Repurposing Leftovers: Easy Meal Prep after the Holidays

The countdown is on, and you can already hear yourself packing on the pounds as you think about the quantity of food you could be consuming during holiday meals.  While it is tempting to want to binge on all the amazing food so that nothing goes to waste, gorging yourself is not necessary. 

You see, while people are busy stuffing themselves like the turkey in front of them, it’s likely that they’re being shortsighted.  Specifically, they are forgetting that they can prolong the enjoyment of their holiday meals for months on end.

So, here’s how you can transform leftovers into yummy lunches to take to work, saving yourself money and keeping your waistline trim.

Why Repurpose Leftovers?

Sadly, oftentimes leftovers get a bad rap.  In fact, people think of leftovers as something discarded or unwanted.  If you change your perspective about leftovers, however, you will see that they are actually the gift that keeps on giving.  

So, let’s take a look at some of the reasons why you should repurpose your leftovers:

Don’t Hate on Leftovers
Photo of a Thanksgiving meal.

First of all, leftovers can be as fresh as the day you make them.  That’s right, leftovers don’t have to be something that sits in your fridge becoming stale or covered in mold.  Unfortunately, this is the way many people view the food that goes uneaten each holiday.  However, if you properly freeze your leftovers, most of them will reheat back to nearly original condition.  Still, you’ll need to act quickly in order to keep them from getting too old to maintain their optimum flavor.  So, be intentional about sorting and storing your leftovers right after your big meal.  That way your future meals will be immediately available when you want them.

Eat Leftovers to Keep the Pounds Off

Second of all, leftovers can be a great way to work on portion control.  If you think about it, on Thanksgiving you’re approximately a month away from a new year.  So, you have very little time until you begin to implement your New Year’s resolution.  Therefore, it would be wise to begin practicing healthy habits so that when January 1st arrives, you won’t have so many bad habits to break.  All this to say, if you know you can extend the enjoyment of your holiday food, then you may be less likely to overindulge.

Eat Leftovers and Save Money

Third of all, eating leftovers can help you save a boatload of money.  If you don’t believe me, I challenge you to look at your budget to see how much you spend on dining out.  You probably spend more than you’d care to admit, huh?  Now, think about how many meals made up of leftovers you could eat in place of dining out.  If you take lunch made from leftovers to work ten times, I bet you will save no less than $100 on that one holiday meal alone.

So, as you can see, there are multiple benefits to repurposing leftovers, so let’s get started! 

Getting Started Repurposing Leftovers: What You Need

Now, the most important thing to remember is that if your food is easily accessible you are more likely to eat it.  So, make sure to have all the storage containers ready to go before your guests arrive. 

Photo of materials needed for storing leftovers.

Here are a few must-haves to keep on hand for use as soon as your holiday meal is finished:

  • Large ice cube trays – These are perfect for filling with mashed potatoes, sweet potato casserole, and stuffing.
  • Small ice cube trays – Are you considering tossing the cranberries?  Don’t!  Instead, spread them into small ice cube trays.  In a minute, you’ll find out what you can do with them.
  • Aluminum foil – You can divide turkey, rolls, and pies into individual-sized portions and wrap with foil.  They make an easy grab, reheat, and go meal.
  • Gallon-size plastic Ziploc baggies – After you store your food in the ice cube trays and aluminum foil, add an extra layer of protection by placing it in a large Ziploc baggie.  This helps ensure freshness longer.  Furthermore, keeping it airtight will help prevent freezer burn. 
  • Tupperware – If you are someone who thrives on organization and clean lines, pack your individual foil-wrapped meals in Tupperware instead.  It will have the same effect as Ziploc baggies, but you will have a better stacking system.

Speaking of the Freezer

Now, you will quickly realize that your freezer can be your best friend or your worst enemy.  If you take time to store leftovers properly and in an organized fashion, your freezer is your ally.  However, if you use it for a burial ground for food you feel guilty about pitching then you will open the door with a feeling of dread each time you need to reach in and grab something.  So, be intentional about what you put in the freezer, and about eating what you put in there.

