Creative Ways to Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers

Here are some post-Thanksgiving recipe ideas to keep it fun even after the holiday

Maren Caruso

You spend hours cooking up a delicious Thanksgiving meal for your family or friends, and after the festivities you may find yourself with a fridge full of leftovers — and wondering what to do with all that extra food.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average American family throws away approximately 1,600 pounds of uneaten food each year, totally about $1,500. And, unfortunately, food waste during the holidays can be a big problem.



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Reheated leftovers are great, but the turkey gets drier and drier with each day and meals on repeat can get dull. The best way to make the most out of your Thanksgiving leftovers is to get creative: artisanal sandwiches, salads, soup and even pancakes are all possibilities.

While there is no right or wrong way to enjoy Thanksgiving leftovers, it's best to consume within three to four days. And be sure to store it in air-tight containers in the refrigerator to preserve freshness. For longer storing, freezing leftovers can be good for two to three months.

Below are some recipe ideas for making the most out of you Thanksgiving leftovers.

Crockpot Turkey Barley Soup


  • 1 yellow onion chopped
  • 2 cups celery sliced
  • 2 cups carrots chopped
  • 1/4 cup flat leaf parsley chopped
  • 2 cups turkey cooked, shredded
  • 1 cup barley rinsed (or rice)
  • 12 cups homemade turkey stock substitution: 32 oz turkey or chicken broth

Note: Whether you are cooking with rice or barley, you should take the time to rinse them off before using. Add the rice to a fine mesh strainer and run cold water over it, tossing it around a bit using your fingers to get a thorough rinse.


The preparation time is 30 minutes, and the cook time is four hours. It makes up to eight servings.

  1. In a large slow cooker, combine onion, celery, carrots, parsley, turkey, barley and turkey stock. Mix well. Cover and cook on low heat for 6-7 hours of high heat for 4 hours.
  2. Serve hot. Top with extra parsley (or spinach!) if desired.

Butternut Squash Quinoa Salad

A comforting recipe, with the potential to add more (leftover) vegetables.



  • 1/2 small red onion diced (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1 small 2-pound butternut squash peeled, seeded, and cut into 3/4-inch chunks (about 3 1/2 cups)
  • 2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tablespoon maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken stock or vegetable stock or water
  • 3/4 cup uncooked quinoa
  • 1/2 cup reduced-sugar dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup toasted pepitas, pumpkin seeds, or roughly chopped toasted walnuts or pecans
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme or 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Note: Adding a bit of maple syrup to the butternut squash prior to roasting gives it a bit more flavor.


  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon maple syrup
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper


The preparation time is around 15 minutes, cooking time is an estimated 30 minutes. The salad will last in the refrigerator for up to three days.

  1. Place a rack in the center of your oven and preheat the oven to 400 F. Place the red onion in a small bowl and cover with water. Set aside.
  2. Place the butternut squash in the center of a large rimmed baking sheet. Drizzle with olive oil and maple syrup, then sprinkle with 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss to evenly coat, then spread the squash into a single layer. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, turning once, until tender. Remove from the oven and set aside.
  3. While the squash is baking, bring the broth (or water) and quinoa to a boil in a medium pan. If you are using water, add 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Once boiling, reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and let cook 15 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove from the heat and let stand with the lid on for 5 minutes, then transfer to a large serving bowl.
  4. In a small bowl or large measuring cup combine the dressing ingredients: olive oil, vinegar, mustard, maple syrup, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Drizzle enough of the dressing over the warm quinoa to moisten it, then stir to combine.
  5. Scrape the roasted butternut squash and any pan juices into the bowl with the quinoa. Add the cranberries, pepitas, and thyme. Drain the red onion then add it to the bowl. Toss to combine, adding more dressing as desired. Serve warm (or cold!)
  6. Note: No butternut squash? Try swapping any of the leftover diced, cubed sweet potatoes. Adding in extra vegetables such as brussels sprouts, kale and spinach work as well.
If you want to fly home with your favorite Thanksgiving dish and don’t know if you should pack it or not, here are a few tips from the TSA on getting through security.

Parmesan Mashed Potato Cakes

Use these to make sandwiches, serve them up as another savory side or a wonderful snack all on their own.


  • Your leftover mashed potatoes
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/4 cup flour
  • 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese
  • 1/4 cup grated mozzarella
  • 2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
  • Salt
  • Oil, for frying
  • Milk, as needed (can be non-dairy or dairy)
  • Sour cream (optional)
  • Ground pepper


The preparation time is 15 minutes, and the cook time is around the same. The recipe makes about six servings.

  1. In a bowl, mix all ingredients very well. If it is too dry, adjust the consistency with a little milk.
  2. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil.
  3. Pour 1/4 cup batter into hot pan; brown on both sides.
  4. Garnish with a bit of parsley and top with sour cream, if using.

Fried Stuffing Bites With Cranberry Sauce Pesto

The leftover stuffing is formed into two-bite snacks and then served with a cranberry pesto.


  • Leftover stuffing
  • 2 eggs
  • Oil, for frying
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1 cup seasoned breadcrumbs
  • 1 cup cranberry sauce
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup walnuts


The preparation time is 10 minutes, cooking time is an estimated four minutes. The meal cooks up to four to six servings.

  1. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat and add a couple of tablespoons of oil.
  2. Cut leftover stuffing into bite-sized cubes and set aside. In a small bowl whisk eggs and milk. Coat each stuffing bite with this egg wash, then dredge in the bread crumbs until fully coated and set aside.
  3. In a food processor blend cranberry sauce, pepper and walnuts and set aside.
  4. Once oil is at desired temperature fry each piece of stuffing until golden brown about 4 minutes. Drain on a paper towel and serve with cranberry pesto.

Pumpkin Pie Pancakes

Pumpkin pie pancakes are best served with a sweet jam or (leftover!) cranberry sauce.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon pumpkin spice
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled (can use non-butter substitutions)
  • 2 cups milk (non-dairy or dairy)
  • 2 pieces pumpkin pie
  • 2-3 tablespoons of butter for the pan


This recipe makes around 12-16 pancakes. The preparation time is 15 minutes, and cook time is about 20 minutes.

  1. Whisk together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, baking powder, pumpkin spice, baking soda, and salt) in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl mix together the wet ingredients (egg, butter, and milk).
  3. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredient bowl along with the pieces of leftover pumpkin pie. Mix together until just combined.
  4. Heat up a large skillet over medium high. Add 1 tablespoon of butter to the pan. Using 1/4 cup of batter per pancake, add it to the skillet. Cook one side for around 2 minutes, and then flip the pancake to cook for another 2 minutes. Add fresh butter to the pan for each batch.
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