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Healthy Ways to Use Holiday Leftovers

November 17, 2021
Healthy Ways to Use Holiday Leftovers - Lark Health

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In this article:

  • Leftovers are common after Christmas or other holiday parties. The healthiest ways to use some of them are to use them in nutritious dishes. 
  • Desserts and some side and other dishes may be so high in calories and low in nutrients that your best bet is to throw or give them away.
  • Sandwiches, soups, casseroles and breakfast dishes can all use up holiday leftovers. They can be quick to make and taste great.
  • Lark can help you stay on track to meet your weight loss and health goals this holiday season and beyond.

Leftovers after a holiday dinner may pile up. Your fridge may be bursting with prepared foods. And your fridge and pantry may have ingredients that you did not use at the holiday meal. 

Is it possible to use leftovers at the same time as you are getting back on track with your regular eating plan for weight loss and health? Yes! Sandwiches can be a great start. And there are many more nutritious ways to use leftovers that can work at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Sandwiches - Try a Turkey Wrap with Goat Cheese and Apple

Turkey Wrap

Sandwiches may be the default for using leftover turkey, chicken, beef, and pork. But they can have excessive carbohydrates, calories, and fat. A turkey and cheese sandwich with mayonnaise can have 1,000 calories and a day's worth of fat!

Instead, these items can make your sandwich more reasonable. 

Instead of… Try using…
White bread or a large white tortilla, bagel, or sandwich roll
1 or 2 ounces of whole grain bread, such as two small slices of whole-wheat bread, 1 whole-grain English muffin, half of a whole-grain pita pocket, or a piece of whole-wheat lavash.
5 ounces of turkey with skin
3 ounces of skinless turkey or chicken, or pork or beef tenderloin
2 tablespoons of mayonnaise
1 to 2 teaspoons of Dijon, deli, yellow, or brown mustard
2 to 3 ounces of provolone, colby, mozzarella, processed, or other mild cheese
1 ounce of blue, feta, goat, parmesan, or other strong cheese
Coleslaw or dressed salad
Lettuce, spinach, or other greens, sliced tomatoes and cucumbers, sprouts

To make a balanced, delicious wrap, start with a small whole-wheat tortilla or a single-portion loaf of whole-wheat lavash. Spread 1 ounce of goat cheese (or another type of cheese left from a cheese plate or in your fridge) or 2 tablespoons of cottage cheese or non-fat cream cheese on the tortilla. On half of the lavash, distribute 2 ounces of chopped cooked skinless turkey, thin slices from 1/2 of a small apple, and your choices of tomato slices, bell pepper strips, chopped lettuce or spinach, or other vegetables. Roll up the tortilla or lavash.

Soups - Try Creamy Vegetable Soup

Creamy Vegetable Soup

Soups are great for using leftovers. You do not need to be a chef to make a healthy and delicious soup. And the list of ingredients that can go into soup is limitless. In general, just choose one of each of the following.

  • Protein, such as leftover turkey, chicken, or pork.
  • Vegetables, such as raw or leftover onions, celery, carrots, brussels sprouts, or green beans.
  • A whole grain or starchy vegetable, such as brown rice, quinoa, barley, butternut squash, or potato.
  • Low-sodium broth.

Stews and chili are similar. Just add ingredients to a pot and cook them with your favorite herbs and spices!

To make a creamy leftover vegetable soup, place leftover cooked, roasted vegetables in a soup pot and fill the pot with low-sodium broth to just cover the vegetables. You can add pepper, sage, thyme, and other seasonings. Heat the vegetables and broth. Then puree the soup with an immersion blender. Add any additional ingredients, such as diced cooked turkey or chicken, or leftover brown rice, and cook for about 15 minutes. Thin the soup with more low-sodium broth if needed.

Salads - Try Thai Turkey Chopped Salad

Try Thai Turkey Chopped Salad

Salads are easy to make and filling. And they can be high or low in calories and nutrients. You decide! 

These items can go into a healthy salad. 

  • Greens, such as leaves of lettuce, spinach, or arugula, or chopped kale or cabbage.
  • Other cooked or raw vegetables, such as grape tomatoes, mushrooms, cut green beans, onions, or brussels sprouts.
  • A small amount of nuts, seeds, or dried or fresh fruit.
  • Leftover cooked turkey, chicken, or tenderloin. 

You may have many of those ingredients left over from the holidays!

