Thanksgiving is one of those times when you can eat your entire body weight on Thursday, and still go back for seconds and thirds on Friday. Between the turkey, the sides, and the decadent desserts, most families recycle Thanksgiving leftovers for lunch, dinner, and late night snacks well into the weekend.
Repurposed for sandwiches, soups, and even chili, Thanksgiving leftover recipes make busy weekday lunches and dinners a no-brainer. But before you pack round 4 of Turkey Day leftovers into a lunchbox, let’s take a look at the nitty-gritty details: the expiration dates, the best hacks, and the scrumptious recipes for Thanksgiving leftovers.
Thanksgiving Leftover Hack: It’s All in the Storage
First things first, how long you can continue to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers depends on how well you store them in the first place. To safely enjoy your delectables for days to come, your goal is to minimize the time food stays in what we’ve dubbed “The Danger Zone.”
The Danger Zone: A temperature range of 40°F to 140°F in which illness-causing bacteria can flourish.
We don’t know about you, but in our house, we serve Thanksgiving without the bacteria. To stop bacteria from multiplying on your savored leftovers, put food away less than two hours after serving. Food that sits at room temperature for longer than two hours has an increased likelihood of developing illness-causing bacteria that can result in upset stomachs tomorrow.
For food that retains its quality and flavor longer, adhere to these guidelines:
- Trash perishables that won’t last in the fridge. Salads are likely to wilt, so you can go ahead and toss them at the end of the night. However, hearty greens like kale and cabbage can last in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.
- Hot foods can be placed directly in the fridge. Forget what your mom might have told you, hot food is perfectly fine to go straight into the fridge. Just don’t shove the whole turkey in and hope for the best. Instead, divide large quantities into smaller portions, i.e. slicing your turkey or ham first, so it can cool evenly.
- Take care when storing seconds. Store soups and casseroles in shallow, smaller containers for quicker cooling. Wrap leftovers in airtight containers or packaging to keep harmful bacteria out and necessary moisture and flavor in.
- Don’t over-stuff the fridge. To keep food cold, cool air needs to circulate above and beneath it. Shoving too much food in the fridge risks everything being improperly chilled.
How Long do Thanksgiving Leftovers Last?
Okay, so we’ve already mentioned that perishables like salads would be better off in the trash. But, what about everything else?
We know you want to enjoy your Thanksgiving leftovers for as long as possible, as safely as possible. So, stick to this guide for storing your leftovers bacteria- and freezer-burn-free.
Note that while some items like baked casseroles or vegetables can technically last longer in the freezer than we’ve listed, chances are the flavor, nutrients, and texture you love about them won’t quite be the same.
Affordable Thanksgiving Turkey Leftover Recipes
Want to make your turkey stretch for another meal? While Thanksgiving turkey tastes great solo or on a sandwich, that can get a bit old. So, how about a delicious hot soup or cold turkey salad instead? Check these recipes out!
Chunky Turkey Vegetable Soup
Capture the warmth a Thanksgiving meal gives with this stick-to-your-bones chunky turkey vegetable soup. Using ingredients you likely already have on hand or still sitting in the pantry, the only thing this soup is light on is the budget!
What You Need:
- 1 cup water
- Salt and pepper
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 pound cooked turkey breast
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon dried crushed rosemary
- 1 large sweet potato, peeled and thinly sliced
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) diced tomatoes with juice
- 1 can (14.5 ounces) reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 1 small head escarole, washed and trimmed into bite-size pieces
What to Do:
In a large saucepan with a lid, begin by heating oil over medium heat. Add in onion and garlic, stirring occasionally for 5 minutes until softened. Next, stir in tomato paste.
Add sweet potato, diced tomatoes and juice, broth, water, and rosemary; season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring the pan up to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Cover and cook until potato is tender, 12 to 15 minutes.
To get this soup nice and hearty, stir in turkey. Next, split the escarole into 2 batches. Stir in the first batch and wait for it to wilt before stirring in the second. Cover once more and let simmer until turkey is heated through. Serve hot with croissants or biscuits.
Leftover Thanksgiving Turkey Salad
Trying to get away from the hot food? Try out this tasty turkey salad that pairs with any crackers or toast you have on hand. Perfect for lunches, snacks, or dinners, this recipe is the Thanksgiving leftover that keeps on giving.
What You Need:
- 1/4 cup mayonnaise
- 1 hard-boiled egg, diced
- 1 cup shredded cooked turkey
- Salt and ground black pepper to taste
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
- 1/2 cup cubed cooked ham (if you have both!)
- 1/2 cup sweetened dried cranberries, chopped
What to Do:
The directions for this recipe couldn’t be easier! Requiring no use of the stove, no crazy measuring, and no precise baking times, this recipe is a breeze compared to Thanksgiving dinner. In our opinion, the longest aspect of this recipe is boiling the egg if you haven’t done so already.
Simply combine the cranberries, egg, basil, turkey, and ham in a mixing bowl. If ham wasn’t part of your Thanksgiving menu, no worries! This salad tastes just fine without it. Next, stir in the mayonnaise. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve however you prefer!
Quick Add-Ins Using Thanksgiving Leftovers
Sometimes leftovers don’t call for a whole new recipe. Sometimes, it’s just best to add them into your feel-good favorite dishes, giving them a special Thanksgiving kick. If you’re a simpler chef, take a gander at these super easy ways to incorporate leftovers into existing recipes!
Bonus: These easy add-ins are perfect for the leftovers you don’t want to freeze or won’t fit in the fridge!
Cranberry Sauce: Swirl your leftover cranberry sauce into hot oatmeal, grits, or cream of wheat for an added dose of fruit that will make every breakfast colorful! If you’re more of a bagel type of person, try mixing cranberry sauce in with cream cheese for a tart spin on a morning classic.
Mashed Potatoes: Using a store-bought pizza crust, prebake dough until crust is set. Then, spread leftover mashed potatoes, sprinkle with shredded mozzarella or cheddar cheese and shredded turkey for a Thanksgiving Mashed Potato Pizza!
Gravy: Poutine anyone? While Canadian Thanksgiving was back in October, bring some of their flair into your leftovers when you use leftover gravy to create poutine! Simply drizzle hot french fries with warm gravy and top with cheese curds for a delectable snack or side dish.
Stuffing: Combine leftover stuffing with beaten eggs and shredded cheese and pour into an oven-proof skillet. Let the eggs cook all the way through, then place in the broiler until golden for a Thanksgiving leftover brunch frittata.
Don’t let those Thanksgiving leftovers go to waste! By properly storing and cooking your leftovers this year, you’re guaranteed a delectable Thanksgiving you’ll be thankful for in weeks to come.
*Turkey salad image sourced from AllRecipes.