Eat Well, Spend Less: One Turkey, Four Meals

Perhaps you head to your parents’ or the in-laws’ for Thanksgiving and other holiday meals, where someone else cooks and carves the turkey. Maybe you’d also like to cook a whole turkey at home (and have a few leftovers to play with), but it’s way too much meat for your little family.

Here’s my proposed solution: go ahead and purchase a fresh turkey and then make four or five recipes with it.  When properly sourced from a reliable butcher (and not shot up with strange chemicals and salty brine) turkey is a delicious, lean meat, and should definitely be taken advantage of in its season.

We’re talking turkey and holiday meals for our Eat Well, Spend Less series this month and my method for serving one turkey for four (or more) meals is one way to get the most bang for your buck. Fresh turkey isn’t cheap, but by following two key rules to savvy shopping: buying in season and buying bulk (in this case, a whole bird), as well as using every scrap of your purchase, you’ve got yourself a frugal way to eat this holiday season.

The Bird Breakdown

Assuming you have your fresh, whole turkey, the first step is to partially break it down into various components because you don’t want to roast the whole bird and then eat it slowly over a week-long period as it gets drier and drier. No way.

You’ll cook the breast first, for your ‘fancy’ meal if you like, and freeze the legs for later. From the breast, you’ll also enjoy panini with the leftovers. The scraps will go into a stock, which you’ll later use for a simple turkey noodle soup. Sound good? Let’s do the prep in 3 steps.

TIP: If your butcher is really awesome (and he should be!) you can ask him to break down the turkey for you, which is most of steps 1 and 2

Step 1: With a sharp knife, remove the wings tips (at the first joint), neck, and the  ‘Pope’s nose’ (sorry, my Dad’s irreverent name for the area where the tail once was). Reach inside the bird and remove the organs from the cavity. Go ahead and get your turkey stock going with all of these scraps.

Step 2: On a sturdy cutting board, and with a sharp knife, remove the legs from the turkey. This is exactly the same way as you would remove legs from a whole chicken.

Step 3: Wrap the turkey legs well in plastic wrap and freeze for another meal. Strain that stock, and you’re ready to proceed with any of the four recipes below.

Eat Well, Spend Less: One Turkey, Four Meals

1. The Main Event: Mustard & Herb Crusted Turkey Breast

I made this recipe from Shania over at Food for My Family and it did not disappoint. Simple and sensational, it made the perfect amount of roast turkey for about 6 people with leftovers for panini.

I’m crazy about cooking with fresh herbs, especially when paired with poultry, and loved that Shaina used sage and thyme to perfume her turkey. The breadcrumbs on the outside crisped up beautifully and added a nice texture to the oftentimes boring turkey breast.

Get the recipe: Mustard-Crusted Turkey Breast

2. The Weeknight Dinner: Roasted Turkey Legs with Winter Root Vegetables

Why not go with classic comfort food when you cook your turkey legs? This recipe for Roasted Chicken and Root Vegetables can easily be made with turkey legs for a quick, one-pot dinner.

If you’ve frozen your turkey legs, be sure to thaw them overnight in the refrigerator before cooking. Pat them dry with a paper towel and they are ready for roasting.

Get the recipe: Roasted Turkey Legs with Winter Root Vegetables

Alternatively, throw everything from the above recipe in your crock-pot, add 1 quart of chicken stock plus enough water to cover (a splash of white wine too) and cook for 8 or so hours into a hearty turkey-vegetable stew.

Photo by Tim Chin

3. The Sunday Brunch: Turkey, Arugula & Havarti Panini

This popular sandwich uses the leftover sliced turkey from the mustard-crusted turkey breast. You can also use any roast turkey (or chicken) you have on hand. I recently made these hot sandwiches for a casual bistro-style lunch and served them with French Onion Soup. It made a perfect autumnal meal.

Recipe: Turkey, Arugula & Havarti Panini

You don’t really need me to tell you how to make a panini, but I’ll give my tips.

  • Start with the best bread you can source. I use a long ciabatta loaf or two.
  • Slice the turkey thin and layer it between the best cheese you have on hand. We love Havarti, Monterey Jack and Provolone for panini.
  • If you use a rich, buttery cheese such as Havarti, don’t butter the bread or your panini will be too greasy.
  • Let the paninis cook slowly (I use a Breville Smart Grill). Mine go almost ten minutes and this ensures they are hot right through to the center.
  • Jazz up your meat and cheese panini with a handful of fresh arugula or spinach.
  • Serve with a side of cranberry sauce and pickled red onions.

4. The Everyday Lunch: Quick Turkey Noodle Soup

We’ve just come through a rough bout of head colds and this soup nourished us time and time again. I was so grateful for the several liters of turkey stock in my freezer, because once you have that, the soup comes together quickly, even if you are feeling under the weather.

I can’t think of a better way to put my turkey leftovers to good use and hope you’ll give it a try. Use whatever noodles you have around to round out the soup. Broken lasagna shards, whole wheat macaroni, and chopped spaghetti all made it into our bowls last week and were topped with the soup.

