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Healthy Leftover Hacks For Thanksgiving

We've all faced the refrigerator the Friday after Thanksgiving. We stare it down with a mix of anxiety and wonderment thinking, "Where's all of this food going to go?" For most of us, it ends up in the trash at some point because let's be honest there's only so much of a shelf life for food items, right? You may not realize though the average American family can waste around $1200 worth of food annually. $1200 is a high dollar amount when you think of how expensive groceries are in the first place.

What if there was a better and even healthier way to store and keep those leftovers so you could enjoy them in the days, weeks, even months after Thanksgiving? We asked Ashley Littleton for some advice on how to keep your waistline in check in the days after Turkey Day, and also how to make good use of the food while minimizing waste!

"My favorite leftover is turkey, and it's probably one of the better leftovers for you," said Ashley. Turkey is usually one of the larger meal items people struggle with not wasting in the days after Thanksgiving. Turkey as a main dish can be dry once cooled, and upon freezing can turn even drier or tough. The significant challenge remains to keep the flavor and as much moisture as you can. One idea is to make a bone broth or soup. "You can take some of the leftover pieces of stuffing like often we throw away the inside of the celery, the celery heart, and that would be amazing for that bone broth, for sure. Making even a good turkey soup out of it, so maybe if you had roasted potatoes that are diced, you could throw them into that kind of soup as well."

Broths and soups also freeze well and last for some time in long-term freezer tight packaging. The added benefit of a bone broth is that you can almost immediately repurpose it at Christmas time, or for chicken or turkey soups throughout the winter season. One of the more helpful food items in the kitchen, a broth can be repurposed time and again and is a handy tool for adding flavor to many dishes year round.

At Thanksgiving especially, we all usually end up making way more food than on an average Thursday, "We all tend to over prepare. I'm guilty of that math if we're having only five people and I want to plan like I'm having 30. But I have no qualms about making a 20-pound turkey for those five people," laughed Littleton. But Ashley also has a plan for making frozen meals. "We all get busy [in the Holiday season]. And if I know that I'm going to have leftovers from Thanksgiving in the freezer, it can help me make better choices."

Ashley herself often uses Thanksgiving leftovers to get through the Holiday season with more of a strategy in mind, and she makes the same recommendations to patients. "Often when we're trying to be healthier it's because typically we are not planning very well and convenience rules over maybe having a good plan." What tools can you use to make good use of those leftovers in the weeks ahead? "I love some of those containers like the Ziploc containers that you can freeze whole meals in, they only allow for a certain amount of space."

As for portions, Littleton advises working to include healthier items like turkey and vegetables in good proportion, "We're shooting for maybe adding more protein and vegetables to some of the bigger sections of the container. Hopefully, ones that aren't with a lot of butter or salt, or a lot of extra sweetness. Using those big portions for healthier items will help us just get through when the winter months are busy." Another tip: When you reheat frozen turkey, maybe add a ceramic or glass ramekin of water to the corner of the microwave to add some moisture or humidity to the air while it cooks.

Great items to include in your prepackaged meals? "If you can make some roasted vegetables [for Thanksgiving], there will probably be some leftover, that in and of itself is a great additive to a frozen meal. And then even having the small section of that frozen container, even if it does have the mashed potatoes, or the stuffing, that's still an appropriate meal pattern, and a good meal to have on hand, especially when things get crazy."

Other suggestions include repurposing cranberry sauce as a light dressing on open-faced turkey sandwiches in the days after the big day. Maybe even take spoonfuls of cranberry sauce or leftover pumpkin pie and whip them (individually of course) into vanilla or plain yogurt for just a hint of decadence.

A great strategy, coupled with an idea of portion control, and some tools for storage on hand can go a long way to keeping the healthier elements of your Thanksgiving table still in play for weeks. Do you have some great ideas that have worked for you? Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page!