What to do with holiday leftovers


Leftover meals from the holidays can be used in a leftover party or donated to local food pantries.

Jenna Hrdlicka

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with friends and family, relax, travel and, of course, eat lots of wonderful food. Mountains of mashed potatoes, copious amounts of turkey and bowls of iconic cranberry sauce fill the tables during gatherings with loved ones. Then you end up with too much food. What to do with the leftovers after everyone has eaten their share? Here’s a few ideas for creatively handling the extra food.

Try a new recipe

Multiple bloggers and food websites offer fun, unique recipes featuring leftovers. By using leftovers wisely, a person can potentially plan meals for days after their holiday meal. Food 52, Eating Well and The Roasted Roost offer irresistible recipes ranging from breakfast burritos to smoky bacon and turkey chowder. Searching sites such as Pinterest provides an array of new recipes to try.

Feeling adventurous? One could test their cooking skills by combining leftover ingredients into a unique dish without the use of a recipe. Disclaimer: positive results are not guaranteed.

Freeze for future meals

Freezing food items for ease of use in future recipes can be a proactive way to lessen future meal planning stress. Marthastewart.com offers a list of which foods to freeze and which to skip. The website also gives information about how long to store the food and how to properly reheat the ingredients.

Some good foods to freeze include gravy, stuffing, cranberry sauce, potato pancakes and breads and rolls. However, skip freezing turkey, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes and cheese and dairy.


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 14 percent of households in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2014. By donating unused goods or leftovers to local food pantries or homeless shelters, local hunger can be reduced. Some food pantries and shelters allow prepared food donations, while others only except unused canned or packaged foods. Contact a location before donating to find out what types of food it is currently accepting.

There are 10 local pantries in the Ames area, including Bethesda Lutheran Church, United Way of Story County, Mid-Iowa Community Action and the Shop, which is a student-run pantry located in room 2616 in the Food Sciences Building. Homeless shelters in the Ames area include Emergency Residence Project, Youth & Shelter Services Inc. and Rosedale Shelter.

Host a leftover party

Hosting a potluck leftover party is a great way to gather with friends and enjoy an inexpensive meal. By combining everyone’s contributions, the meal will offer guests a variety of unique dishes that differ from their previous meals.

Relax and enjoy

While holiday celebrations are fun, the preparation and festivities can leave partygoers and hosts exhausted. Simply reheating leftovers is a way to enjoy one’s hard work without requiring extra work. This can also provide a quick, hassle-free meal for those who decide to venture out to the stores to shop on Black Friday.