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Foods

20 Healthy Ideas for Thanksgiving and Holiday Leftovers

Turkey Lettuce Wrap 
Author
Natalie Stein

Exercise, Fitness & Nutrition Expert | Lark Health

In this article: 

  • Leftovers are usually abundant after Thanksgiving. They can be high in calories. Many recipes using Thanksgiving leftovers are high in calories.
  • Recipes with leftovers can be healthy. Skinless turkey, vegetables, and fruit are nutrient-dense ingredients that are often ready to be used after Thanksgiving.
  • Guests will be happy to take home many of the less-healthy leftovers as they depart from the meal. You can also give away leftovers to neighbors and friends. It is okay to throw away leftovers that nobody else wants and that you cannot fit into your healthy eating plan.
  • Lark can help you stay on track this holiday season. With small changes, you can eat healthily and enjoy the foods you love.

Thanksgiving is the biggest eating day of the year for Americans – and that only includes the meal itself! What do you do with leftovers such as turkey, sides, and salads? These are some ways to use them or get rid of them without putting a damper on weight loss.

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1. Turkey Vegetable Soup


Turkey Vegetable Soup

Some people shy away from homemade soups because they do not know how to make it. That is a shame because it is so easy. It is nearly impossible to mess up a soup recipe. And it is easy to make it healthy. Put onions, carrots, and celery into a pot with low-sodium broth. Bring it to a boil, lower it to a simmer, add diced cooked skinless turkey, and cook until the vegetables are soft. These are other additions to consider.

  • A whole grain, such as barley, brown rice, whole-wheat spaghetti, or quinoa
  • Black pepper, bay leaves (remove them before serving), sage, basil
  • Beans
  • Cabbage, zucchini, snap peas, or any other vegetable
  • Potatoes, sweet potatoes, corn, or winter squash

You can make a thick, fiber-filled pea or lentil soup by adding 1 pound of dried split peas or lentils and extra water or broth, and cooking the soup for hours until the peas or lentils are incorporated. You do not even need to puree the soup because the peas or lentils blend into the soup as it cooks.

2. Turkey Kebabs


Turkey Kebabs

You can put anything on a stick and call it a meal or snack. Turkey is a good start, and you can add pieces of raw fruit or vegetables. Add a small amount of cheese cubes or even dry, toasted stuffing to finish off your kebabs.

3. Turkey Sandwiches


This version is more nutritious than many others, but it is still delicious. Start with whole-grain bread or pita. Spread it with 1 tablespoon of a creamy leftover of your choice, such as cheese ball, creamy dip, or creamy mashed potatoes. Add 1 to 2 teaspoons of deli, dijon, or yellow mustard. Stuff the bread with skinless turkey and leftover salad or plain greens and sliced tomatoes.

4. Shepherd’s Pie


Diced leftover turkey mixed with broth-based gravy and diced onions can be a great base instead of ground beef. The middle layer is traditionally green peas, but you can use any leftover vegetable, such as roasted brussels sprouts. For the top, dilute mashed potatoes with pureed cooked cauliflower. 

5. Turkey Bahn Mi


Mix shredded coleslaw mix (or carrots, cabbage, and/or broccoli) and julienned cucumber with sesame oil, fresh minced ginger, and lime juice. Heat the turkey in with sweet chili sauce. Spread 1 tablespoon of cranberry relish on a whole-grain bun (or whole-grain bread), and top with the turkey and slaw.

6. Turkey Lettuce Wrap 


Turkey Lettuce Wrap 

This is also Asian-inspired. Mix diced skinless leftover turkey with low-sodium soy sauce, oyster sauce, sesame oil, fresh peeled and minced ginger, and diced green onion. Have additional toppings such as chopped peanuts, grated carrots, sliced cucumber, and leftover pomegranate seeds. Roll them up into leaves of lettuce. If you or the children prefer, you can use a whole-wheat tortilla instead of a lettuce leaves to wrap the fillings.

7. Cranberry Oatmeal


Mix oatmeal with cranberry relish and walnuts or pecans. For a higher-protein version, try overnight oatmeal using yogurt, cottage cheese, or milk instead of water for the oatmeal. You can add any additional fruit you have. It is a good way to use leftover fruit from a fruit platter or dessert tray.

8. Breakfast Hash


In a skillet, heat cooking spray and add chopped onions, bell peppers, or other vegetables. Let them start to cook, then add diced or shredded leftover skinless turkey and spices such as cumin, paprika, chili powder, and black pepper, along with a splash of water or low-sodium broth. Heat the turkey, then add 1 egg or 2 egg whites and let the egg cook. You can also use leftover cooked sweet potatoes, squash, or potatoes. 

9. Baked Squash


Baked Squash

Did you stock up on winter squash but get distracted before you got a chance to use them? Excellent! Slice acorn, butternut, or delicata squash, drizzle it with olive oil, and bake it halfway. Then top them with a mixture of cooked quinoa mixed with cooked vegetables. You can add cheese, such as feta or blue cheese, near the end of cooking.

10. Sweet Potato Salad


Take potato salad to the next level with a seasonal salad with cooked sweet potato or winter squash. Mix it with cranberries or cranberry relish, pumpkin seeds, diced onion and celery, and fresh sage. You can use plain yogurt or pureed avocado for creaminess, or, if you have leftover broth-based gravy, try a bit of gravy with plain yogurt.

11. Turkey Tacos


Top small whole-grain tortillas with diced turkey mixed with Mexican seasoning, shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, and shredded cheese. Or try combinations such as turkey with shredded cabbage and picante sauce. This is one that the children can make for themselves and everyone can enjoy together.

