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Make the Most of Your Holiday Leftovers

There’s no doubt preparing a holiday spread filled with your family’s favorite dishes takes time, energy and money. It’s a labor of love that equates to about $50 for a 10-person meal at Thanksgiving. While that seems like a steal for comfort foods, holiday leftovers are certainly something you don’t want to waste, especially when it comes to the turkey.

Americans love turkey. We eat about 46 million on Thanksgiving day, which accounts for 20 percent of the 228 million turkeys eaten each year. South Dakota’s soybean farmers contribute to your holiday feast by raising 5 million of those turkeys—enough for six turkeys for every person in South Dakota! It’s a known fact: keeping turkeys in care and comfort is the number one goal of farmers. Dennis Thomas, CFO of Dakota Provisions, works with growers and knows that they live their . Turkeys live in an indoor facility with plenty ventilation, protecting them from predators while giving them access to fresh air.

But enough turkey talk—you can find more in our Across The Table video—it’s time to explore the safest ways to refrigerate, reheat and freeze leftovers as well as some ideas for transforming them into meals.  

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Start by removing food from the table within two hours of serving. It may be tempting to simply pop on the top and leave it in the serving dish, but leftovers stay safer, longer if you package them in clean, airtight containers. Help them cool quickly by packing food in shallow containers with more surface area. Avoid stacking them so heat escapes. Leftovers can be kept in the refrigerator for up to four days.


When reheating leftovers later, only warm up the amount you want to serve. Reheating foods multiple times contributes to loss of flavor and moisture. Use a thermometer to make sure you’re achieving the safe temp of 165 degrees F. Sauces, soups and gravies should come to a full boil and cool again before you dig in.


If you don’t eat your leftovers within a few days, it’s time to transfer them to the freezer. Hint: The sooner you make the transfer the better they taste.

Pack side dishes like stuffing and mashed potatoes in airtight freezer containers or plastic freezer bags. Leave some space at the top of the container for liquids like soup or gravy to expand. Avoid stacking containers until the food inside is frozen solid. Wrap sliced turkey meat in freezer paper or foil, then seal in plastic freezer bags. Make sure to press out all the air before sealing.

Leftovers can technically be kept indefinitely as long as they’re stored at 0 degrees F, but they taste best when eaten within two or three months.

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Get Creative

Having a plan to get creative with leftovers can help them disappear quickly. Here are a few meal ideas from Sioux Falls Hy-Vee Dietitian Anna Heronimus.

  • Hearty Harvest Stew: Start with leftover gravy with the fat skimmed away before making gravy as the base. Add leftover turkey and veggies. Thicken with mashed or sweet potatoes. Cook to 165°F.
  • Turkey-Berry Wrap: Spread wrap with cranberry sauce, add sliced turkey and shredded greens in whole-wheat tortillas. Sprinkle in toasted pecans for satisfying crunch.
  • Cranberry Smoothies: Blend cranberries, frozen yogurt and orange juice for a cool treat.
  • Crunchy Turkey Salad: Combine cubed turkey, celery, apples and light mayo with shredded baby spinach for a light meal.

Want to create room in your refrigerator ahead of the holidays by throwing out foods that are past their shelf life? Here’s a guide to help you know what to keep and what to throw.