person placing a pot on table during thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Leftovers: Ideas to Reduce your Food Waste

By: Kelly D’Amico and Emma Dendler

Every year, millions of Americans gather around and celebrate with friends and family for Thanksgiving. Without fail, this feast leaves leftovers. Inevitably, you’ll get sick of eating your leftovers, and many of them don’t freeze well, leaving them to go to waste. In fact, the University of Minnesota estimates that each year, 305 million pounds of food are wasted from the dinner alone! Sure you can invite people over to help you finish your leftovers, but if you’re left wondering what to do with your Thanksgiving Leftovers, we’ve got you covered. Besides, it’s more fun to give you Thanksgiving leftover ideas that taste great and reduce food waste. That’s why I’m teaming up with my friend Emma over at TheSimpleEnvironmentalist to share ten tips on what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers to ensure they are eaten before they go to waste! These tips will help you now only figure out how to use your Thanksgiving leftovers but elevate your Thanksgiving leftovers in new and creative ways.

If you want to do something about food waste thanksgiving this year, we’re sharing thanksgiving dinner leftover recipes that make delicious meals with only a little bit of extra work on your end. We’re focusing on traditional thanksgiving leftovers, but these may turn into new favorite traditions of the weekend. But if you need a sustainable thanksgiving dinner menu, check out our post here! Check out the video here.

Reusing apple scraps from making apple pie

Don’t let all those scraps go to waste when they’re still good to use! Instead, make apple scrap vinegar which can be used like you would use apple cider vinegar. The main difference in that apple scrap vinegar is quicker and doesn’t contain the “mother” that apple cider vinegar. This first idea for thanksgiving leftovers ideas is super simple and easy to make.

All you need is your scraps in a large, clean jar. Next fill it with water, but measure as you do so. You want the scraps just covered with water, not a lot more than that. For me, this is usually around 2 cups. The last ingredient is sugar. You need 1 tbsp of sugar per 1 cup of water (hence the measuring). So, if you use 2 cups of water, add 2 tbsp of sugar and mix with a wooden spoon, avoid metal if possible. 


Cover your jar with some cloth or paper towel and secure with a rubber band to allow air flow. Let ferment in a cool dark place (a pantry is a good spot) for about 4 weeks. You can go longer if you want it to be stronger and more tart/sour. Drain and store as you would store-bought ACV and use however you prefer!

Don’t forget to compost the scraps when you’re done!

bowl of potato pancakes with salad and sauce for thanksgiving leftover ideas

Ideas for Using Thanksgiving Leftovers: Make Mashed Potato Pancakes

The first idea for what to do with thanksgiving leftovers is to make crispy potato pancakes with leftover mashed potatoes. Mashed potatoes are one of my favorite comfort foods and one of my favorite Thanksgiving sides. If you inevitably end up with too many mashed potatoes, they hold up great for leftovers! But if you’re tired from eating them three days in a row, we’ve got a couple of ideas for you to bring them back to life.

One of my favorite ways to eat mashed potatoes is to make a big mashed potato bowl. Whenever my sister comes over, she always asks if we can make mashed potato bowls and it’s so easy. Think of it like a blank canvas for putting whatever you want on it. Some of my favorites are broccoli, baked beans, and pepperjack cheese.

A new way that I’m looking into using my leftover mashed potatoes this year is by making potato pancakes! Potato pancakes are really easy to make, and you only need a few ingredients like eggs, flour, and salt. You can add things like spices or Parmesan cheese to enhance the flavor. Mix everything together and pan-fry until golden and crispy. This is the perfect recipe to use leftover potatoes because it’s a delicious way to enjoy thanksgiving leftovers. I’ve linked a recipe here for you to check out!


Using leftover bread rolls to make Bread Pudding

Don’t let those stale or about-to-go-bad rolls go to waste, let’s make bread pudding! This is one of my favorite ways to reuse bread cause it’s so tasty and can be eaten for breakfast or dessert and made vegan really easily. 

All you need is your old bread, your favorite toppings such as raisins and nuts, some spices and sweetener for flavor, and some milk. This is Emma’s favorite recipe from Connoisseurus Veg.

bowl of cranberry sauce with lemon slice and chopstick for ideas on how to use your thanksgiving leftovers

Thanksgiving Leftovers – Ideas for Cranberry Sauce

For some reason, cranberry sauce is super polarizing, but it’s also the only acidic item on the Thanksgiving table. This means when you pair it with your turkey or your stuffing, you get bursts of flavor. In my family, there’s never any leftover cranberry sauce, but if there is for you, you should try to turn it into a dip!

Cranberries have a lot of pectin in them, which makes them firm and jelly-like. You might need to use a blender or a food processor to break this down a bit more as you make your sauce. You’ll only need a few ingredients like cream cheese, mayo, or sour cream, and mix it together until you get your desired consistency. 

You can also melt it down on the stove and mix it with orange juice for a sweet and tangy glaze over a dessert like ice cream or waffles. one last idea for leftover cranberry sauce is to add it into a puff pastry with a young aged cheese like Brie or Camembert for an easy and tasty side dish!

How to use your thanksgiving leftovers: make croutons

Using leftover dinner biscuits for Croutons

Another great way to reuse bread is by making croutons. Really, you could make croutons or bread pudding with either bread, this would just be my preferred choice for each. Anyway, croutons are SO easy and so versatile to use once they’re done.

