FOOD

How to Transform Thanksgiving Leftovers into Meals for Days

November 27th, 2020

Even if you’re preparing a smaller Thanksgiving feast this year, the traditional spread is richer than your average dinner—which means you’re still likely to have some leftovers (and isn’t that half the fun anyway?).

The few days following Thanksgiving are a great time to get creative for meals that go beyond just reheating everything in the microwave. With these tips, your leftovers can taste just as good as the original feast—maybe even better.

Turkey

Turkey is a big Thanksgiving staple—and by big, we mean there’s no small amount of meat leftover every year, which can be a blessing when you put it to use with these tasty ideas:

  • Turkey pot pie: Use leftover (or fresh) buttermilk biscuits for the crust and top with carrots, potatoes, peas, onions, and some tasty gravy. Add another biscuit on top for a full pie, or keep it open-faced for a reduced carb option.
  • Cobb salad: Chop up the leftover turkey and use it to top fresh salads, along with egg, bacon bits, and avocado.
  • Layered sandwiches: This may be the most obvious way to use your leftover turkey, but it’s a tried and true option for a reason. Thick slices of roasted turkey topped with crispy veggies, some avocado oil mayo, and fresh French bread is a bonafide meal.
  • Bone broth: Wait before you throw out the bones! Break down the leftover bones and simmer in boiling water with an accompanying mix of savory spices for a few hours. Once done, strain into mason jars or freezer jars for a delicious stock for soups and stews.
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Ham

If you’re one of the many people that elects to serve ham instead of (or, maybe even alongside) turkey for Thanksgiving dinner, there are plenty of leftover tricks for this meat choice, too:

  • More sandwiches: Sandwiches are again the obvious choice for leftover ham, which tastes great cold or heated up. Sliced ham pairs well with a range of different toppings, like spicy mustard, dill pickles, even a little honey. And it will keep longer than turkey so you can use these leftovers more sparingly.
  • Pizza topping: Have a homemade pizza night. Start with a gluten-free crust, top with high-quality marinara sauce and mozzarella, and sprinkle diced ham on top for a hearty dinner that tastes great straight out of the oven.
  • Mac and cheese topping: You can also add diced ham to these cheesy noodles to provide a dose of protein. Make your own homemade variety (you can even try this Paleo version of mac and cheese), or go for a quality boxed variety for a super simple dinner.
  • Soup ingredient: Ham is a great addition to many soups, especially hearty varieties like split-pea and baked potato. To keep it lighter, try this lentil soup recipe and add in some cubed ham for enhanced flavor and even more protein.
  • Breakfast dishes: While bacon may get all the love at breakfast and brunch, its close cousin ham is also a tasty filler. Use it for a quiche or omelette, or simply mix some diced bites into scrambled eggs for a great way to start off the day.

Cranberries

These tart berries are so closely linked with the Thanksgiving holiday that many don’t even think to use them until the end of November and December. Enjoy them while you can with these sweet ideas:

  • Even more sandwiches: Before you close the lid on that turkey sandwich, top with a spoonful of cranberries or cranberry sauce. Just like the traditional Thanksgiving meal when all the flavors blend together, this combination tastes great as a day two sub.
  • Crafty cocktails: Muddle your leftover cranberries for some seasonal twists on classic cocktails. Add some additional holiday cheer with fragrant spices like cinnamon and nutmeg.
  • Baked goods: Cranberries or cranberry sauce can also be added to muffin or bread mix to create delicious pastries and baked treats. The fruit helps keep the bread moist, and adds an edge of tart sweetness to the bake.
  • Breakfast topper: You know what will make those holiday brunch pancakes and waffles even tastier? Swapping syrup for  warm cranberry sauce.
  • Yogurt mix-in: Mix a few berries into your favorite Greek yogurt to give it a natural burst of flavor without worrying about overloading the cup with sugary ingredients.
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Potatoes

Whether traditional or sweet, potatoes are another favorite side dish of Thanksgiving feasts and are often leftover in bulk. Some great ways to use them again include:

  • Shepherd’s pies: Mashed potatoes are a big component of this Scottish staple. Having the mash already pre-made saves a big step in creating the classic dish. If you’re vegan, try this purely plant-based option, too.
  • Side dish for everything else: Once the turkey runs out, use the rest of the mashed potatoes a side for other entrees, like these braised short ribs or roasted chicken.
  • Potato pancakes: Here’s a meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Potato pancakes are super filling and taste great with a side of sour cream and applesauce. Having mashed potatoes on hand makes them even easier to prepare.
  • Fresh bread: Mashed potatoes are also commonly used to form a basis for breads. The starches help bulk up loaves and create a unique flavor profile.

Veggies

From green beans to corn to squash, there’s no shortage of vegetables to go around the table at Thanksgiving—and because not everyone wants to fill their plate with the “healthy stuff” on this holiday, there’s no doubt you will have a lot leftover to work with. Here are some options:

  • Pickled carrots: Take your leftover peeled carrots and place in an airtight container along with some apple cider vinegar, whole peppercorns, salt, lemon, and garlic—and red pepper flakes if you want to add a bit of a kick. They can keep this way in the fridge for one month.
  • Curry dishes: Since your remaining veggies are already cooked, you can easily add them to a saucepan with some coconut milk, red curry paste, garlic, and ginger for a delicious dinner. Eat on its own or pair with rice to cut some of the spiciness.
  • Soups: Veggie soups are another scrumptious choice. Add produce to a pot of broth, or whip up a creamy pureed soup like this almond-green bean mixture.
  • Chips: Any veggie can instantly crisp up into a chip when you bake it with some olive oil, salt, and other seasonings. Brussels sprouts work particularly well in this application, and will give you a whole new appreciation for their versatility.

Another option to consider

While the options above are all delicious ways to feed your family, your extra food can help others in need. Find a local food bank, homeless shelter, or soup kitchen where you can donate any leftovers you have to help feed the hungry or food sensitive.

If you don’t know one in your area, you can search the Feeding America site for local resources and drop-off locations.

Photo credits: Paul Delmont

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Kendall LoweryKendall Lowery is a current college student and a lifelong food enthusiast. When she’s not studying, she spends her time playing the flute, finding her next great bite, and working at Thrive Market as Content Contributor.

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