Holiday Leftovers Tips

Thank goodness for leftovers. One of the joys of being the holiday host is having delicious leftovers available for subsequent meals. Here are a few tips to help make sure all your wonderful food goes to good use.

  • Clear the table and put the leftovers away as soon as you finish eating. Prepared food shouldn't remain out longer than two hours to ensure food safety.
  • Share the wealth. Have containers available to easily pack leftovers to send home with your guests.
  • If you stuff your turkey, be sure to remove the stuffing before storing the turkey leftovers. Also, remove the meat from the bones for the best storage.
  • Break the turkey carcass into pieces and store along with any other bones, scraps, giblets, and vegetable trimmings such as onion ends and carrot peels. To make stock, add water to cover and simmer one to two hours. 
  • In general, refrigerated leftovers should be used within three to four days. Too much for that time frame? Freezing is a perfect solution. Frozen leftovers will have the best quality if used within two to four months. Be sure to properly seal leftovers in airtight containers before freezing to avoid freezer burn.
  • Consider storing leftovers in portion-size containers to ease reheating.
  • Whether using an oven, microwave, or stovetop, reheat foods thoroughly to 165°F, until hot and steaming.


Make New Exciting Dishes from your Leftovers


Mashed Potatoes

  • Mix with some cooked chopped cabbage, kale, or other hearty winter green for a quick version of colcannon, an Irish staple.
  • Combine with a little chopped onion and beaten egg, form into patties and pan-fry for delicious potato cakes. Adding a little cooked grain to the mix will make them even more wonderful — try wild rice or barley.
  • Sauté sliced leeks in butter until soft, then puree with chicken stock and mashed potatoes for a delicious winter soup.

Baked Sweet Potatoes

  • Mix a cup of mashed sweet potatoes into your favorite muffin or quick bread recipe.
  • Make a quick sweet-potato bisque by pureeing peeled or mashed potatoes with stock and coconut milk. Stir in a little curry paste or powder for an exotic touch or add cooked rice and chopped turkey for a hearty main course.
  • Make sweet potato croquettes: mix chilled, mashed potatoes with beaten egg, roll into cylinders and coat with panko breadcrumbs. Pan-fry until crisped and heated through.

Cranberry Sauce

  • Mix with plain yogurt for breakfast or a satisfying snack.
  • Stir some chopped pecans or walnuts into your sauce and serve as a chutney with crackers and cheeses — particularly delicious with Stilton or farmhouse Cheddar!
  • Mix into applesauce and serve hot with pork chops or as a topping for pancakes or waffles.

Roasted Vegetables

  • Chop and use in a brunch or lunch frittata or quiche; add a little diced ham or dark-meat turkey for extra flavor.
  • Mix with cooked, cooled grains like barley, wheat berries or brown rice and toss with your favorite vinaigrette for a satisfying lunch or side dish.
  • Roll in tortillas or sandwich wraps with slices of mild cheese for a quick lunch or dinner wrap.

Rolls and Breads

  • Dice and use in your favorite recipe for bread pudding or strata.
  • Make a panzanella (Italian bread salad) by tossing cubed day-old bread or rolls with lots of quartered grape tomatoes, diced red onion, baby greens, and olive oil and balsamic.
  • Don't forget French toast! Rich, dense breads like brioche or honey-wheat work particularly well.
  • Make and freeze some breadcrumbs: Tear bread into pieces (even stale bread works fine) and whirl it a food processor; freeze in a zip-close bag and you'll have breadcrumbs on hand for topping casseroles, breading cutlets, or making meatloaf.

Stuffing or Dressing

  • Reheat in the microwave and top with fried or poached eggs for breakfast particularly delicious with sausage or sage stuffing!
  • Make "stuffing muffins" by pressing dressing or stuffing into the cups of a butter muffin tin and baking at 350°F until hot and crisp on top; sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs just before serving.
  • Mix with nuts or dried fruit and use as a filling for halved, roasted winter squash like acorn or delicata.


  • Dice leftover turkey (dark meat is particularly firm and flavorful) and toss with mayo, a little mustard, and some chopped apple and celery for a fabulous sandwich filling. Try it on toasted raisin bread!
  • For a turkey Cobb salad, spread chopped lettuce over a platter and top with rows of diced turkey breast, crumbled blue cheese, chopped tomato, chopped red onion, and diced avocado; serve with oil and vinegar or your favorite vinaigrette.
  • Boil up your favorite pasta shape, and then toss with shredded turkey, prepared pesto sauce, lots of freshly grated black pepper and Parmesan.


  • Dice finely and add to your favorite mac and cheese recipe.
  • Make a quick stir-fry with ham, onion, pineapple, bell peppers and your favorite stir-fry sauce; serve over jasmine rice or soba noodles.
  • Make homemade deviled ham, an outrageous treat: Whirl diced ham in a food processor with mustard, chopped scallions, mayonnaise, and a little cayenne pepper; use as a sandwich filling or spread on crackers or cucumber slices.


  • Use to moisten just about any sandwich, soaks gorgeously into fluffy rolls or ciabatta!
  • Toss with whole-wheat farfalle or egg noodles and lots of fresh chopped parsley for a hearty side dish.
  • Stir a few spoonfuls into a broth-based soup like chicken noodle or mushroom barley for instant flavor and richness.