5 Creative & Healthy Ways to Use Up Thanksgiving Leftovers
Plus tips to use up whatever holiday leftovers are filling your fridge.
Welcome to Thrifty. A weekly column where assistant nutrition editor and registered dietitian, Jessica Ball, keeps it real on how to grocery shop on a budget, make healthy meals for one or two, and make earth-friendly choices without overhauling your entire life.
Many of us (myself included) have unfortunately had to forgo or downsize our typical Thanksgiving celebration. If you are like me and can't let go of the idea of a big feast, this year brings some new challenges. Whether a smaller celebration leaves you drowning in leftovers, or you typically have a lot of food left over since that's the best part, don't worry. These dinner ideas give you easy, healthy ways to use up food before it goes bad. Use these ideas for inspiration on ways to keep it interesting so you will want to get through the rest of the turkey or cranberry sauce. Plus, there are other simple tips so that you can customize what you have for a meal in a pinch.
1. The Ultimate Leftover Sandwich
This could be my all-time favorite way to eat Thanksgiving leftovers, and I am probably not alone in this philosophy. It works morning or night, because what is "breakfast" food anyway? You can add whatever you want like avocado or swap in ingredients like cheese or more veggies for a healthy boost. This is a quick, no-cook leftovers meal where you don't even need a recipe, so it doesn't get much simpler. Plus, you can save even more money by making your own bread from scratch.
2. Turkey Stew
On a cool November night, there are few things cozier than a warm bowl of stew. Use Thanksgiving leftovers like turkey, green beans, butternut squash and more to make your own. It is an easier, lighter way to enjoy leftover favorites, and you can easily add more veggies. Frozen and canned vegetables work just fine for a more affordable way to up the nutrition. Our Leftover Turkey Stew even lets you use any remaining gravy for a flavor boost. Prefer something creamy? Try our Cream of Turkey & Wild Rice Soup instead, which is ready in just 35 minutes.
3. Leftovers Salad
Hungry for a nutritious, no-cook meal but over turkey sandwiches? Look no further than a salad. Get some greens and transform your leftover turkey and veg into a delicious salad. You can really get creative with this one. Personally, I love it topping lettuce with leftover green beans, roasted vegetables and turkey. Have some stuffing on the side and pretend it's croutons. There are no rules. Salads are easy if you are on-the-go, and want something lighter, which I welcome after a big eating holiday.
4. Bake It
Repurpose leftovers into something new by making a casserole or baked dish. You can get creative with our Loaded Mashed Potato Pancake recipe, or keep it classic with our Turkey-Green Bean Shepherd's Pie. Shepherd's pie is a great meal for one if you have a small ramekin or cast iron dish, might I add (you'll just need to adjust the recipe amounts and time). This allows you to enjoy a hearty hot meal that feels a little more interesting compared to the typical Thanksgiving meal that you may be getting sick of by now. If you are feeling up for something more time intensive and have leftover pie crust, Turkey Pot Pie is delicious as well.
5. Put It in Pasta
I am always in the mood for pasta. You can make it creamy, spicy or with a red sauce, can always pack it with veggies, and you rarely need a recipe to guide you. Leftover turkey and vegetables make great additions to noodles. Take our Turkey, Pesto & Broccoli Pasta as proof. I will be making this as a quick go-to dinner and swapping in any leftover Brussels sprouts that I have for broccoli.
Tips to Use Up Leftovers
Even if you aren't feeling up to making a new recipe to repurpose your leftovers, there are plenty of ways to cheaply add flavor with minimal effort. Brighten up basically any leftovers by adding fresh herbs. It does wonders for mashed potatoes or green beans. When in doubt, put a (fried) egg on it. I use this philosophy for pretty much anything, but leftover stuffing with an egg makes an excellent 5-minute breakfast.
There are plenty of other ways to ensure your leftovers don't go to waste, beyond from finding ways to eat them all within the week. Make use of your freezer when you can, so you can enjoy Thanksgiving flavors later on. Things like stock have multiple uses and can be made in bulk, then frozen for use at a later date. Last but not least, share with your neighbors. Even in COVID-19 times, there are ways to do it safely. Many people are struggling to put food on the table, so giving to those around you is a great way to make a difference in your community.
Thanksgiving dinner is one of my favorite meals of the whole year. However, now that my celebration is with my small quarantine group instead of my big family, there are bound to be more leftovers. These recipes and tips show that leftovers are some of the best things that come out of Thanksgiving, and there are many creative ways to use them without getting in a food rut. Plus, making a plan to get through your leftovers in an enjoyable way will help you cut down on food waste and save money on meals post-holiday.