl/plate and silverware at work. I know it seems a little…ridiculous, but it goes a long way towards enjoying a meal instead of just feeling like you’re eating out of a take-out container.

  38. posted by Jann Schott on

    I’m also one who likes the Smart-Spin system! I do have to say I’m not too happy when one drops out of the freezer and shatters though–but at least it’s plastic that shatters and not glass!

    I used to sell Tupperware, and I still have some of it…the modular mates for my cupboards is something I’ll probably never give up!

    I recommend the Food saver for the freezer storage. I love my foodsaver. It came with a canning suction lid which I use as well on the wide mouth mason jars. (I use it mainly for nuts)…but the smart spin is a clever idea…just wish they had them in larger sizes!!

  39. posted by Jane Hollon on

    I tossed all my plastic contains in opt for the Pyrex glass containers. They stack in one another in the cabinet and stack on top of one another in the fridge, no more staining, they have a clear view of what’s inside at a glance. Oven/freezer/microwave! “NO MORE PLASTICS FOOD CONTAINERS” as in Mommy Dearest!

  40. posted by wendy on

    I own Rubbermaid’s set that is featured in this post, they really are wonderful.

  41. posted by Alyson on

    I have a Pyrex set I got at Costco a few years ago. I’m not sure if it’s still available. It was around $40 for the set (and I think I had a $10 coupon, so I got it for $30 and bought 2 sets). I don’t remember specifically what it came with, and we have broken a couple, but I still have most of the set and use it almost daily. The containers that are the same shape/size stack nicely together, and the smaller pieces fit into the same shaped larger pieces (so you can stack 2 large round, put 2 medium round in that, and 2 small round in that… they also come in rectangular and oval). The lids snap & seal to the top, or snap to the bottom (which is nice if you take it to a potluck or something, your lid doesn’t get lost). They also stack pretty nicely together (I keep all of my lids in an old rubbermaid container). The lids also have a “plug” that you can remove if you want to let steam escape.

  42. posted by Marc on

    I second the recommendation of these Crate & Barrel containers:;f=33113

    We get a lot of use out of ours, though they aren’t tough enough to travel.

  43. posted by Tori on

    So many great ideas!

    It would be great if someone summarized these recommendations, along with the positives & negatives mentioned for each brand..(ex., 1 “clutter free” list)!

  44. posted by gypsy packer on

    I’m holding out for BPA-free collapsibles at a reasonable price. Until then, I use recycled bowls, which allow me to give food away without worrying about the return of the bowl.

  45. posted by WilliamB on

    I like TellFresh which I buy at The Container Store. The advantages are:
    – rectangles and squares
    – available in many, many sizes
    – some lids are interchangable
    – BPA free
    – clear bodies and lids
    – buy as singles so get only what you want
    – lightweight
    – rarely break when fall out of the freezer
    – waterproof seal
    – no tabs on the lid so they stack efficiently
    – durable, I’ve had mine for 5 years and counting

    – not oven safe
    – red or acid food can stain (some people care about this)
    – it’s harder to wash grease off of plastic than glass or metal
    – not cheap

    I have dozens of these in 5 sizes. I store the lids in TellFresh containers (standing up like soldiers) with the lids next to the container they fit.

  46. posted by Annie on

    I have both the snap-ware and pyrex.

    I use the snap-ware for pantry stuff (which never gets heated, so I think that avoids a huge hunk of the problems with plastics). I only have as many as I need to store the food-stuffs I always keep on hand (flour, splenda, coffee, etc.) I even broke out my label maker, so I don’t confuse them. They are super-airtight, which keeps the bugs away.

    The pyrex I use to bake in, and I love it. My friends and I often have potluck knitting nights, so I can make dip the night before, stick it in the fridge overnight, then bring it and bake it when I get there.

    Now, what I really, really want is this, but I don’t have anywhere to put it. I’m guessing it will make negotiating food containers on three different types of public transportation much, much easier.

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