Touchdown Leftovers!

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Do you have a game plan for those leftovers so they don’t end up being wasted? Feeding America estimates that 108 Billion pounds of food is wasted each year. On the consumer level, food waste within the home makes up 39% of that estimate. This food waste comes from uneaten food that is thrown out within the home. People throw food out for a number of reasons. Maybe it has spoiled because you waited too long to eat it, or maybe you get tired of eating the same thing the same way due to purchasing large amounts or having lots of leftovers. The upcoming holidays are typically centered around a meal and can mean you are feeding more people than usual. More mouths to feed may mean needing to double or triple the recipe and can lead to extra ingredients or food when the meal is over.

Having a game plan for use of leftovers after the holiday is important to decrease food waste. When searching for your holiday recipes, go ahead and find a few more that you can use the following days to transform the leftover food items. Making a game plan will require extra thought about what you could possibly have left over after preparing the dish. Sometimes we may not think about that extra onion, potato, or celery stalk. It could even be fun to get your family involved and make a game of who can make the most interesting meal out of the leftovers. Food waste is money waste, so take the time to try out new recipes with your extra ingredients or leftovers.

Make some key plays when transforming your leftovers:

  • Soups and stews are perfect for using the extra meat and vegetables.
  • An egg hash is a great way to utilize your extra greens and sweet potatoes.
  • Casseroles can be topped with your leftover stuffing in place of breadcrumbs.
  • Making a puree out of rooted vegetables such as sweet potatoes or winter squashes can make a great creamy addition to the cheese sauce for pasta dishes or to chilis.
  • Make a seasonal-inspired pizza, flatbread, or quesadilla.

Safe Food Practices When Handling Holiday Leftovers:

  1. After the meal, quickly cool and refrigerate perishable foods at 41 F to reduce food waste.

Why? Perishable foods such as those containing animal products, cooked vegetables, and grains that are left out for more than 4 hours should be thrown away or composted. Bacteria that can make people sick grow quickly when this food is left out at room temperature.

  1. Store refrigerated foods in sealed containers or bags to help prevent spoilage. You can place soups, stew, or dips in shallow containers to allow for quicker cooling times. Eat the leftovers that were stored properly within 7 days.
  2. Reheat leftovers to 165 F, use a food thermometer to ensure a safe reheated temperature.

This year say “put me in coach, I’m ready to use my leftovers”:

White Turkey Chili

Recipe from: UNL Extension


1 tablespoon oil

¼ cup opinion, chopped

1 cup celery

4 cups cooked turkey, chopped

2 can (15.5 oz) Great Northern beans, drained and rinsed

2 cans corn, undrained

1 can (4 oz.)  chopped green chilies

4 cups turkey or chicken broth

1 teaspoon ground cumin


Heat oil in a skillet over medium heat

Add onion and celery and cook, stirring 2-3 minutes

Place all ingredients in a large saucepan. Stir.

Cover and simmer for about an hour.

Optional toppings: mozzarella cheese, avocado, low-fat sour cream or plain Greek yogurt

N.C. Cooperative Extension’s goal is to provide the residents of the community with research-based knowledge. For more information on nutrition, health, food preservation, and food safety in Lee County please contact the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, Ashley Szilvay at 919-775-5624.