12. Turkey Salad


This is healthy and simple. Make a foundation with lettuce, spinach, or other greens. You can use any undressed salad that is left over from Thanksgiving. Top your salad with turkey, raw or cooked vegetables, a few nuts, and pomegranate seeds or fruit from appetizers or fruit platter at dessert that nobody touched. Cranberry relish and mustard can combine to make a tasty dressing.

13. Roasted Vegetables


Roasted Vegetables

This can give you a few more days to eat up leftover crudites and any other prepared raw vegetables. And it is super easy. Add raw vegetables to a baking dish along with ½ to 1 cup of low-sodium chicken broth. Cover the dish with an oven-safe lid or foil and bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes or until the vegetables start to become tender. If you want, uncover for the last 10 minutes of baking and top with low-fat shredded or crumbled cheese, such as mozzarella, cheddar, swiss, goat, or feta.

14. Breakfast Casserole 


This is another way to use up crudites, leftover greens, and other prepared raw vegetables. Toss chopped vegetables with oats and beaten egg whites, put the mixture into a baking dish, and bake until the eggs have set. Plan to use ½ to 1 cup of vegetables, ½ cup of oats, ½ cup of water, and 1 egg white per person. You can add diced turkey and herbs such as sage, marjoram, or basil.

15. Turkey Pizza


Are you sick of Thanksgiving flavors, but too tired of cooking to consider making anything new? Hold on just a minute before ordering pizza. You can make your own with leftovers. If you have nice slices of turkey breast, spread them with pizza or tomato sauce and top them with leftover cheese or a spoonful of leftover cheese ball from Thanksgiving dinner. Add any vegetables, such as leftover baked brussels sprouts or crudites, and toast the pizza until the cheese melts.

16. Sweet Potato Hummus


Sweet Potato Hummus

Put 1 to 2 cups of leftover sweet potato casserole or baked sweet potatoes in a blender with lemon juice, lemon zest, pepper, tahini or olive oil, and cooked white beans. You can also add herbs or spices such as mint or basil leaves, garlic, or onion powder. Use it as a dip for leftover crudites, as a topping for leftover turkey, or as a spread for a wrap or sandwich. 

17. Fruit Oatmeal


Did you serve some beautiful fruit at Thanksgiving dinner? Did it go untouched next to the plethora of pies? It can up your oatmeal game! Just top a bowl of oatmeal with ½ cup to 1 cup of cut fruit, such as pineapple, pears, persimmons, or mandarins. A high-protein version can be made the night before with yogurt or cottage cheese.

18. Baked Apples


Baked Apples

If you were not lucky enough to have them on Thanksgiving, try them instead of eating apple pie the next day. Core and halve apples, top them with cinnamon and a teaspoon of brown sugar, add a splash of water to the pan, and bake them in the oven until they soften. Or, slice apples or pears and stew them in a pot with cinnamon. They come out so sweet that you may wonder why anyone would add as much sugar as in a pie. If you miss the crunch of the crust, add some oats or chopped pecans.

19. Pumpkin Cheesecake


Try this if that pumpkin pie is your absolute favorite thing in the world, and throwing it or even giving it away would break your heart. Take half of a slice without crust. Blend it with ¼ cup of cottage cheese and 1 beaten egg white. Bake it until the egg is set, and enjoy! You have cut calories, carbohydrates, and sugar, and added protein, while keeping the same flavors.

20. Thanksgiving Again Turkey Casserole


This is a perfect recipe for using up extra wild or brown rice if you bought more than you needed for your stuffing. Cook the rice in low-sodium broth. You can also use leftover rice stuffing, especially if you made it with healthy ingredients such as vegetables and nuts. Mix it with chopped skinless turkey, a bit of broth-based gravy, 1 chopped apple, ½ cup of cranberry relish or ¼ cup of fresh cranberries, and plenty of cooked vegetables, such as onions, carrots, celery, or brussels sprouts. Seasonings can include sage, poultry seasoning, onion powder, or garlic powder.

21. Getting Rid of Them


Some leftovers may not fit into your healthy eating plan. Bread or cornbread stuffing, mashed potatoes with gravy, desserts, and creamy salads or dips are examples. It is best to give these leftovers away. You might ask guests to take these leftovers home with them at the end of the meal. Make it easier for them by providing portable to-go containers or boxes to pack.

22. Donating Them


The Department of Agriculture (USDA) reports that more than 1 in 10 households in the US has had at least some difficulty getting enough nutritious food in the past year. Most food banks will not take prepared foods, but there may be some groceries that you bought for Thanksgiving but did not use. Boxes of stuffing or mashed potatoes, canned yams or cranberry sauce, and 

23. Throwing Them Away


The USDA estimates that 30 to 40% of food is wasted in this country. This food goes into landfills, requires valuable labor and other resources to produce, and has an environmental impact. Throwing food away is not desirable, but neither is using your body as a trash can. If you eat leftovers just to avoid throwing them away, you are not doing anybody any good. Throw the extra food away this year if nobody else wants it. Next year, you can try to plan better to avoid having too much extra food sitting around.

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Lark can help you stay on track during the holiday season. Lark’s nutrition and weight loss coaching includes daily check-ins, meal logging features, and instant feedback. And if motivation is what you need during this busy season, Lark is available 24/7 to provide it. 

Healthy eating during the holidays does not mean giving up everything you love. There are ways to fit in your favorites and stay true to tradition while making healthy choices. Lark can help you make small changes that can keep you on track. 

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