Thanksgiving is one of the most anticipated meals of the year. But the day after? Leftover central. Instead of pushing untouched stuffing and turkey into the depths of the fridge, try out these Thanksgiving leftover ideas to spread Turkey Day cheer a little bit longer.
The Classic Approach: Incorporate Leftovers Into New Meals
After a day or two of gut-busting meals, salads can help clear out your system. Leftover greens need to be used up before they wilt, and when topped with shredded turkey, nuts, and veggies like roasted carrots, this post-Thanksgiving salad just needs a stellar dressing to top it off. Luckily, using up leftover cranberries to make a vinaigrette takes about 10 minutes and clears the fridge at the same time.
2. SHEPHERD'S PIE
Stuffing, mashed potatoes, veggies, and turkey can come together for a quick shepherd's pie that clears out multiple side dishes all at once. And unlike pot pies, there's no need to roll out a crust—just top with extra gravy for a complete meal.
Stir-fry can easily be tailored to whatever leftovers you have in the fridge. Turkey and Brussels sprouts work well together, but any vegetables will do. Leftover wine can be used as a turkey marinade, making use of half-empty bottles that could otherwise go bad. The key to making a great leftover stir-fry is having a hot pan, and using meat that has warmed at room temperature for about 20 minutes.
Thanksgiving pizza quickly clears out leftovers—that’s because many recipes call for mashed potatoes, stuffing, cranberry sauce, and turkey. Substitute gravy for marinara, and don’t stress about making a crust from scratch; refrigerated dough (perhaps from any unmade crescent rolls) makes this leftover innovation a much faster meal.
The classic casserole is one of the easiest ways to get rid of leftovers, and that’s because it can be thrown together quickly and baked with little oversight (a much-needed cooking style after a big Thanksgiving meal). Even leftover casseroles (like green bean casserole) can be worked into a new dish. The trick for casserole success is creating layers, similar to lasagna, instead of blending all ingredients together.
Make Next-Day Breakfast Even Better
Thanksgiving dinner can easily make its way to the next day's breakfast without picky eaters even noticing. Muffins made from sweeter leftovers, like whole or sauced cranberries, offer up a seasonal flavor while clearing out the fridge. And cooks can even sneak in a few veggies, such as carrots, for an added nutritional boost.
7. FRENCH TOAST
Turn carb-heavy dinner breads or dessert loaves into breakfast treats with a stovetop or baked version of French toast. This quick-cooking breakfast clears out leftover bread, and can use up cranberry sauce, too, when used as a topping or filling.
8. POTATO AND STUFFING CAKES
Leftover mashed potatoes can be repurposed in many ways, but what about stuffing? Two cups of stuffing, an egg, and butter are all it takes to make stuffing cakes—à la potato cakes—that fry up for a lunchtime snack. If you want to carb-load for a second day in a row, you can mix mashed potatoes and stuffing for a similar pan-fried patty.
In the 1940s, spudnut shops popped up throughout the U.S., making tasty doughnut snacks from dried potatoes. While it's hard to find a modern spudnut spot, you can recreate this decades-old snack using leftover mashed potatoes. Sweet potatoes work just as well when paired with leftover cranberries.
Pumpkin pie can be transformed into pancakes for an easy breakfast following a big day of cooking. Beat two slices of pie into pancake batter for festive fall breakfast, and top with leftover fruit or cranberries.
Whip Up A New Dessert
11. DESSERT CRISPS
Fruit crumbles and crisps became popular during World War II when food rationing made it difficult for home cooks to craft elaborate desserts. Luckily, these recipes are perfect for after Thanksgiving, because they require minimal effort and few ingredients, all while using up leftover cranberry sauce, apples, and other fruit dishes.
12. DAY-AFTER PIES
Sure, Thanksgiving is known for its standard pies: pecan, pumpkin, and sweet potato. But chances are, those pies don't make it to day two. Clear out your leftovers stash and fulfill a sugar craving with a cranberry pie—a lighter, whipped version with marshmallows is easy to make after a whole day of cooking, or a slab-style pie hits the spot if your oven's still begging for attention.
Sip Your Leftovers
13. PIE SMOOTHIES
If you somehow have leftover pumpkin and sweet potato pies but no whipped topping, no worries. Pie smoothies are as easy to make as they are to sip—simply toss leftover pie, sans crust, into a blender with milk or yogurt for a smooth way to savor Thanksgiving leftovers.
