The Thanksgiving Leftovers Plan

Thanksgiving is just around the corner.  That delicious feast where we cook all of our favorite foods and enjoy family and friends gathered around the table.  A bounteous array of turkey, potatoes, stuffing, vegetables, family favorite recipes, and an almost endless parade of desserts.  It is a holiday of plenty.

 Erma Bombeck once said, “Thanksgiving dinners take eighteen hours to prepare. They are consumed in twelve minutes. Half-times take twelve minutes. This is not a coincidence.” While I agree with the eighteen hours to prepare, hopefully, your meal lasts longer than twelve minutes. 

In our rush to get to the big feast we sometimes forget some of the other important stuff. I’ve put together some thoughts on things to remember for the holiday so we can all have a happy, healthy, safe, and delicious day surrounds by those we love and enjoying our favorite foods.

Food Safety

According to the CDC, approximately 1 in 6 Americans get sick each year from foodborne illness. That’s about 48 million people. As many as 128,000 of these people will wind up in the hospital. And raw foods of animal origin (such as poultry) are most likely to be contaminated. The holidays can present an enormous potential for foodborne illness. Combine a busy kitchen with a hectic schedule, a possible overload of guests, and high levels of cross preparation with raw meats and vegetables, and it all combines to make a perfect storm for food safety problems.

The CDC recommends the following rules regarding food safety:

  • Cook – make sure all foods, especially meats, are thoroughly cooked, a meat thermometer is especially helpful at this time of year
  • Separate – don’t cross-contaminate your cooking surfaces and be sure to clean all boards and utensils between foods
  • Chill – bacteria can grow on foods left out more than 4 hours so refrigeration is advised
  • Clean – thoroughly wash your veggies, your hands, your utensils, your prep surface, repeatedly
  • Report – if you or someone you know becomes sick and you suspect foodborne illness report it to your local health department

My suggestions  are:

  • Have multiple sponges, one for surfaces, one for pots, one for dishes
  • Microwave your sponges often, on high for 2 minutes, to kill bacteria
  • Have multiple towels for separate uses, hands, drying produce, drying counters, drying dishes

Feeding our fur-babies

While we’re enjoying the plenty that comes with this particular holiday, we need to be mindful of the fact that many of the foods that we eat for the holiday are not good choices for our dogs. Many people give their dogs “table treats” throughout the year.  On Thanksgiving, with so many people in the house, our furry friends may pull out all the stops when it comes to the piteous they-never-feed-me eyeball action.  Many of those around our table might be tempted to sneak them “just a little bit.”  The challenge is that all of these “just a little bit” pieces add up to quite a bit of food.  Add in the fact that many of these foods are, in fact, not safe for consumption by dogs and you wind up with very busy veterinary emergency centers.  No matter how much they try to convince us we need to remember that the following can be dangerous for dogs:

  • Turkey skin, gravy, drippings – loaded with fat and spices, it’s difficult for them to digest and could lead to pancreatitis
  • Turkey bones – these are very brittle and can splinter causing damage to the stomach and intestines
  • Bread, bread dough, stuffing, cookies, or other baked goods – dogs cannot digest these very easily and they can cause bloating or severe digestive distress
  • Onions, garlic, raisins, grapes, mushrooms, and nuts – these all contain different substances which can make your dog very ill
  • Chocolate – dogs cannot process the theobromine in chocolate. Consuming it can, depending on how much and how big your dog is, cause serious digestive upset and possible toxicity
  • Alcohol – especially beer, is very toxic for dogs


And after the big feast there will be leftovers.  Probably lots of leftovers.  Because let’s face it, isn’t that how most of us prepare for the big day?  We pretend we’re feeding an army (and maybe some of us are).  Partly because we enjoy the cornucopia of favorite foods. But also because after cooking for two days, it’s a great feeling to enjoy all these delicious treats again as leftovers. When we’re planning for leftovers, however, we need to have a plan.


In order to make sure you have the healthiest leftovers possible be sure to start with the healthiest ingredients:

  • This soup base is an excellent substitute for that chemical-laden standby cream of mushroom
  • If your family are biscuit fans do this instead of the whack-and-bake variety
  • Don’t buy the stuff in the can, it only takes a few minutes to make your own delicious cranberry sauce
  • If you eat gluten avoid the chlorine bleaching and bromates found in many commercial flours by choosing unbrominated and unbleached flours instead
  • Skip the crispy onions which come loaded with GMO ingredients and negative additives. Make delicious caramelized onions as a topping instead
  • Canned gravy usually has MSG, trans fats, sulfites, and caramel color, you can easily make your own 
  • Pie fillings often come loaded with GMO ingredients, MSG, plus artificial flavorings and preservatives, making your own is fairly easy. 

The plan

Most people plan their cooking day in great detail. What needs to go into the oven when, what gets cooked in which order, when family is arriving, and how to make the feast all appear on the table at the same time. While it’s great to pay all that attention to the meal, we also need to be mindful of how to plan for after the feast. These are my top tips for dealing with leftovers after the holidays:

  • Don’t throw out those bones, use them to make this delicious broth
  • And here’s a couple of recipes using it plus a wonderful one for my favorite meatball soup
  • Leftover wine can be frozen into ice cubes and used later. A standard ice cube tray is 1 ounce which is the equivalent of 2 tablespoons
  • Instead of storing each leftover item in its own container make them into Meal Jars using wide mouth pint jars for a quick and easy lunch or dinner 
  • Pie for breakfast – okay so it’s not nutritionally very sound, but when you’ve got a delicious gluten-free, lower sugar pie, there’s nothing wrong, in my humble opinion, with enjoying a slice of pie with breakfast
  • Here’s a blog post on one of my favorite leftover strategies, Sequential Eating
  • And another article Musings on Leftovers

However you celebrate, whatever is on your table, whoever your gather with, I wish you a holiday full of joy and gratitude, health, and happiness. 

About Mira

Mira Dessy is The Ingredient Guru. A holistic nutrition professional, author, and a popular public speaker, she knows that it's not just what you eat, but what's in what you eat. She is the author of The Pantry Principle: how to read the label and understand what’s really in their food. Dessy is a Board Certified Holistic Health Practitioner whose mission is to educate and empower consumers. She curates the Lean Clean Green Subscription box, the premier, organic, earth-friendly, healthy, sustainable subscription box which can be found online at