How To Turn Your Holiday Leftovers Into Healthier Meals And Snacks

When the holidays—rife with office potlucks and family feasts—have come and gone, most of us are feeling overstuffed and ready to get back on the healthy eating bandwagon. But with fridges chock-full of holiday leftovers, that can seem like an impossible task. Luckily, with a little creativity, you can turn those leftover holiday foods into more nutritious eats. Here’s how to completely transform your cranberry sauce, turkey, and more.

Leftover Cranberry Sauce

We all love the sweet, tangy flavor of cranberry sauce, and it’s an easy ingredient to reinvent after the holidays are over.

Cranberry Vinaigrette

Not only is this dressing, created by plant-based chef and culinary nutritionist Catherine Brown, delightful on salad, but it’s also great on leftover roasted veggies.

Whisk together the following ingredients:

  • 2 Tbsp red wine or apple cider vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp cranberry sauce
  • 1 Tbsp minced shallot or red onion
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 2 tsp Dijon mustard

As you whisk, slowly drizzle in 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in until fully incorporated. Thin with orange juice, water or more vinegar, if needed.

Cranberry Parfait

Another quick tip: Stir a little cranberry sauce into plain Greek yogurt or cottage cheese for a tasty, high-protein breakfast or snack.

Leftover Turkey

Besides being tasty, turkey is rich in nutrients like vitamin B6, vitamin B12, niacin, choline, selenium, and zinc. Plus, just three ounces supplies a whopping 26 grams of protein. But there are only so many turkey sandwiches one can make before their taste buds go dry….

Turmeric Turkey Pot Pie

Whether I’ve got leftover white meat, dark meat, or a combo of both, I love to use it in this updated turkey pot pie recipe:.

Add the following to a big bowl:

  • 3 cups chopped cooked or frozen veggies
  • 2 cups chopped turkey
  • 2 cans of low-sodium cream of mushroom soup
  • turmeric powder to taste (you can also use curry or smoked paprika)

Add your mixture to a sprayed casserole dish, top with crisscrossed strips of whole-wheat pastry dough, and bake at 375 degrees until pastry is golden brown. (About 45 minutes.)

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To make this dish ‘cleaner,’ make your own cream of mushroom soup or skip the pastry dough on top. The baked casserole is delicious over cauliflower mash or a whole grain. My kids request this one every year!

Leftover Soups And Sauces

Somehow, we all seem to end up with a fridge full of soup and sauce containers post-holidays—even long after the rest of our leftovers have been cleared.

 Split Pea Butternut Squash Soup

Soup is always a warm, welcoming first course at a holiday meal, and I purposely make enough to have leftovers. Once the holidays have come and gone, I like to re-purpose my Vegan Split Pea Butternut Squash Soup, which is rich in fiber and protein. While the soup makes for a healthy snack on its own, it also works well as a thick sauce over pasta, wild rice, or quinoa for a satisfying lunch or dinner.

Pasta Sauce, Reimagined

If you celebrate any holidays Italian-style, chances are you’ve got plenty of extra pasta sauce (or ‘gravy,’ if that’s how you roll) hanging around afterwards. Luckily, it’s easy to re-purpose pasta sauces—especially my go-to meaty Bolognese. One night, I might serve it atop chickpea pasta with roasted veggies. The next, I’ll stuff it into colorful bell peppers to roast and serve with a side salad. And if there’s any left for a third night, I might combine it with some chopped veggies in a casserole dish and top it with mashed potatoes to make a mock moussaka!

Leftover Veggies

Okay, the leftover veggies in your fridge probably don’t need much of a healthy makeover; they’re nutritious just as they are! However, if you want to give them some new life, you certainly can.

‘Vintage’ Hummus

Calling all hummus fans: Those leftover veggies are actually a great way to give your favorite dip an extra punch of nutrition.

In fact, culinary nutritionist and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook, Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., loves using a variety of veggies to spice up plain ol’ hummus. Simply blend half a cup of chilled leftover vegetables with a cup of hummus and a squirt of lemon juice, and voila, you’ve got an extra colorful, flavorful hummus. Mashed sweet potatoes, green beans, and roasted beets all work well.

Related: 7 Healthy Alternatives To Ranch For People Who Like To Dip Things

Whether you use this leveled-up hummus as a dip at snack time or a spread on sandwiches or wraps, it’s a delightful way to punch up the plant-based goodness of meals while getting protein and fiber.

Leftover Pumpkin

If your pie shell runneth over and you’re stuck with lots of leftover canned pumpkin, fear not: Pumpkin is a rich source of vitamin A and fiber—and so easy to incorporate into other meals.

Pumpkin Chilis And Stews

Pumpkin is a perfect addition to any cozy winter meal. If you’re whipping up a batch of chili or stew (any kind will do), simply stir some canned pumpkin into the mix for extra nutrition, flavor, and color.

Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal

Dietitian Summer Yule, M.S., R.D.N., loves using canned pumpkin to boost her morning bowl of oatmeal.

To make her favorite Pumpkin Pie Oatmeal, you’ll need:

  • 1 packet plain instant oatmeal, prepared with water
  • ¼ cup unsweetened canned pumpkin
  • ¼-1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1-2 Tbsp milk, as needed to thin the oatmeal
  • stevia, to taste

Simply stir all of the ingredients together and voila, you’ve got the ultimate holiday-flavored breakfast. (If you’re feeling a little more indulgent and want to mix a few spoonfuls of actual pumpkin pie filling into your oatmeal, I won’t tell!)

Bonnie Taub-Dix, R.D.N., C.D.N., is an award-winning author, spokesperson, speaker, consultant, and owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC. She has been featured on TV, radio, and print, as well as in digital media, including Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Women’s Health, and U.S. News & World Report. She is a recipient of The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics’ Media Excellence Award and author of Read It Before You Eat It: Taking You From Label To Table.

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