Thanksgiving may be a bit different this year. Perhaps it will be a smaller celebration with just immediate family, but that doesn’t mean that you have to feast less. You can still enjoy the holiday and if you have food to spare, no need to worry!
You spent a lot of time and money on Thanksgiving dinner; there’s no need to throw out any leftovers. It’s time to learn how to store them properly. Whether in the refrigerator or the freezer, there are some tips to ensure that your food will still taste great when you are ready to eat them.
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Planning for a smaller gathering doesn’t mean that you have to sacrifice on the menu. While most recipes are for large parties, you can certainly scale back the servings. No matter how many people you are preparing to host, you never want to run out of food, and you will likely have leftovers. Some may argue that thanksgiving leftovers are one of the best parts of the holiday.
Here’s what to do with Thanksgiving leftovers.
You can freeze most dishes BEFORE cooking. This category includes casseroles minus the toppings and side dishes. If you know you won’t be hosting a large crowd, you can still make the food in your regular quantities and then split it into smaller baking dishes: one to bake right away and another to store and serve at a later day.
HOW TO STORE THANKSGIVING LEFTOVERS IN THE REFRIGERATOR
Most leftovers will last in the refrigerator for 3-4 days. Make sure to store food as soon as you can. Do not leave food out for more than two hours as per advice from the FDA.
A common notion is that food should be completely cooled before placed in the fridge — this is a MYTH! You must store the food within two hours. According to the USDA, “leaving food out too long at room temperature can cause bacteria (such as Staphylococcus aureus, Salmonella Enteritidis, Escherichia coli O157:H7, and Campylobacter) to grow to dangerous levels that can cause illness.”
If you are short on space, place the food in storage bags. They take up less space. If you are trying to limit single-use plastics, mason jars are a great option. Ball sells plastic tops that you can purchase on Amazon. Or you can reuse lids from items you have already purchased. Duke’s Mayonaise, Classico Tomato sauce, Kraft Parmesan Cheese, and many other products have covers that fit nicely on a standard mason jar.
The best way to tell is by looking and smelling it. Any off odor and or appearance, it is best to toss. If there is no way you can eat what you have left in that amount of time, longer-term storage is the way to go.
You can freeze most foods without a lot of extra effort. We are big proponents of freezing food that we won’t eat right away. Check out our tips to make the most of freezer storage.
Shopping List For Thanksgiving Leftovers
- Aluminum Foil
- Gallon Sized Freezer Bags
- To-Go Containers
How To Store Thanksgiving Leftovers
The bird is likely where you will have a lot of leftovers. A so-called “small bird” is technically 12-14 pounds. Considering that each person eats about one pound, you are likely to have plenty left after dinner if you have a small gathering. To freeze the turkey, slice it and then wrap it in foil. Put the foil packets in large freezer bags and then store them. It’s best to portion it out before placing it in the foil.
Cream and butter help mashed potatoes freeze well. If you have any of those ingredients in there as Martha Stewart uses in her recipe, you are in luck. The best way to freeze mashed potatoes is to freeze them in one cup portions. Place the pieces on a cookie sheet and put them in the freezer overnight. Then place the frozen potatoes in a large plastic bag for longer-term storage. If you are using broth-based mashed potatoes, it is best to eat within a few days.
Sweet potatoes are treated the same way as mashed potatoes. They can easily be portioned and frozen. Sweet potato casserole, on the other hand, is best eaten as leftovers. Marshmallows, corn flakes, and other popular toppings do not freeze well. If you want to freeze the casserole, unbaked without the toppings works the best. Wrap the casserole in foil and then place in a freezer bag. Make sure you label it and, to be very prepared, put the baking instructions on it, too.
Some call it corn pudding, others corn casserole. Whatever you call it, this corn dish freezes well. Make sure it is fully cooked and at room temperature before preparing it for the freezer. When it is completely cooled, wrap it in plastic wrap and then freeze. Thaw this corn side dish in the refrigerator overnight and then reheat in a 350-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
If your green beans are undressed, then go ahead and freeze them. But if you have a casserole, just like the sweet potato casserole, it is best to eat any leftovers up. Sometimes it is difficult to pare down a recipe. So when you are cooking, you can prepare the dish and freeze it before baking if you make too much.
I have never had too much leftover stuffing since it is my favorite side dish, but if you want to freeze leftovers, you can. Place a one-cup piece on a cookie sheet and place it in the freezer overnight. The next morning, put the frozen dressing in a large storage bag. Freezing the stuffing may cause it to dry out. Remedy this by pouring over some gravy or warm broth.
You can freeze cranberry sauce. It’s best to place it in a small freezer bag, seal it, and then you can lay it flat for storage. Thaw it in the refrigerator overnight before using it.
Flour-based gravies freeze better than those containing milk or cream. Dairy separates from the sauce when it defrosts. Fill a freezer bag with leftover gravy and then spread it out so it can lay flat. The flat bags will give you more storage space and shorter thaw time.
You can freeze cooked peas. Place them on a cookie sheet and then in the freezer overnight. Transfer the frozen peas to a freezer bag for longer-term storage.
Don’t get rid of any extra bread! Wrap the rolls in foil and then place them in a freezer bag. When you are ready to enjoy them, thaw in the refrigerator overnight and then warm them in a 325-degree oven for about 20 minutes.
No need to get rid of desserts! You can freeze leftover pie. Cover it in plastic wrap and freeze for two months. It is best to thaw the dessert in the fridge before eating.
Thanksgiving Leftovers That Can Be Frozen
- Mashed Potatoes
- Green Beans
- Corn Pudding
- Macaroni and Cheese
- Gravy (flour-based)
Thanksgiving Leftovers That CANNOT be frozen
- Gravy (cream-based)
- Green Bean Casserole
- Sweet Potato Casserole
Tips For Storing Thanksgiving Leftovers
- Portion food before you store them. Portioning stops you from having leftovers from your leftovers!
- Frozen food is best thawed in the refrigerator overnight and then heated in a low oven (300-350 degrees) for 20 minutes.
- Freeze casseroles UNBAKED. Write the cooking instructions on the foil. Your future self will be thankful.
- If you don’t want your food to stick together during freezing, lay them out on a cookie sheet and freeze overnight. Then place in a large bag.
- Liquids can be frozen flat in a large bag. This method will give you more room in your freezer and help it to defrost quicker.
- Don’t forget to label and date everything.
What Do You Think?
Do you eat all of your Thanksgiving leftovers or freeze some? Maybe you don’t have any leftovers! Let me know in the comments below; I’d love to hear.
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Alyssa Hixenbaugh says
Wow, those are excellent tips! I’ve never thought too much about the optimal way to store Thanksgiving leftovers but now I have a great guide. Thank you! 🙂
Lots of good ideas in this post. I am a member of a big over cooker family! We always cook for an army…this will come in handy!!