Thanksgiving Leftovers: What to do with all the Turkey

I have a confession. I like leftovers. I have no problem bringing home piles of mashed potatoes, loads of wild rice and containers full of turkey after a big family meal and house them in my fridge for a while.

I like them because, well, it means everyone got enough to eat, but I also like them because I can easily feed my family for weeks on leftovers without anyone getting sick of them. Really.

The Art of Eating Leftovers

Yes, eating leftovers is an art. I’d admit that if you just loaded up a Thanksgiving-style plate every day for lunch and dinner, you’d tire of them rather quickly. Instead, the key here is to take those leftovers and turn them into something new and different than the Thanksgiving meal they came from. Here are a few tips to get you started.

  • Look for different seasonings and flavors. Fried rice made with leftover vegetables tastes nothing like stuffing and mashed potatoes, so it will keep you and your family interested in what you’re eating.
  • Think outside the box. Don’t limit yourself to the obvious – turkey sandwiches. Instead, think of new and different ways you can stretch those leftovers. Can turkey pieces be added to calzone pockets instead?
  • Mix it up. Mashed potatoes make a great canvas for things like potato dumplings when you add in a bit of flour and baking powder.

Here are two of my favorite turkey leftover meals.

All photos by Shaina

Turkey Shepherd’s Pie

1 cup leftover turkey, diced
1 cup frozen carrot coins (or other vegetable)
1 cup leftover or blanched green beans
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (thyme, rosemary, oregano)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup heavy cream
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
1 teaspoon salt
Black pepper to taste
2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1 generous tablespoon cream

Preheat oven to 350°F. Mix together turkey, carrots, green beans, fresh herbs and garlic and place in a 2-quart baking dish. In a small bowl or measuring cup, mix cream with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Pour cream over the top of the vegetables. Reheat potatoes just slightly to make them easier to work with and stir in the remaining tablespoon of cream. Add them into a large piping bag and pipe over the top of the vegetables.

Bake covered at 350°F for 40 minutes. Remove the cover and bake for an additional 20 minutes to allow potatoes to brown slightly. Let rest 10-15 minutes before serving.

Cream of Turkey and Wild Rice Soup

4 tablespoons butter
2 cups mirepoix (diced onions, celery and carrots)
½ cup sliced mushrooms (optional)
¼ cup flour
3 cups chicken stock
¼ cup sherry or dry white wine
1 cup cooked leftover wild rice (white or brown rice can also be used)
1 cup leftover turkey, chopped

Heat one tablespoon of butter in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add in mirepoix and mushrooms (if using) and sauté for 10 minutes until vegetables are tender. Add in the remaining butter and melt. Whisk in flour and continue to cook for approximately 3 minutes until roux is a nice, golden brown color.

Stir in chicken broth until there are no lumps left. Add sherry, rice and turkey. Allow to simmer 20 minutes until heated through. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed*. Serve with leftover dinner rolls.
*You’ll need to add more or less salt depending on how seasoned your stock is.

More Leftover Turkey Recipes

Are you a leftover lover as well? Share some of your favorite leftover meals.

About Shaina

Shaina Olmanson is the home cook and photographer behind Food for My Family, where she shares recipes, tips, opinions and her philosophy on food as she wades through the process of feeding her family, her friends and anyone else who will let her. She strives to teach her four children how to eat well: seasonally, locally, organically, deliciously and balanced.

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  1. Charlton Gomes says

    Awesome post, Shaina!

    Frankly speaking, I normally just heat up leftovers. Never really had the thought of turning them into something new and different. I will definitely give it a try.

    Thanks for sharing! 🙂

  2. I do like leftovers for a few days and then I tire of them. We tried to make a Thanksgiving shepherd’s pie last year with leftovers…it didn’t turn out well for us. 🙁 The soup looks lovely! What’s better than soup when it’s cold out? 🙂

  3. I am bookmarking this post for these 2 recipes- we eat a lot of turkey during this season- it’s on sale!

  4. I don’t know what I would do without making Turkey Noodle Soup after Thanksgiving. Growing up, my mom would always make it a few days after the big meal using the bones for stock and leftover meat in the soup. Pair that with homemade noodles and then stir in sage/bread stuffing, and I’m in heaven. In addition to noodle soup, my mom would save turkey in the freezer to make turkey chimichangas later.

  5. Last year my father-in-law made a delicious turkey pot pie (using leftover turkey & veggies in a white sauce) with a simple biscuit-y crust on top (made with only self-rising flour, butter and maybe milk)… simpler than a pie crust and tasty, though not healthier (I’m sure you could adapt it!). 🙂 Just right for the cold weather.

    The cream of turkey & wild rice soup, and the turkey noodle soup sound so good!

  6. Great leftover recipes! I’ll keep these on file for November after the U.S. Thanksgiving. Hope you enjoyed your holiday!

  7. I love left-overs but never once I’d try switching it up using a different recipe – well, does sandwiches count? 😀

  8. I love leftovers too! Not just at Thanksgiving, but I tend to make extra of regular food just for leftovers to eat for breakfast and lunch 🙂 Soup is probably one of the easiest and best ways to use leftovers.

    • We love making soup here too! Plus, when you use the carcass to make stock it’s the perfect way to reduce waste and make it stretch even farther.

  9. Thanks for posting this! We are dealing with leftovers coming out of our ears so this is very timely and useful!

  10. I love leftovers! My husband does not and I usually have to find a way to reinvent the previous night’s dinner. I’m a soup and sandwich girl myself, so I usually turn Thanksgiving leftovers into a Turkey Gumbo or Turkey and Wild Rice soup. Here is my FAVORITE sandwich (probably food in general) created by Thanksgiving leftovers.

  11. Love leftovers!!! We have a few turkey recipes over on our site. If you get a chance, check them out!

  12. The Turkey Shepherd’s Pie looks tasty. I like the idea presented about thinking outside the box. Thanksgiving often leaves a lot of leftovers and it’s nice to try a few new things beside simply warming it up or making a sandwich.

  13. This sounds delish! I’ve never ventured into homemade cream soups, but I may have to try this!!

  14. The turkey & wild rice soup is how I found this site and it was so amazing that I keep coming back 🙂

    Call me crazy but I cooked (another) turkey last night and that shepherd’s pie looks tempting!

  15. This soup was delicious!! I swapped the wine with cream because I didn’t have any white wine and it was fabulous! Thank you for sharing!

  16. I’m now trying it with shredded chicken. I made the turkey soup right after thanksgiving. I’ll let you know how it comes out!

  17. I made the Turkey Shepherd’s Pie with about to go bad leftovers last night. I used carrots, mushrooms, and peas for the veggies (about equal parts each to make 2 cups). I used fresh carrots and blanched them, but I’ll probably cook them a few minutes more next time. And I had lots of leftover gravy so I used 1/2 cup gravy with 1/2 cup cream. Served it with leftover stuffing.

    Turned out really great and I will definitely be planning on using this recipe again with next year’s leftovers. (May pop up with chicken during the year, too.)

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