Thanksgiving Leftovers: How to Store and Eat Them

Thanksgiving leftovers aren't like regular leftovers. Unlike that half-eaten tray of dried-out enchiladas or container of mushy pasta, turkey-day extras are actually something you can look forward to. In fact, you could argue that they're even more delicious the next day—so it's essential to make the most of them. From packing them up so they stay safe and fresh, to the tastiest ways to repurpose them, here's what you should know.

How to Store Thanksgiving Leftovers

The good news is that when stored correctly, the turkey, gravy, and all those yummy sides you made will stay good in the fridge for three to four days, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). So you can really keep enjoying your Thanksgiving favorites all weekend long. Here are four simple steps that the USDA recommends:

  1. Pack it up.

    Cover or wrap food with foil (it's better for the environment than plastic), or store it in airtight containers. This will keep your food from getting dry or crusty.

  2. Keep it cold.

    To prevent bacteria growth, refrigerate leftovers within two hours.

  3. Reheat safely.

    You can warm your food in the microwave, in the oven, or on the stovetop. Just make sure leftovers reach an internal temperature of 165°F before you eat them.

  4. Use them up.

    Leftovers will stay fresh in the refrigerator for up to four days. They'll last indefinitely in the freezer, but will taste their best if eaten within four months.

Delicious Ideas for Leftovers

Okay, enough about storing. How about eating? Some classics—like pie for breakfast or turkey sandwiches with cranberry sauce—never get old. But if you're up for trying something different, there are a lot of ideas out there to gobble up. Here are five mouthwatering ways to make the most of your leftovers:

  • Have leftovers for breakfast.

    Grab your trusty cast-iron skillet and make turkey-and-veggie hash with fried eggs. Or spoon warm cranberry sauce over whole-grain pancakes or oatmeal instead of the usual syrup or honey.

  • Make fancy snacks.

    Fold finely diced turkey and leftover veggies into store-bought wonton wrappers to make pot stickers. Or make crispy mashed potato or stuffing croquettes in a skillet, and top them with dollops of creamy yogurt.

  • Have a fajita night.

    Let everyone load up wheat or corn tortillas with turkey and whatever sides they want. Instead of the usual salsa, use leftover gravy or cranberry sauce.

  • Make leftover pizzas.

    Switch up your usual homemade pizza night by using gravy or cranberry sauce instead of tomato sauce. And instead of the usual cheese, scatter whatever veggie leftovers you have over the top. This is a weird but yummy concoction.

  • Try a pie milkshake.

    Blend slices of leftover pie with milk and vanilla ice cream until it's thick and creamy. Yes, it's completely over the top. But as a once-a-year treat? It's totally worth it!

Don't let those leftovers go to waste. Use these tips to make the most of them, and if you know you won't be able to finish them within a couple of days and don't feel like sticking them in the freezer, consider bringing the extras to a local soup kitchen (either after Thanksgiving dinner or the next day). Sharing a home-cooked meal might seem like a small gesture to you, but it could brighten someone else's holiday in a big way.

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