5 Fresh Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers

5 Fresh Ways to Use Thanksgiving Leftovers

Photo: Pond5

There’s nothing like gathering with family and friends for a festive Thanksgiving feast. Unfortunately, that’s usually followed by a night of kitchen cleanup and days upon days of eating the same boring leftovers. (Another turkey sandwich with gravy, anyone?) We want to keep your taste buds entertained this year so we’ve rounded up strategies for simple storage and quick ways to prep the extras. Read on for out-of-the-box ideas to give leftovers a second life — safely.

Pack It Like a Pro

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1. Pack it like a pro.

No one wants to put away food while enjoying company at the table, but make sure you pop everything into the fridge or freezer within two hours of dinnertime. Letting it sit out for a longer period may cause it to get warm and enter the ‘danger zone.’ “Food in that range serves as the perfect breeding ground for bacteria, like E. coli and salmonella,” says Lyssie Lakatos, R.D.N., nutritionist and one-half of the Nutrition Twins (along with her twin sister, Tammy Lakatos, R.D.N.).

Keeping your refrigerator cool enough is another essential step for preventing bacteria, says Lauren E. Sucher, spokesperson for the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Set it at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or colder, and eat anything you put in there within four days.

When freezing food, put leftovers in moisture-vapor resistant materials, like zip-top bags, to prevent freezer burn. If frozen, turkey, veggie casseroles and gravy will all keep for two to three months; stuffing should be tossed after one.

“The longer food is exposed to air and heat, the more nutrients it loses,” says Lyssie Lakatos. She recommends reducing the amount of times you’re reheating leftovers by portioning them before storing, and microwaving or letting them thaw completely when you plan to reuse them. Be sure you reheat the fare all the way through, too: Food should be heated to 165 degrees or until it’s steaming, and for liquids, until they’re boiling. Leaving cool pockets in your food can be dangerous because bacteria can survive there, according to the FDA.

Check out holidayfoodsafety.org for more information about healthy food prep and storage recommendations.

Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich Cut Calories

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2. Cut calories and get a nutrition boost.

Rather than just reheating the meal and enjoying it exactly as you did on turkey day, try using the leftovers as creative condiments or nutritious additions to different dishes. For example, use a couple tablespoons of cranberry sauce for salad dressing — “you’ll save tons of fat and hundreds of calories,” says Tammy Lakatos. She also recommends blending sweet potatoes, pumpkin or yams until smooth and spreading the mixture on bread instead of butter or other fattening spreads. Freeze mashed sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce or leftover wine in ice-cube trays; later, you can pop a few cubes into soups or casseroles (you can even try the non-boozy cubes in smoothies for an extra boost of vitamins and fiber).

RELATED: 8 Recipes to Transform Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Share Pumpkin Pie

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3. Share the wealth.

’Tis the season of giving, right? In that spirit, a few options for clearing out some of your unopened store-bought holiday food (canned cranberries, string beans, pies, etc) are to offer it to an elderly friend or neighbor or to donate it to a soup kitchen. Most food banks require donations to be nonperishable items, but check in with a local homeless shelter or soup kitchen to see if they accept items such as an entire pie, untouched rolls, or extra cans of pumpkin puree.

Many people think to donate before the holiday, but not always after. You won’t only be helping the needy, you’ll be improving your own mood well: Research has shown that charitable giving can improve psychological well-being and lower stress. The emotional boost is most significant when you’re donating to a friend or giving in a way that involves social connection, according to a recent study in the International Journal of Happiness and Development. Find soup kitchens and food pantries near you at homelessshelterdirectory.org.

Feed Fido Thanksgiving

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4. Feed them to Fido.

Having a hard time passing off leftovers to friends or family members? Good news: Man’s best friend has far less discriminating taste — and many Thanksgiving dishes contain protein, vitamins and other nutrients that are healthy additions to your dog or cat’s regular food. “Green beans, carrots, and sweet potatoes — not candied — are all great options for your pets because they’re packed with fiber and vitamins,” says Tina Wismer, D.V.M., medical director at the ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center.

Try mixing small bites of these into your pet’s canned or dry food. Just be sure the extras don’t make up more than about 10 percent of the calories, says Wismer. “Avoid foods with lots of onions and garlic, as too many can cause red blood cell damage and anemia,” she adds. If you’re not sure whether certain dishes are safe, check with your vet before feeding them to pup. Got the OK? Try cooking up this recipe for doggie treats from Wismer:

Turkey Bread Pudding Doggie Treats

Leftover rolls or bread
Leftover turkey
Leftover mashed potatoes
2 tablespoons of water or milk

  1. Preheat oven to 350o F.  
  2. Cut extra rolls or bread into small cubes.
  3. Mix with shredded turkey, mashed potatoes and a few tablespoons of water or milk.
  4. Pat into a greased baking dish and bake for 60 minutes or until golden brown.
  5. Let cool, then slice into bite-size portions to feed your pooch.
DIY Facial Thanksgiving

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5. Whip up some DIY beauty treatments.

You might crave sweet potatoes and cranberries with your turkey, but even your favorite supporting stars of the Thanksgiving table can become blah if you eat them for several meals after the holiday. Luckily, some of these side dish ingredients double as skin-enriching treatments. Try one of these homemade face mask recipes from Indie Lee, CEO and founder of Indie Lee Skincare.

Glowing Pumpkin Face Mask

Pumpkin’s vitamin A soothes and softens skin, while vitamin C helps repair damage caused by free radicals.

4 tablespoons pumpkin puree
4 tablespoons organic honey
1/2 tablespoon Greek yogurt
1 drop each of sandalwood and carrot seed oil
Dash of pumpkin pie spice (optional)

  1. Blend all ingredients, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  2. Apply it to cleansed face and let sit for 5 to 10 minutes.
  3. Rinse with warm water and pat skin dry.

Soothing Sweet Potato Face Mask

Sweet potatoes are high in vitamin A (beta-carotene), C, and E, and the lactic acid in the milk exfoliates dead skin cells.

1 organic sweet potato
1 tablespoon manuka honey
1 tablespoon organic milk

  1. Boil the sweet potato until it is soft enough for the skin to be pulled off easily.
  2. In a mixing bowl, blend the sweet potato, honey, and milk together until they form a smooth paste.
  3. Let mask cool slightly, then apply it to cleansed face and let sit for 20 to 25 minutes.
  4. Rinse with warm water and pat skin dry.

Don’t get discouraged if your dining room is full of leftovers following your holiday meal. “Once you think about all you can do with the extras, you’ll realize having them is a good thing,” says Lyssie. “Especially because without leftovers, it probably means you overate — since most Thanksgiving dinner tables look like there’s enough food to feed an army!”