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Delicious Ways to Repurpose Thanksgiving Leftovers

American Thanksgiving is around the corner, and hopefully, you’ll have leftovers to enjoy the following days. Repurposing leftovers is a great way to decrease waste and make repetitive foods feel new. Keep reading to learn how to revamp the most common Thanksgiving leftovers.

Key takeaways:

Thanksgiving staples

For people who eat meat, the star of Thanksgiving dinner is usually the turkey. Although it's trendy to deep fry a turkey, many families slowly roast their bird for 4–6 hours (depending on the size of the turkey). The result is a delicious high-protein food paired with stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans, gravy, and cranberry sauce.

People who follow vegetarian or vegan diets will opt for a plant-based option instead of turkey. Appropriate substitutes include crispy baked tofu or sweet potato and chickpea cakes.

Reviving leftovers

Inevitably, there will be leftovers. You might be happy to reheat them the next day, but adding new ingredients and spices can bring new life to the dish. Quick ways to enhance leftovers include:

  • Adding fresh, bold flavors such as spicy premixed peri-peri seasoning or harissa (a Moroccan spice blend).
  • Make a salad by serving it over lettuce and mixed greens.
  • Prepare a stew or soup with leftover meats and hearty vegetables.
  • Create a custom pasta dish by reheating your leftovers with tomato sauce, onion, garlic, and basil.

Food safety

The USDA published storage times for refrigerated items. If anything smells rancid or appears discolored, throw it out.

Item Food storage duration
Cooked poultry (turkey)3–4 days
Gravy 3–4 days
Cooked vegetables 3–4 days
Cooked then frozen foods6–12 months
Food safety tip
Store leftovers in vessels that are easy to seal, such as plastic or glass containers. This will help maintain freshness and decrease chances of bacteria contamination.

Repurpose leftovers

If you have time, you can completely transform your leftovers into a brand-new dish.


  • Use a food processor to blend turkey, minced garlic, fresh Italian herbs, eggs, and breadcrumbs into a meatball.
  • Make turkey soup by boiling onion, celery, garlic, potato, and broth.
  • Whip up a creamy turkey salad (like a chicken salad) by mixing mayo, red onion, cubed celery, pickles, and mustard.
  • Bake a curried turkey pot pie. Keep things simple by using a store-bought crust.


  • Bake a savory bread pudding by adding whisked eggs, diced red onion, broccoli florets, and shredded cheese to a loaf pan.
  • Make savory waffles using a hot-iron waffle maker.
  • Combine stuffing with cooked rice to make a filling for stuffed peppers.

Mashed potatoes

  • Make potato pancake batter by adding flour, egg, and sour cream. Cook on flat top or greased pan.
  • Layer mashed potatoes on a bean-based casserole to create a vegetarian-inspired shepherd’s pie.
  • Use potatoes as a burrito bowl base instead of rice. Top with shredded lettuce, seasoned lean ground beef, avocado, fresh tomato, and a dollop of sour cream.


  • Coat vegetables in gravy before slow-roasting in the oven.
  • Pour gravy over stuffing waffles or mashed potato pancakes.

Cranberry sauce

  • Add cranberry sauce to muffin mix for a tart and fruity flavor.
  • Slow-cook pork loin or chicken in cranberry sauce with onions and garlic.
  • Mix cranberry sauce with mayonnaise to create a tangy aioli spread for sandwiches or wraps.

Tips for healthy eating during the holidays

You can build a healthy and balanced meal by:

  1. Filling a quarter of your plate with protein
  2. Another quarter with high-quality carbohydrates
  3. And half your plate with various vegetables

Sticking to this model during the holidays can be challenging, especially when nostalgic dishes are on the table. Give yourself permission to enjoy these foods and savor the moment. One night of indulgence shouldn’t have an impact on your overall health. At your next meal, you can work toward a balanced plate.

Monitor your alcohol intake

Alcohol intake can increase during the holidays because it's frequently served at social events, such as holiday dinners and parties. Cocktails, wines, beers, and spirits will have the same impact on your health. Try to avoid consuming large amounts of alcohol because too much can affect your liver health and add excess calories to your diet.

The current Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend men have two drinks or less per day, and women can have one drink or less per day. You can opt for non-alcoholic beverages instead, such as sparkling water, kombucha, tea, or coffee.

Reduce food waste

Repurposing leftovers is an easy way to reduce food waste and minimize your environmental impact. Getting creative with leftovers can also save you a few grocery dollars by extending your meals. If you need a break from turkey and Thanksgiving leftovers, try freezing them.

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