After a long day of fielding personal questions from distant relatives, you may need a stiff drink. And yes, you can use Thanksgiving meal remnants to unwind. Candied yams, Cognac, and hazelnut liqueur combine for a "Candied Yam Libation," while a "Turkey Tippler" blends turkey-infused bourbon, bitters, and celery for garnish. Feeling hesitant about meat-infused alcohol? Washington D.C. bartender Justin Hampton recommends the "nice mouthfeel."
15. SIPPING VINEGARS
Like other home-brewed drinks, sipping or drinking vinegars are beginning to see some popularity. And, they're easily made at home. Combine leftover fruits (cranberries or fruit tray leftovers are a great option) with apple cider vinegar in a jar, leaving the mixture to ferment for a week before straining out fruits and sitting for another seven days. After two weeks, a small amount of drinking vinegar can be mixed with soda water for an effervescent treat that's ever-so-slightly reminiscent of Thanksgiving.
16. INFUSED LIQUORS
If you're up for experimenting (and a bit of a wait), leftover fruit can be put to good use infusing and flavoring alcohol. Fruits like cranberries, apples, and pears work best, and even ingredient scraps like orange peels can be used to flavor vodka for homemade seasonal liqueurs.
Make Soul-Warming Soups
Soups are one of the easiest ways to clear out a refrigerator bursting with leftovers. Turkey is easy to add to almost any soup and can be frozen until you're ready to cook again. And, leftover soup can even be frozen for another cold day, though broth-based soups without pastas or creams store best.
Soup purists know that stew is not the same; it generally contains less liquid than a soup, has a thicker mixture of ingredients, and has a longer cook time. And while any combination of leftover vegetables and meat can make a great post-Thanksgiving stew, consider trying out Sobaheg, a dish culinary historians believe could have been served at the first Thanksgiving. Turkey meat, beans, hominy, green beans, and squash make up this historical stew.
Instead of dumping leftover vegetables and meat bones in the trash, toss them into a stockpot with water for a hearty homemade stock. Even better: fresh stock can be frozen for the upcoming wintry days that require a hot bowl of soup.
Prep Snacks For The Rest of the Weekend
20. QUICK DIPS
Hosting family or friends for the entire holiday weekend? There's no need to worry about having extra snacks or appetizers on hand. Turn leftover beans or sweet potatoes into spreadable, hummus-style dips by blending with olive oil and seasonings of your choice.
21. DEEP-FRIED APPETIZERS
Uneaten green beans don't have to rot in the fridge. Instead, toss in a cornmeal batter before frying for a crunchy leftover snack. As many Midwestern state fairgoers know, the deep-frying doesn't have to end there. Get creative and toss leftovers into oil for a hodgepodge of Thanksgiving fritters. Don't forget the ranch dip!
Roasted turkey is easy to add to anything, tortilla chips included. While you can opt for traditional nachos with melted cheese and a turkey garnish, there's another option to clear out your fridge even faster: a Thanksgiving-style nacho using leftover gravy, potatoes, and stuffing. Mashed potatoes take the place of refried beans, and gravy is substituted for melted cheese, while stuffing creates a thicker base layer (along with the chips).
When You're Really Tired of Turkey
23. FREEZER MEALS
If you've spent all day in a hot kitchen basting a turkey, chances are after the big meal's served, you're already tired of looking at it. But don't let those pounds of extra meat and sides go to waste. Instead, package up plated meals for the freezer, which can be quickly defrosted and reheated on a day you really don't feel like cooking. Many Thanksgiving side dishes freeze and reheat well—such as stuffing or dressing, cranberry sauce, and breads. For best results, avoid freezing dairy-heavy dishes and casseroles with crunchy toppings that have a tendency to get soggy (such as green bean casserole).
24. SWAP LEFTOVERS WITH A FRIEND
Does a friend have a great recipe that you love…but you won't get to gorge on thanks to Thanksgiving meal logistics? Consider sharing it the next day. Swapping a plate or dish with friends or family is one way to share a meal together, while also saving you from a week's worth of grandma's famous potatoes.
25. SEND IT ALL HOME WITH FRIENDS AND FAMILY
If you're dining with a large crowd, consider letting friends and family clear out your fridge space. Etiquette says it's up to the host to determine if leftovers will be dished out and shared, so don't be afraid to prepackage leftovers for guests, or simply let them have at it themselves. After all, Thanksgiving is all about sharing with family and friends—both the love and the food.