Thanksgiving leftovers are one of the best parts of the holiday. Yet, literally tons and tons of food goes uneaten around the fourth Thursday of November. According to ReFed, at Thanksgiving in 2021, Americans wasted 305 million pounds of food—nearly one pound per person—at a cost of 400 million dollars. Due to inflation, ReFed predicts that dollar value will rise to 450 million dollars this year!
The following recipes and ideas will help reduce those numbers. After all, Thanksgiving leftovers are simply prepped ingredients, waiting to become a new dish quickly.
I think even most vegans would agree that when people eat turkey at Thanksgiving, none of it should go to waste. Here are just some ideas to eat every bite.
- Turkey pot pie. This recipe from Bon Appétit looks really good. It calls for leftover vegetables, turkey and gravy. But you could also top it with leftover mashed potatoes or leftover stuffing.
- Turkey soup. Here is my adaptable, clear-out-the-fridge soup recipe.
- Turkey Tetrazzini. My daughter MK has made the T.T. recipe from The Joy of Cooking many times. I found it online here at Sunset Magazine.
- Turkey a la king. Serve this creamed turkey over leftover split biscuits, toast or rice. Here is a recipe from NYT Cooking. (Speaking of which, a subscription to NYT Cooking makes a good gift for the foodie in your life.)
- Turkey shepherd’s pie. Sauté a chopped onion and sliced mushrooms. Stir in chopped turkey and gravy. Spread this mixture in the bottom of a glass dish (the size depends on the amount of your leftovers). Add a layer of leftover green beans, carrots or brussels sprouts. Top with leftover mashed potatoes. Cook until the mashed potatoes are golden.
- Turkey sandwiches. Add some cranberry sauce and layers of mashed potatoes, stuffing and green beans. Or fill a homemade pita.
After you’ve removed every last morsel of turkey from the carcass, make turkey stock with it. The bones will become very soft after several hours of simmering, at which point you could make this doggy treat with them.
This turkey soup recipe calls for stuffing dumplings. For the dumplings, you need only stuffing, flour, eggs and baking powder. What a brilliant idea! I am trying these on Friday if we have any stuffing left!
Leftover rolls and bread
If they’ve dried out, they’re perfect for making bread pudding, either sweet or savory. Or make breadcrumbs by running very dry bread through a food processor or grating with a cheese grater. Breadcrumbs keep for a long time. Add them to veggie burgers or sprinkle them on macaroni and cheese before baking.
Aside from simply reheating them along with other Thanksgiving leftovers, my hands-down favorite way to repurpose mashed potatoes is to bake them into potato bread. Potatoes and bread, all in one bite! With the potatoes already cooked and mashed, some of the prep is done. Here is my recipe for sourdough potato focaccia. And these Amish rolls from King Arthur flour look fabulous. (You’ll want to reduce the salt a bit in the recipes.)
My mom used to make home fries all the time with leftover baked potatoes. We kids loved them! Heat oil or a combo of oil and butter in a pan over medium-high heat. (If you use a cast-iron pan, you’ll add another layer of seasoning to it.) Add the diced baked potatoes, sprinkle on salt, stir often until browned and serve hot. Sprinkle homemade vinegar on top (more on that later).
Mashed sweet potatoes
More pie coming up! This sweet potato pie recipe from New York Times Cooking calls for 2¾ cups of mashed sweet potatoes. If you don’t quite have that much, you could scale the recipe down and make tarts with leftover pastry.
I cook sugar pie pumpkins in my oven or pressure cooker (in 8 minutes!) for homemade purée. The flavor is worth the extra effort. Since I already have my equipment out, I like to cook a couple of pumpkins so I’ll have extra purée to cook:
- More pumpkin pie
- Pumpkin soup
- Pumpkin dal
- Pumpkin pasta
Roasted, sautéed or steamed vegetables
In addition to some of the previous ideas, soup made with leftover cooked vegetables and leftover broth comes together quickly. Combine, season and if desired, purée for a meal in minutes. Freeze some to extend the shelf-life of your leftovers for a few months! Or, make a quick frittata with those prepped vegetables. Find the frittata recipe here.
Dressed salad has a short shelf-life. If you do dress it, after dinner, before it goes limp and sad, whir it up in a blender with broth and adjust the seasoning. If you don’t dress it, you basically have a bowl of chopped fresh vegetables you can make almost anything with.
Macaroni and cheese
This is completely decadent but my family wants me to make a macaroni and cheese pie. Essentially, fill a pie shell with macaroni and cheese and bake it. Because you’d use leftover macaroni and cheese, parbake the crust. You don’t need to bake the filled pie for very long. Go here for a single-shell, whole-wheat pie crust recipe.
Before it turns brown and limp, give fruit salad a second life in a fruit crumble. With that and leftover chopped fruit, you simply assemble and bake the crumble. Go here for an adaptable crumble recipe.
Put a couple of spoonfuls of leftover cranberry sauce in a small glass jar and top it with yogurt for fruit-bottom yogurt. So yummy! Or use leftover cranberry sauce to fill jam thumbprint cookies. A spoonful on the side of dal adds a hint of sweetness.
Honestly, I don’t think pumpkin pie ever goes to waste! But if you have lots of it, this leftover pumpkin pie casserole from Oh She Glows looks really good.
People often don’t believe me: leftover wine is a thing! You may open a bottle that doesn’t taste great, for example. The good news is even mediocre wine can become fantastic wine vinegar.
If you have a mother of vinegar, you probably already know how to make this. If you don’t have a mother of vinegar, in a wide-mouth jar, combine three tablespoons of Bragg’s apple cider vinegar with 1 cup of wine and stir vigorously for a couple of minutes (this removes sulfites). You must use vinegar with the live mother. Cover the jar securely with a cloth to keep out nasties. Wait. It’s ready when it tastes like vinegar, usually around the 1-month point (depending on your kitchen’s temperature).
If you see a blob forming on the vinegar that resembles a jellyfish, congratulations. That is a mother. Think of a name. To make more vinegar, use this solid mother instead of the Bragg’s. Go here for instructions on making wine vinegar.
My book won silver for single-subject cookbooks at the Taste Canada awards!
I’ve also won a second-place Gourmand cookbook award in the category of food waste. And my book was shortlisted for an award from the International Association of Culinary Professionals.
Learn more about my book here.
2 Replies to “27 Easy No Waste Ways to Repurpose Thanksgiving Leftovers”
As a vegan, I can attest that 1) yes, I’d like for everyone to eat every scrap of their food to honor all of the lives (animal and human) that went into making it and getting it to your table; and 2) pretty much all of those leftover turkey ideas work well for tofurkey, too. 🙂
I don’t need a way to reuse Thanksgiving leftovers since I love them as they are and eat them until they are gone. Leftovers never need to be reimagined for me or Tommy. But, for those people who need help with leftovers, your ideas are great.