Here’s how you do it:

  • Gather your bread of choice, cut into cubes and layed out on a baking tray
  • Drizzle with olive oil, butter, or other choice of oil. Give it a quick toss
  • Sprinkle on your favorite seasonings. I personally like salt, pepper, garlic, oregano, and rosemary!
  • Bake at 300F for about 20-30 minutes until golden brown and crisp. Remember they will firm up as they cool so try not to overcook them!
  • Store in an air-tight container and use within a month
fried cheese bits served on paper from leftovers

Mac and Cheese to Mac and Cheese Bites

Not every family has mac and cheese or vegan mac and cheese at thanksgiving, but for those that do, there’s always leftovers. Thanksgiving food is so heavy that no one can eat enough mac and cheese along with all of the other thanksgiving sides. If you want to liven up your mac and cheese, you can try to pair it with this vegan bbq jack fruit or with these crispy roasted mushrooms.

If that’s not really your thing, you can make mac and cheese bites! Because the sauce of the mac and cheese binds them together, all you’ll need to do is shape, coat, and fry them! Some simple instructions look Something like this: take the Mac and cheese and roll them into small balls. Place balls on baking sheets and place the, in the freezer for about 30 minutes. Then coat the Mac and cheese balls with egg or plant based milk and then coat them with bread crumbs. After they are coated, you can fry them in oil. Serve hot and enjoy!

sandwich with salad on a plate

How to use ALL your leftovers: The Thanksgiving Leftover Sandwich

Of course, we have to talk about the classic holiday leftover sandwich. This isn’t for everyone, I know, but listen, it can be really good. Here’s how I would build my perfect leftovers sandwich:

  • Start with leftover roll or biscuit
  • Pick your sauce for the bottom bun: gravy, cranberry sauce, butter, etc
  • Add your protein (turkey or vegan roast)
  • Pick a vegetable: green bean casserole, roasted veggies, etc
  • Add a carb: mashed potatoes, scalloped potatoes, stuffing, etc
  • Add more sauce if you’re feeling it
  • Add the top bun and enjoy!

My biggest tip here is to not over-do it. Don’t add every single leftover item to each sandwich. The flavors might not work together and it can get messy fast. Instead, make multiple little sandwiches on your roll/biscuit and find a flavor combo you love!

delicious ice cream on plate with apple pie for thanksgiving leftovers ideas

Apple Pie/Pumpkin Pie Ice Cream!

Ah the American Classic Thanksgiving Dessert: Apple Pie and Pumpkin Pie. We’re more savory people at my house, so we always have leftover dessert. If you’re tired of eating apple pie or pumpkin pie, try this instead! Make an apple pie or pumpkin pie ice cream!

You’ve likely bought ice cream to serve your pie a-la-mode, so you can take these two and put them in a blender together to make a special treat! I’ve seen many ice cream brands make these flavors seasonally, so why not do it at home! Enjoy the novelty of fall flavors at home with ingredients you already have!

You may want to put it back in the freezer once it’s blended for a more realistic ice cream experience, or you can make it into a milkshake. Regardless of which way you make it, you’ll definitely enjoy it!

Thanksgiving leftover sandwich

Don’t let that turkey go to waste! – Make a Leftover Breakfast Sandwich

I know it’s common to just use that turkey on your leftovers sandwich we just went over, but let’s get creative with it for this one with a turkey breakfast sandwich. I don’t eat meat, so you could do this with vegan swaps too, but my friend and I went to a cafe recently and she got a turkey breakfast sandwich. It was so unique and she loved it so I figured I would use that inspiration for this food waste fighting breakfast idea.

All you need is:

  • Breakfast sandwich bread of choice: toast, bagel, english muffin
  • Turkey or vegan roast slices
  • Egg cooked to your liking or vegan egg
  • Pick a sauce of choice. The cafe use garlic aioli, but you could use garlic butter, mayo, or even go thanksgiving themed and use cranberry sauce
  • Take it a step further and add some veggies: avocado, tomato, pepper, whatever you feel like

That’s it! A creative breakfast take on a leftovers sandwich!

how to use your thanksgiving leftovers is to make stuffing waffles

Stuffing – Make Stuffing Waffles!

In my family, stuffing is usually the first side dish to be finished. But In case you have some leftovers, here’s some ideas for you! This one is really easy – we’re going to make savory stuffing waffles!

All you’ll need to do is take your leftover stuffing, and put it in a greased waffle maker to make stuffing waffles! The fat from the stuffing makes you this waffle extra crispy the waffle shape makes it easy to pick up sauces. This is super easy to do, and really tasty for a quick and easy treat. Best of all, you can pair your stuffing waffles with you newly revived cranberry dipping sauce or leftover gravy. 

Check out the video above to see how we did it!


Bonus Thanksgiving Leftover Ideas:

  • Turkey stock
  • Turkey salad
  • Make a delicious soup with leftover veggies 
  • Leftover turkey pot pie

We hope this list of ideas on how to use thanksgiving leftovers inspires you to enjoy your thanksgiving meal for the rest of the weekend. We tried to think of ideas beyond turkey leftovers and make the best use of thanksgiving leftovers. We’d love to hear what your favorite holiday leftovers recipes! 

Check out some other great content from The Simple Environmentalist like zero waste gift wrapping ideas, How to have an eco-friendly Thanksgiving, and the environmental impact of Black Friday


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