#1Thing: Making the Most of Thanksgiving Leftovers and Reducing Waste

December 2, 2019
Thanksgiving Leftovers

(Photo: ShootingRichard/Getty Images)

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By Lori Melton

Most people agree that one of the best parts of Thanksgiving is the leftovers. However, if you make too much to begin with, a lot of nutritious food can end up in the trash.

According to the EPA, between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, household waste in the U.S. increases by 25 percent. Sadly, 1 million tons of wasted holiday food, wrapping paper, gift bows and ribbons, and shopping bags fill up the landfill every week.

Thankfully, there are a lot of ways to make the most out of your Thanksgiving leftovers and help reduce waste. A few suggestions are listed below.

Send Leftovers Home with Family and Friends

One of the easiest ways to use up some of those yummy Thanksgiving leftovers is to send some home with your family and friends. Instead of using plastic baggies and disposable storage tubs, one sustainably savvy option is packing food for your guests in reusable glass bowls or containers with lids. Mason jars and glass mixing bowls come in a variety of sizes and make a wonderful eco-friendly food storage solution.

Give to Those in Need

Volunteering at a local community center during the holiday season is a wonderful way to give thanks for what you have gained in the past year. Lots of local homeless shelters, churches, and restaurants serve Thanksgiving meals to those in need.

Along with your time, you can also give leftovers to your nearest shelter. Or, you can take a hot plate to an elderly neighbor, friend, or family member who might have been unable to make it to your Thanksgiving dinner. A small gesture goes a long way in helping others. Sharing leftovers with those who are struggling is a wonderful way to pay your gratitude forward.

Freeze Food for a Future Meal

Those who live in four-season states know firsthand that Thanksgiving generally sets the stage for the harsh winter weather to follow. There’s nothing handier than pulling leftovers out of the freezer to enjoy as the snow piles up and the cold winds blow.

Food safety tips from Food Network advise refrigerating food within two hours of eating. Leftovers keep for four days in the fridge. Also, when reheating food, only warm up what you will eat at the time. Food can dry out if you heat up the whole leftover container and then put some back in the fridge.

When freezing food, pack it into airtight containers. Leftovers will last in the freezer at 0 degrees Fahrenheit indefinitely. However, they keep their best flavor if used within two or three months. Furthermore, labeling contents and dates on dishes prior to freezing will help you identify them when you eat them later.

Make Some Tasty New Dishes

Everyone loves the classic turkey sandwich. You can pile leftover meat between two slices of bread with mayo or mustard and eat it cold. Or, you can top off the sandwich with mashed potatoes and stuffing, cover it with gravy, and heat it up for a delicious hot turkey version.

Thanks to the digital age, you can also find lots of recipes online to give those Thanksgiving leftovers a tasty new twist.

Turkey chili, turkey casserole, and potato pancakes are popular ideas. Food Network also offers some fun and flavorful options. For example, you can make Mashed Potato Pizza, use leftover green beans in Thanksgiving Fried Rice, mix cranberry sauce into hot oatmeal or cream of wheat, and use leftover stuffing in a scrumptious Brunch Frittata.

Chefs of all skill levels can easily whip up any of these suggested dishes. Or, you can come up with creative ideas of your own. Ultimately, giving new life to your leftovers will help ensure all the food gets eaten and nothing goes to waste.

Compost Food Scraps

Before pitching any leftovers out, consider composting as many scraps as you can to reduce waste. Composting enriches the soil and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. If you’re not sure what to compost, check out these helpful composting tips from the EPA.