More importantly, you need to know which foods keep well in the freezer and for how long.  Ergo, here is a little cheat sheet for ensuring that your food doesn’t wear out its welcome in your freezer:

Photo of frozen leftovers.
Photo by Lisa Clarke | Source
Freezer Cheat Sheet
  • Turkey – After you remove turkey from the bone, it will keep in the freezer for up to three months.
  • Stuffing – Eat up, because you shouldn’t hold on to stuffing for more than one month.
  • Potatoes – If your potato dish is fatty (cream, butter, cream cheese, etc.), then it will last for up to a year in the freezer.  If you go the healthy route, all bets are off.  Pureed sweet potato dishes will also keep well, but only for three months.
  • Gravy – Similar to potatoes, how your gravy is made will determine how well it will keep in the freezer.  So, know that turkey gravies made with flower will hold up best once thawed, and you can keep them frozen for up to four months.
  • Cranberries – This minimally touched dish will keep for up to two months.  Remember, it is the perfect alternative condiment for things such as honey mustard or Miracle Whip!
  • Rolls – As with other breads, these will stay fresh in the freezer for up to three months.
  • Pies – This one is a little finicky because pies with filling made with eggs will freeze up to two months, but know the texture could become a little lumpier.  Fruit pies, however, are good for up to four months.
Do Not Freeze

There are a few foods that it’s best to keep on hand in the refrigerator to nibble on until they expire.  They include green bean casserole, salads, and deviled eggs.  In addition, if an item has already been frozen once, it’s best not to refreeze it.

As you can see, there are many freezer-friendly foods.  Therefore, you have no excuse to exhaust your garbage disposal while your guests are watching the football game.

How to Repurpose Leftovers

Now, this is my favorite part of leftovers—figuring out how to repurpose them so that I don’t get holiday meal burnout.

Mini Turkey Sandwiches

This classic is probably the most obvious idea.   However, many people forget to prepare it in advance.  So, do this right after your meal for a quick grab-and-go when you want it.  Take a sliced roll and a couple pieces of turkey.  Then, smear the roll with either cranberries or sweet potato casserole (don’t knock it until you try it!).  Wrap the sandwiches individually with foil, and then pack them in a large Ziploc.  To reheat, place the foil-wrapped sandwich on the center rack in the oven on 350 degrees and warm through.  Alternatively, for an office meal, you can remove the foil, wrap the sandwich in paper towels, and heat through. 

Eggs and Stuffing

Everyone knows turkey and stuffing.  However, what about baby birds and stuffing?  For breakfast, fry or scramble an egg.  Then, place the egg on or beside a pile of stuffing topped with cranberries, and voila!  Now you have a protein-packed sweet-and-savory meal that will knock your socks off.  For a lunch spin, pair the stuffing and cranberries with a sliced boiled egg.  You can eat the entire pile cold, or warm up the stuffing and cranberries before adding the egg.

Salad and Stuffing

If you want to enjoy your mom’s famous stuffing, but you want to make sure you get your fiber and vitamins, couple it with a salad.  Kale or broccoli slaw salads go perfect with stuffing, because they have a nice crunchy contrast to the soft, fluffiness of the stuffing.

These are just a few tried-and-true ways to shake up those leftovers.  Nevertheless, you know your taste buds better than I do.  Don’t be afraid to try something you think might be good.  There is no right or wrong way to mix and match!

Give Thanks and Eat Leftovers

With a little forethought, you can indulge in delicious holiday food long past the holidays.  So, now that you have instructions for repurposing leftovers, you have no excuse for binging during your feasts.  First, you know which materials you need to have on hand to make leftovers accessible.  Next, you know how to store various food items properly to keep them fresh.  Finally, you have plenty of ways to repurpose your leftovers so that you can eat them in a variety of ways.  I hope that this gives you an easy way to practice “waste not, want not.” 

Now, here is one last thought in closing.  I recently heard someone say, “Whatever language you speak, speak the language of thanks fluently.”  I encourage you to remember those who prepared a meal for you, the cleanup crew, or who simply chose your house at which to share a meal.  It requires very little to express gratitude, but sincere thanks can have a lasting impact. 

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your family, and enjoy those leftovers just as you enjoy your Thanksgiving meal!

Photo of a family celebrating  Thanksgiving

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