For a different flavor, try a Thai Turkey Chopped Salad! Toss these ingredients together.

  • Shredded cabbage or coleslaw mix, chopped spinach or kale, and/or broccoli slaw mix
  • Shredded or grated carrots
  • Shelled edamame or snow peas
  • Diced chives, green onions, or red onions
  • Chopped skinless turkey

Then make a dressing by whisking together these ingredients in a small bowl.

  • Low-sodium soy sauce
  • Creamy peanut butter
  • Fish or oyster sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Lime juice
  • White wine or rice wine vinegar
  • Diced cilantro
  • Minced garlic
  • (Optional) natural low-calorie sweetener to taste, such as stevia or monk fruit

Top your salad with a small amount of any of the following.

  • Shelled edamame or snow peas
  • Chopped peanuts
  • Mandarin or orange wedges, or chunks of mango
  • Bean sprouts 

This salad can be an entire balanced meal in itself.

Casseroles - Try Vegetable Pizza Casserole

Vegetable Pizza Casserole

Casseroles can use up a lot of extra ingredients! A basic casserole might have these leftover elements that you may have prepared for your holiday meal or stocked in your kitchen.

  • A binder or sauce, such as egg, egg white, leftover soup, or yogurt
  • Starch, such as whole-grain bread crumbs, potato, sweet potato, or brown rice
  • Protein, such as chopped skinless turkey or chicken, or black beans
  • Vegetable, such as onions or leftover roast vegetables
  • More flavor, such as from cheese or herbs
  • Something crunchy, such as chopped nuts or seeds

A cheesy vegetable pizza casserole can be easy and healthy. It may have these items.

  • Tomato, pasta, or pizza sauce
  • Cottage cheese or yogurt
  • Roasted and cubed sweet potatoes, butternut squash, or potatoes
  • Cooked vegetables, such as carrots, turnips, beets, onions, bell peppers, mushrooms, or greens
  • Leftover cheese from a cheese plate or a mac and cheese recipe
  • Basil and/or garlic (optional)
  • Toasted whole-grain breadcrumbs or oats, or chopped pecans


Baked Apples

Holiday leftovers can make great snacks. But you may want to stay away from higher-calorie leftovers such as chips with dip, or cookies. Instead, these can be satisfying and nutritious.

  • Raw vegetables served with roasted turnip hummus with roasted turnips, chickpeas, lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic
  • Slices of roasted sweet potato spread with a tablespoon of blue cheese or brie cheese
  • Skewers with cubes of turkey and cooked or raw vegetables
  • Whole-grain taco shell with turkey and salad
  • Baked apple "fries" with cinnamon and olive oil
  • Cut fruit with nuts or seeds


You can even have holiday leftovers for breakfast! If you do not want to prepare anything, it is fine to have healthy leftovers straight from the fridge. Turkey with baked squash and roasted brussels sprouts may not be a traditional breakfast, but it is perfectly healthy! 

Other ideas are breakfast bowls, casseroles, egg muffins, and hash. Pancakes are a great dish for using up cooked squash, sweet potatoes, or mashed potatoes. Mix them with beaten egg or egg whites and seasonings such as garlic powder, pepper, onion powder, sage, and/or oregano. You can add in any leftover cooked vegetables, such as shaved brussels sprouts. You can thin the batter with olive oil or thicken it with whole-grain or almond flour. Bake the pancakes on a greased baking sheet. Serve them with fruit, leftover turkey, or cottage cheese.

Desserts and More: Give, Toss, or Save

There are some leftovers that you and your family may not need if you are trying to get back to eating healthily or losing weight. Extra cookies, pies, fruit cakes, and other desserts may be on that list. So might other high-calorie leftovers such as candied yams, stuffing, and buttery mashed potatoes. These are some ideas.

  • Giving them away to a friend, neighbort, or family member who does not live in your household. A few, though not many, food banks accept prepared foods as donations.
  • Toss them in a trash can. It is not the most elegant solution, but putting food trash in a trash can is better than putting food trash in your body.
  • Save them for another occasion. For example, you may be able to bring frozen appetizers, nuts, cookies, and ingredients for cocktails to a New Year's party.

Holiday leftovers can be tempting, and there are healthy ways to use them that can let you stay on track with your weight loss and health goals. Lark can help. 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. 

Your health insurance might cover Lark at no cost to you. Click here to find out if you may be eligible for Lark!

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