Thanksgiving is such a joyous time of year. We reconnect with family, spend time at home and take time to be grateful for what we have. I’d be hard pressed to choose, but it might just be my favorite holiday.
One of the best parts about Thanksgiving is, of course, the food. There’s so much deliciousness on the table that I love. The classics like roasted turkey, mashed potato (or sweet potatoes), green beans, sauces, soups, and gravies. Of course, you can’t have a Thanksgiving turkey without stuffing or cranberry sauce. Then there’s dessert. I love a good pumpkin pie!
It can be hard not to eat it all. When there are so many delicious plates of food, you often want more than a little bit of each. If you are working on portion control, check out this post about how to not overeat at Thanksgiving. There always seems to be too much to eat in one sitting. That’s where leftovers come in. Who doesn’t love leftover pie?
Wrapping up half a sandwich is one thing, but dealing with a dinner table full of food after such a large meal is another. But there’s too much delicious food to go to waste! That’s where making sure you care for your Thanksgiving leftovers properly is important to make sure nothing goes to waste.
Thanksgiving Leftover Tips
It can be tempting to leave all the food on the table and go and rest for a bit after dinner. Especially after that extra slice of apple pie! But you want to make sure you get all the leftovers in the fridge within at least two hours from them hitting the table. Ideally, you want to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold, but everything on the dinner table will be slowly moving towards room temperature. Also, the sooner you get it all packed away, the sooner you can enjoy the rest of your afternoon.
Before Thanksgiving, it’s a great idea to try and empty out your fridge and freezer as much as possible. Use up what you have, don’t buy things that you don’t need for the day and you’ll have more space when it comes to add your leftovers into the fridge. Also, try getting your containers out ready before the meal. That way once you’re ready to start tidying up, everyone can pitch in even if they don’t know where things are kept in your kitchen.
How to Pack
Ideally, you want to pack your foods into shallow trays as these will cool your food down faster and take up less room. It can be tempting to wrap aluminum foil over the top of dishes on the table and pop into the fridge, but you’ll end up not being able to stack things on top of each other. So take the time to place into new, smaller containers. Make sure you remove the turkey stuffing. For your pies, use round or containers to fit the pie perfectly, and to be able to stack them. That way, you won’t crush or crumble the pie crust.
If you don’t think you’re going to get through all your Thanksgiving food in the next three to four days, freezing it is a great idea. In terms of food safety, freezing will prevent the growth of bacteria so technically it can stay in there forever. But you probably want to eat it within the next couple of months. Don’t forget to label all your containers as it can be hard to tell your leftover turkey from your leftover pot pies once they’re sealed up and frozen.
When it comes time to use up those leftovers, the best bet is to just reheat what you’re going to use. You can reheat the whole lot then pop what you don’t use back in the fridge, but every time you do this the food will lose moisture and flavor. When reheating leftovers, you want to get your food up to 165 degrees and that any sauces like turkey gravy come to a full boil. While reheating leftovers is necessary, you want to do it the way I described, to still get the most out of those meals.
You need to know how to store leftovers the right way. Don’t try and store your turkey in one go. You want to be able to pull a slice out for a snack or pieces to cook into a new meal without having to deal with the whole turkey each time. It’ll also save you a lot of space in the fridge. The same thing applies if you’re going to freeze your turkey. Slice it up, label the bags clearly with the date and pop into the freezer. You’ll be thanking yourself in a month’s time when you’re looking for a quick and easy sandwich option and know that you can defrost a few slices. That’s why you need to think about how you want to store leftovers in your fridge or freezer – to make it easier for yourself when you’re defrosting and reheating leftovers to eat them.
Looking for something more exciting than a turkey sandwich? Why not try mixing leftover turkey into a pasta bake, add some spice and roll into enchiladas or stir through a gumbo. The turkey is fully cooked but it doesn’t mean it can’t go into a new recipe. Same as the leftover cranberry sauce. Think cranberry pie or cranberry breakfast turnovers to keep things interesting.
Meal Planning Leftovers
If you’re looking at a fridge full of food and unsure how to maintain healthy eating habits while you eat your way through what looks like a mountain of turkey, cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, I’ve built a simple meal plan based around Thanksgiving leftovers. Feel free to swap out things for what you have but it’ll help give you an idea of how much of each option to eat to maintain a healthy diet.
You can turn the leftovers into sandwiches, casseroles, pastas, burritos, salads, you can serve pies with ice cream, you can do all sorts of things with your leftovers, you just need to get creative!