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Leftovers? Make it turkey ‘planned-overs’

U of I Extension offers suggestions for post-Thanksgiving excess

Turkey is a healthy food that need not be reserved strictly for holiday meals. And with proper planning, leftovers from those holiday meals can provide tasty and nutritious entrees.
Turkey is a healthy food that need not be reserved strictly for holiday meals. And with proper planning, leftovers from those holiday meals can provide tasty and nutritious entrees.

PRINCETON — The food has been cooked and the table cleared, but what to do with the abundance of leftovers is an annual Thanksgiving challenge.

Susan Glassman, a nutrition and wellness educator with the U of I Extension, has several options to help families make the most of their holiday leftovers.

“Leftovers are the best part of the meal. Thanksgiving is about food and family, but before you enjoy the delicious aromas coming from your kitchen, remember, planning for leftovers starts before the meal, so make room in the refrigerator and freezer, and invest in proper containers,” she said.

While there’s certainly nothing wrong with repeating the Thanksgiving dinner on Friday, family members may tire of it if the leftovers stretch through the weekend. With this in mind, Glassman provided several ways to creatively turn them into something new.

The makings of a traditional dinner can easily be adapted into a variety of soups, stews, wraps, chili, pasta dishes, broths, sandwiches, casseroles, pot pies, salads and more.

“I look forward to leftovers and enjoy making traditional soups and casseroles with turkey, and more recently, turkey paninis with cranberry relish and stuffing are a favorite,” Glassman said.

However, food safety and leftovers go hand-in-hand, so proper storage and handling are important aspects to consider when planning post-Thanksgiving menus.

“Keeping food safety in mind is as important as the meal when serving your friends and families. The elderly, young children and pregnant women are most at risk for food-borne illness,” Glassman said.

Always follow the two-hour rule, the guideline for holding food in the temperature danger zone of 40-140 degrees. Plan for your serving time within this time frame, and for leftover storage, the general rule is three to four days, except stuffing and gravy, which is one to two days. When reheating, make sure the food reaches 165 degrees and the temperature should be taken from the middle of the dish, not the edges.

“Be sure to label with date and food item and for freezing, use freezer-approved storage methods and have enough containers to store food separately and in the small shallow containers needed for proper cooling,” she said.

For recipes, tips, nutritional information, facts, links and Thanksgiving history, visit www.extension.illinois.edu/turkey.

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