5 Ways to Use Your Thanksgiving Leftovers
By O2X Nutrition Specialist, Andrea Chapin (MS, RD, CSSD)
Taking time to consider what we are grateful for and enjoying a Thanksgiving feast might be just what we need right now. But with gatherings likely to be much smaller this season, you might have more leftovers than usual.
Luckily, you can avoid food-waste, while watching your waistline at the same time. Thanksgiving leftovers don’t have to derail all the hard work you’ve put into meeting your health and wellness goals this year.
Before we get to the good stuff, we want to look at safety first! This may seem obvious, but, honestly, when was the last time you checked your refrigerator settings? Before storing any of your leftovers, check your fridge temperature. Refrigerators should be 40°F or lower. Higher temps are unsafe (danger zone= 40°F to 140°F). All leftovers should be refrigerated within two hours of leaving the oven. Leftovers should be eaten within four days – so devour by Monday. As always, when in doubt, throw it out.
Okay, now back to the main course. While it may be tempting, you don’t want to eat a full Thanksgiving meal for the next four days. There are plenty of creative ways to use leftovers in a healthier (and less predictable) way.
Incorporate leftovers into different meals that fold into your typical diet with these 5 ideas:
- Breakfast hash. Add leftover vegetable sides into a breakfast hash by simply adding eggs. Brussels sprouts are especially high in vitamin K, which is important for bone health, antioxidant vitamin C, and fiber – this will fill you up in fewer calories and helps keep you regular.
- Stuffing remake. Create turkey and stuffing stuffed peppers by combining dark turkey meat (which has more micronutrients), white meat, and stuffing. Stuff the mixture into a large bell pepper that either has the top cut off, or has been halved. Broil in the oven until the peppers are soft and stuffing/turkey has reheated to a safe temp of 165°F.
- Leftover muffins. Take a muffin tin and press leftover stuffing, vegetables, or potatoes into the bottom half. Whisk eggs, or use a carton of egg whites to fill the remainder. Bake at 350°F until the egg is cooked. High protein snack on hand!
- Sweet potato waffles or pancakes. The complex carbohydrates provided by these starchy root vegetables will provide all day energy. All potato varieties are chock-full of potassium, which is needed for muscle contraction and can help counteract the negative effects sodium has on blood pressure. Instead of syrup or whipped cream, top with nonfat plain Greek yogurt and nuts or berries.
- Cranberry Sauce Meatballs. Re-purpose homemade cranberry sauce for meatballs. Use lean (>90%) ground beef or ground turkey for the meatballs to get all the protein with minimal saturated fat.
Whether you use these ideas, or have a favorite of your own, it’s always good to separate what’s left into portions. Divide leftovers into smaller containers so food cools faster; this also sets you up for quick grab and go meals. Create lighter meals in days following the feast by structuring your plate like this: ¼ plate (or palm size) of protein and make vegetables double the serving size of carbs. Put your vegetables in clear containers at eye level in the front of your fridge; you’re more likely to eat what you see!
You can also take advantage of extra energy from carbs. If you do have leftover pie (or other sweets), eat the carbohydrate-rich filling and leave the high fat crust—eat this before or after your training or the most active part of your day—that way your body will put the quick energy to use to fuel muscles, or replenish glycogen. Bonus tip: add a dollop of pumpkin pie filling to your pre-workout oatmeal, or recovery protein smoothie! The further out from training, ease up on carbohydrate rich foods and prioritize protein and produce on your plate. Since Thanksgiving is typically a heavier day of eating, take advantage of the extra energy you’ve consumed and hit some heavy workouts in the days following. This is a great time to retest a benchmark workout or go for a PR.
Enjoy your leftovers!