In the Kitchen with Caitlin—Cooking with Thanksgiving Leftovers

Posted by Caitlin Quinn Dunn, MS, RD, LDN on Nov 23, 2016 10:00:00 AM

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Welcome to In the Kitchen with Caitlin, a blog where I take you through ways to use ingredients to create healthy and delicious meals.  With the holiday season fast approaching, I wanted to write a Thanksgiving blog, but with a twist.  I could write about ways to make a healthier dinner, but we’ve done that before!  What I haven’t ever done is explored healthier ways to use Thanksgiving leftovers.  So that’s what I’m doing today!  While many people view Thanksgiving as an unhealthy holiday filled with rich gravy, starchy vegetables, and creamy casseroles, the basics of the meal are lean protein and vegetables.  My intention for this blog is to highlight the healthy portions of the meal and walk you through two ways to use those ingredients to create satisfying meals to get you back on track after the big day has passed.  The recipes featured today are shepherd’s pie and turkey and wild rice soup.  

These recipes are not going to be ones that you need to follow to the letter.  I will give the basics of how to put them together, but the ingredients themselves are flexible.  The idea here is to identify some healthy leftovers that are in the house and incorporate them into the dish.  Below are the  components you will need.

  • The protein. Hopefully you have some leftover turkey in the fridge!  Ideally we are looking for skinless turkey breast, but if a few pieces of dark meat get mixed in, that will work as well.  Just be sure to remove the skin from all the pieces.
  • The vegetables. Surprisingly it can be tricky to get your hands on a Thanksgiving vegetable that hasn’t be smothered in cream or basted in butter. Luckily, you will just need two or three types of vegetables for both recipes.  Some ideas that would work include any vegetable that has been steamed like green beans or carrots, roasted vegetables like Brussels sprouts or squash, or vegetables that have been sautéed.  What won’t work so well for these dishes are vegetables that have been put into a casserole or creamed.   If you’re anything like me, you may have some unprepared vegetables in the fridge that you completely forgot to make, those will work too!
  • The starch. Starchy foods on the Thanksgiving table typically include a potato of some kind like mashed potatoes or sweet potato, or you might even have some roasted or mashed squash of some kind. My aunt always makes a wild rice stuffing so I can usually get my hands on some of the extra rice before it’s mixed with the less healthy ingredients.  For the shepherd’s pie you will need a starch to spread over the top.  Squash or sweet potatoes would be ideal here as long as they are not coated in a marshmallow topping!

Shepherd’s Pie – Download the Recipe

This shepherd’s pie is a favorite at my house and something I make throughout the year if I have leftover chicken and vegetables that I need to use.  For this recipe, I use two different types of vegetables to put in the bottom of the pan.  My family always serves plain steamed corn at Thanksgiving so I will use that, and I can almost always rescue a few cups of green beans before they gointo a creamy casserole so I will use those as well. I have yet to find a vegetable that doesn’t work in this recipe, so you can certainly get creative!  You will then need some leftover turkey breast. I use about 2 ½ cups cut up but of course you can just use however much you have.  You will also need a bit of leftover gravy, about ¾ of a cup.  For the topping, I used mashed butternut squash. If you only have leftover roasted squash, you can mash it using a potato masher or blender. I add a little bit of broth to help get a smoother consistency.  Mashed sweet potato would work great here too.  I shy away from using the leftover mashed potatoes  because I know that at my family Thanksgiving, they are loaded with sour cream, butter and whole milk so I figure one day of those is enough.  If your family has a healthier recipe, feel free to use them.  

Putting together this recipe could not be any simpler.  Just grab a 9-inch pie plate or casserole dish, throw in your two vegetables (I cut up the green beans into bite sized pieces) and put the turkey on top.  Then add your gravy and spread the squash to cover everything.   Bake for 30-40 minutes at 350°F and serve as is or with a garden salad.

Turkey & Wild Rice Soup – Download the Recipe

I first made this recipe on a really dreary day after Thanksgiving and it’s become something my family has looked forward to ever since.  Since the vegetables are already cooked, it’s another simple, fast recipe to throw together.  If you want, you can use the turkey carcass to make the broth, but low-sodium chicken stock or vegetable broth will work just as well.  For this recipe, I add about 4 cups of chicken broth into a large pot and bring it to a gentle simmer.  I then add my vegetables, which I cut into bite sized pieces as well as about 2 cups of diced turkey and 2 cups of the already cooked wild rice.  Simmer on medium low for about 30 minutes and serve!  Another thing I love about this soup is you can flavor it with whatever spices you have on hand.  Feel free to add garlic, onion, bay leaves, etc.

I hope I’ve given you some ideas about how to use Thanksgiving leftovers to get you back on track after what can be a challenging holiday for those who are trying to make healthy choices.  If you have any healthy recipes that you make with Thanksgiving leftovers, please share! 

See you in the kitchen!


Topics: Health and Wellness