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Turning Holiday Leftovers into Healthy Meals


Blog Image: Turning Holiday Leftovers into Healthy Meals

Before we begin to “dig in” (pun intended!), we’re going to share some fun facts and history about leftovers. Repurposing leftovers actually began in ancient times, but those leftovers didn’t become an actual food group until the introduction of in-home ice boxes in the 1840’s. Only the wealthy owned ice-boxes back then and they relied on the daily replacement of frozen ice blocks for cooling! Believe it or not, having leftovers at that time was a sign of prestige, but as refrigeration became more commonplace, “leftovers management” grew into a somewhat of a culinary artform and was practiced by a very broad spectrum of the population. After the food scarcity brought on by the Great Depression and the rationing of World War II, leftovers became the norm for subsequent generations. The monotony of eating the same food every day, however, did play a role in our approach to repurposing leftovers. With the help of cookbooks, society learned how to creatively incorporate variety into leftovers from one meal to the next.

When it comes to leftovers, there are a surprising amount of strong opinions out there. Some people love them, and some people won’t touch them with a 39 and ½ foot pole! And there’s really no definitive answer as to why people respond so differently to eating leftovers (and that’s okay). We even vary on how we treat our leftovers following a holiday gathering; with some snubbing them altogether and attempting to send every holiday guest home with a dish, while others proudly display leftovers in see-through containers that line their refrigerator shelves. But, if you’re about to have a busy weekend that includes participating in Black Friday and Cyber Monday shenanigans (or just a bit of R&R after hosting guests), then we think leftovers are a great solution for creating delicious meals with less fuss and effort. Especially for those of us who find ourselves trying to maintain (or perhaps even begin) a healthier lifestyle.

Thanksgiving doesn’t have to ruin your weight loss plan.

We can all agree that “eating less” is seldom the goal for a day like Thanksgiving, but there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday sensibly while still eating deliciously. Start by first committing to let Thanksgiving be a single-day celebration (rather than a weekend-long extravaganza). And remember, it’s more about stuffing the turkey than it is stuffing your stomach! This way, even if your best intentions do go a little awry and you do happen to eat more than what you planned, it’s just one meal. And one meal isn’t going to cause irreparable damage to your health, your overall well being, or your weight loss program. It’s just one bump on your pathway to a healthy lifestyle, and you can hop right back on track the following meal! 

Make it a two-in-one meal.

For many people “Thanksgiving dinner” is actually more of a combined late lunch or early supper. Knowing this, a great plan of action for Thanksgiving day, then, is to have a well-balanced breakfast in the morning and just a small healthy pre-meal snack (or post-meal snack if your Thanksgiving meal occurs really early on in the day). This paves the way for enjoying the “big meal” as you combine lunch and dinner into “two-meals-in-one”. For MRC Clients, we have a Thanksgiving Menu that lays out a great plan of action for staying healthy and still enjoying and taking part in all of the festivities! Talk to your MRC Coach today.

Thanksgiving - it’s the meal that keeps on giving.

So Thanksgiving has come and gone, and chances are that the following day your refrigerator is chocked full of leftovers such as turkey, roasted veggies, homemade cranberry sauce, and even some tasty cornbread stuffing. In lieu of simply refilling your plate with everything you had just the day before and feasting on “Thanksgiving Meal 2.0”, be selective about what you keep versus what you toss. One great way to repurpose leftovers without simply eating the same large meal you did the day before is by combining your leftovers with lighter foods or other non-traditional holiday recipes. This not only helps to relieve overeating due to food-monotony, but it can also be a tasty and healthy way to use up your leftovers.

Leftover Meats 

A recent survey conducted by the New York Post, found the most popular alternatives to turkey included ham (MRC Clients - omit this item), chicken, and roast beef. So, rather than just repurposing all that meat into an obligatory “day after” sandwich, get creative. Leftovers can be used in numerous ways that are both healthy and delicious. Experiment by reinventing a few of these tried-and-true recipes to use up your extra food in a new and delicious way! 

  • Sandwich Alternatives – Shredded turkey, chicken or beef with a little salsa and leftover beans on a crispy tostada is a great option. Skip the bread and use large lettuce leaves wrapped around leftover meats, chopped veggies, and topped with cranberry sauce.

  • Snacks – Slice a cucumber into sturdy pieces and top with a spoon of cornbread dressing and homemade cranberry sauce. Or use leftover turkey or chicken to make Buffalo Chicken Dip

  • Salads – Fix a Moroccan chicken salad, a roasted pumpkin salad, a butternut squash salad with hazelnuts, a warm sweet potato salad, or just about any healthy grouping of holiday leftovers and fresh greens.