My apologies for the lack of a photo, but I was more concerned with nourishing my sick body (no cold meds for this pregnant lady) than snapping photos of my bowl!

Quick Turkey Noodle Soup

5 from 1 vote
Print Pin Rate
Course: Soups & Stews
Prep Time: 15 minutes
Cook Time: 15 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Servings: 2 quarts
Calories: 897kcal
Author: Aimee


  • 2 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 cup chopped leeks white part only, washed well
  • 1/2 cup chopped carrots
  • 2 ribs celery chopped
  • 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary finely chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic chopped
  • 8 cups turkey stock or chicken stock
  • 2 cups noodles cooked (I use whatever I have on hand)
  • 2 cups turkey meat chopped
  • Salt & pepper
  • Grated Parmesan to garnish
  • Chopped fresh parsley to garnish


  • In a medium Dutch oven, heat olive oil and saute leeks, carrots and celery for 2-3 minutes over medium heat. Add garlic and rosemary and saute for another minute.
  • Add turkey stock to the pot. Partially cover the soup, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer for ten minutes or until vegetables are tender.
  • Add cooked noodles, turkey meat and season the soup with salt and pepper. Serve at once with a sprinkling of chopped parsley and Parmesan cheese.


Calories: 897kcal | Carbohydrates: 90g | Protein: 65g | Fat: 29g | Saturated Fat: 6g | Cholesterol: 122mg | Sodium: 1586mg | Potassium: 1761mg | Fiber: 4g | Sugar: 21g | Vitamin A: 6340IU | Vitamin C: 11.8mg | Calcium: 117mg | Iron: 5mg

 Be sure to check out the other Eat Well, Spend Less participants for their Thanksgiving and holiday tips:

~For more menu planning ideas, visit I’m an Organizing Junkie.~

Are you cooking a turkey soon?

About Aimee

Cooking has always been Aimée's preferred recreational activity, creative outlet, and source of relaxation. After nearly ten years in the professional cooking industry, she went from restaurant to RSS by trading her tongs and clogs for cookie cutters and a laptop, serving as editor here at Simple Bites. Her first book, Brown Eggs and Jam Jars - Family Recipes from the Kitchen of Simple Bites, was published in February 2015.

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  1. We always buy a second turkey from the farm specifically for this purpose. We throw it in the chest freezer for a later date. And sometimes, in the middle of winter up here in Maine, a roasted turkey dinner is what we need! One year we even roasted a turkey on Labor Day for a different spin on our annual BBQ. The recipes all sound delicious!

  2. My family adores Thanksgiving food, so we roasted one turkey a couple of weeks ago and did something much like this.

    The turkey stock I made–and the resulting soup–were just incredible. I think my method was identical to that I usually use for chicken stock, but my results were better than the chicken stock I usually make. Am I dreaming, did I get lucky, or is turkey stock more flavorful, with more body, than chicken stock?

  3. Love the idea of actually cutting up the turkey – so many more tasty options when you’re cooking similar pieces instead of a whole bird!

  4. Amber | Bluebonnets & Brownies says

    5 stars
    Aimee, you flat out honored the life that bird gave to feed the family. Beautiful post.

  5. Lovely uses for turkey; that panini especially is calling my name. Bookmarking this for our after-Thanksgiving festivities. 🙂

  6. Love these ideas. We do a potluck Thanksgiving at our friend’s house, so we miss out on turkey leftovers. I’m always a little nervous to buy a whole turkey, since I’m not sure my family will go through it fast enough. Love the idea of breaking it down for 4 different meals. Thanks!

  7. Hey, I call it the Pope’s Nose too! 🙂

  8. Giggle…I love the Bird Breakdown and all of the meal ideas, great post!

  9. Great ideas Aimee! We hardly ever have leftover turkey to bring home, but I didn’t know what to do with a whole turkey for just the 2 of us! I will definitely be giving some of these a try!

  10. I’ve never actually cooked a whole turkey. We prefer Cornish game hens, chicken, or duck. However I bought some turkey recently in order to try making the Pumpkin Bao Buns you linked to in your recent post on using leftover pumpkin. They turned out really well, though I’ll be swapping the garlic out for onion next time.

    Now I may have to buy some more cuts of turkey to make some of these delicious-sounding turkey recipes!

  11. Wow! When broken down like this it seems so logical! We usually just pick away at the bird until it’s gone! Love these recipes!

  12. I always buy an extra turkey when they’re on sale for like 29 cents a pound and then throw it in the freezer to use one night later in the meal. Great for company or for a party where you need a lot of food.

  13. One of my family’s favorite Thanksgiving leftover meals is Turkey pot pie… veggies, gravy, turkey, even potatoes all go into ANOTHER pie shell or two… not everyone loves it, but it’s definitely a good meal for this colder time of year.

  14. I’m cooking a turkey just to have leftovers, though I’m eating at my parents.
    I just want to take pleasure in making broth and freezing turkey for future meals.

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