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Thanksgiving Leftover Ideas and Food Safety!

Even if your holiday gathering is smaller this year, chances are you're going to have leftovers. Many people look forward to Thanksgiving leftovers as much as—if not more than—the feast itself. 

Before you dig in, keep these tips handy so that they can stay safely stored in the fridge or freezer and try out these clever ways to spice up your Thanksgiving leftovers (that’s right, you don’t have to settle for that boring turkey sandwich everyday). 

Let’s start with some creative leftover ideas: 

Create a Turkey Soup 

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. You can even make a big batch and freeze it for chilly winter days to come! 

Cranberry Pancakes Anyone? 

If you manage to come out of Thanksgiving dinner with some leftover cranberry sauce, try adding it to fluffy homemade pancakes for the ultimate treat. Cranberries, pecans, and whole-wheat flour make for a delicious pile of pancakes just perfect for the day after – or any day. 

Turkey Pot Pie

Toss leftover vegetables plus shredded turkey into a casserole dish and top with a prepared pie crust for an easy & delightful dinner tonight. The options are practically endless here. In addition to your extra turkey, this recipe easily uses up leftover cooked vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips, green beans, Brussels sprouts, mushrooms, peas, and winter squash.

Leftovers Salad

Hungry for a nutritious, no-cook meal? Look no further than a salad. You can really get creative with this one. Personally, I love adding leftover green beans, roasted vegetables, turkey, and stuffing on top of a bed of mixed greens. Salads are easy if you are on-the-go, and want something lighter, which I welcome after a big eating holiday.


Don’t feel pressured to finish all of those decadent desserts before they go bad. Practice portion control and choose the desserts that you’re craving in small amounts and savor the taste! You could even freeze your desserts and have them whenever you truly want them. 

Now onto the food safety… 

When should you put your leftovers in the fridge? 

Leftovers should be stored within two hours of cooking. Divide leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze them in covered shallow containers so they cool quickly. A large container or whole turkey will take too long to cool down to a safe temperature, which gives bacteria a chance to multiply. Many people tend to refrigerate leftovers after letting them cool to room temperature first, however, this is not necessary. In fact, leftovers should be placed in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible, even if they still have steam or heat coming off them.

How long should you keep leftovers in the fridge/freezer? 

The answer is simple: leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for three to four days. After four days, spoilage bacteria can cause food to develop a bad smell or taste. This means you have until the Monday after Thanksgiving to eat all those delicious leftovers or place them in the freezer to enjoy later. If you store leftovers in the freezer, they will be of best quality within 2-6 months.

Reheating tips:

  • When reheating leftovers, be sure they reach 165°F, as measured with a food thermometer. 
  • When reheating in the microwave, cover and rotate the food for even heating. Arrange food items evenly in a covered microwave-safe glass or ceramic dish and add some liquid if needed. Be sure the covering is microwave safe and vent the lid or wrap to let the steam escape. The moist heat that is created will help destroy harmful bacteria and will ensure uniform cooking.
  • Reheat sauces, soups and gravies by bringing them to a rolling boil.

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