  • Stews – Meats, broth, and bones can be combined with leftover or fresh veggies like celery, peas, and potatoes and come together into a delicious stew. Another popular one-pot dish for holiday leftovers is a Chef’s chili (meat or vegetarian style). 

  • Combos – In addition to pot pies, casseroles, and deep dishes, add fun ethnic ingredients like miso paste, soy sauce or aminos, and ginger to give turkey, chicken, or beef broth a Ramen flavored twist. Pro tip: Miracle Noodles make a great low-carb swap here for MRC clients and those looking to consume less carbohydrates.

Leftover Sides

Leftover sides like cornbread stuffing, cranberry sauce, green beans, mashed potatoes or cauliflower, corn, and roasted veggies can also be used in many creative ways, such as:

  • Soups – Soups are an obvious combination for leftover veggies with cubed or pulled pieces of holiday meats. Plus, you can add healthy herbs and spices to create unique flavors!

  • Veggie Tacos – Leftover vegetables on a soft taco provide a healthier alternative to a traditional sandwich.

  • Omelets – Combine eggs with cubes of turkey, chicken or bacon and mix in some of the leftover veggies.  Try a spicy Mexican omelet or use an egg to turn stuffing into crunchy frittatas.

  • Vinaigrette – Homemade cranberry sauce is usually filled with tart pieces of crushed fruit, which lends itself to a tasty dressing for a sandwich or salad filled with leftover meats.

  • Potato Cakes – For many people, adding an egg to leftover mashed potatoes with bits of savory veggies, and a little cheese makes a nutritious potato pancake. Sweet potatoes can also be used for potato pancakes.

Get Up and Get Moving (just a little bit, though!)

A holiday workout is probably the last thing you want to do after eating a Thanksgiving meal - we know. So how about we call it instead a “holiday stroll”. That’s right, consider a realistic walk 30 minutes before your meal (did you know that aerobic exercise is a natural appetite suppressant?) Or volunteer to help with a charitable event or activity - that’ll get your blood pumping! Whatever your exercise, workout, or physical activity is, though, be sure not to do anything too strenuous.  Overcompensating for a holiday binge with hard-core exercises or training (outside of your regularly scheduled fitness routines) can be a recipe for an unexpected injury, and not to mention, added stress (and we’ve all got plenty of that during the holiday season as it is!).

Ultimately - and as with many things - the key is to find balance. Any movement can be turned into good movement. Whether you’re taking yourself all the way to the gym or simply taking a stroll around the neighborhood in between preparing your Thanksgiving meal. For many of us, the holidays are a time we see family and friends that we may not have seen as regularly throughout the year. So, instead of sitting around the table to catch up with one another, why not take that conversation outside? This way you can burn off extra energy and still enjoy everyone’s company.

It’s the perfect time to take control.

Thanksgiving Day through the New Year is a busy time of year, but busy is not the same as out of control. You CAN be in control. Now that you’ve got the know-how to utilize holiday leftovers in a nutritious way, you can make positive differences during this most challenging time of year. And if you do fall off for a meal (or two), getting back on track doesn’t have to be daunting. It’s all about being prepared and giving yourself options when it comes to eating leftover foods. Don’t limit yourself to sandwiches slathered in mayo with high-carb sides or the monotony of recreating your Thanksgiving feast over and over again. If you’ve got foods at your dinner that you know are too tempting, then just send them home with other guests! After all, out of sight - out of mind!

Thanksgiving - it’s just one day!

Lastly, remember, it’s Thanksgiving Day - not Thanksgiving Week or Thanksgiving Month. If you overeat, then go ahead and collapse into your food coma; but nix the guilt and self-berating! Acknowledge, reflect, and simply move forward with your healthy lifestyle. Avoid dwelling on “mistakes” as this can lead to wanting to simply “give up” and “give it a go after the new year”. There’s nothing stopping you from remaining in control and making healthier choices for your body. Enjoy Thanksgiving on this day and refuse to be tempted with making leftover mini-feasts. Not sure where to start, talk to an MRC Coach to get a strong plan of action in place for Thanksgiving and the following days and leftovers.

These tips are here to help you plan for success and get the ball rolling.If you find yourself in need of some extra support to get back on track, though, contact a Weight Loss Specialist at Metabolic Research Center. The next step is right here: Get Started Today!

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