26 November 2013 Dealing with Thanksgiving Leftovers

It’s Thanksgiving night. Dinner is over. The table has been cleared. The guests have gone home. The question of the hour is this: What to do with the leftovers?

For dieters, leftovers can be a major source of anxiety and temptation. You might have stuck to small portions at dinner, but now all that food is sitting in the kitchen, calling your name. This is a good time to remember the Golden Rule of Dieting: “Out of Sight, Out of Mind”. Put it all away.

Putting food away is also a food safety issue. Roast turkey, stuffing, gravy, casseroles and pies made with cream aren’t going to keep well sitting at room temperature.

  • Plan ahead to give away any foods you can’t resist picking at (pies, candy, cakes, etc). Package up leftovers before guests head for the door, making it easier to hand off leftovers.
  • Remove edible meat from the turkey, wrap it up and refrigerate.
  • Put the stuffing in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
  • Cover and refrigerate any casseroles, potatoes or other cooked dishes.
  • Leftover gravy can be refrigerated in airtight containers.
  • Pies should be refrigerated, especially if they contain eggs, milk or cream.
  • Any remaining tempting treats, like candy or cookies, should be put away in a box or can or plastic container.

The best part of Thanksgiving leftovers is the turkey. Roast turkey tastes great, and is a great choice for dieters.

Here are 5 ways to use turkey:

  1. Re-heat turkey and serve with a tossed green salad or sautéed vegetables for a simple lower calorie dinner. Spice up plain turkey with alternative lower-calorie sauces, such as green salsa, Teriyaki or BBQ.
  2. Use sliced turkey breast for sandwiches.
  3. Add chunks of cooked turkey to green salad or vegetable soup, for a lunch or light dinner.
  4. Use turkey in a burrito or wrap, with salsa and chopped veggies. Garnish with a bit of grated cheese or a dab of guacamole.
  5. Looking for a high protein afternoon snack? 2-3 oz of cooked turkey, dipped in salsa, is a great choice. Add some vegetable sticks for a filling mini-meal of less than 200 calories.

If you planned a lighter vegetable-centric Thanksgiving menu, you might be lucky enough to have leftover vegetables. Raw veggies can be used in green salads, chopped salads, soups, wraps, stir fry or vegetable sauté, or as a handy addition to a snack. Cooked vegetables can be reheated, or used in soups or casseroles.

Here’s another Thanksgiving leftovers strategy: create a fresh fruit centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner: apples, pears, oranges, grapes, pineapple and tangerines. Decorate with nuts in the shell. Once dinner is over, you have all that lovely high fiber, high nutrient, refreshing and filling/high-water-content fruit to eat for the next few days.

What about the traditional higher calorie leftovers? When it comes to items like mashed potatoes, stuffing, candied sweet potatoes, creamy green bean casserole, pies and desserts, dieters have two choices:

  1. Don’t eat any.
  2. Eat only small portions.

If you have trouble with choice B, then stick to Plan A. If you didn’t give away all the desserts, then let other people eat those up. It helps to have teenagers in the home, but if you don’t have enough people in your household to polish off the leftovers, have a post-Thanksgiving dinner or dessert party. Make sure everything gets eaten up by someone other than you.

Sometimes, dieters have to resort to desperate measures: throwing the food away. Yes it’s wasteful, but if you’re trying to control calories, you have to make tough choices. Consider that last tired piece of pumpkin pie: how will you feel if you eat it compared how you’ll feel if it simply disappears into the trash?

What if you’re the guest?

Uh oh, you were a guest at someone’s home, and as you’re leaving they offer you leftovers. What to do? If you really appreciate the offer and you will enjoy eating the leftovers, then fine. But if you’re offered tempting sweets, just be honest. Say “It was delicious, but no thanks” or “I wouldn’t eat it. It would go to waste.” You don’t owe your hosts any explanations besides that. Don’t feel obliged to explain that you’re dieting or the food is high calorie or any other excuses. Hopefully, Thanksgiving dinner was fun and enjoyable, and you can get right back to your normal diet.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Disclaimer: The information provided here does not constitute medical advice. If you are seeking medical advice, please visit your healthcare provider or medical professional.


Holidays / Parties/Thanksgiving

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