Don’t Trash That Ham! Making Holiday Leftovers Last.

Holiday dinners are just a few weeks away, and most of us tend to under plan and over buy, resulting in plenty of perfectly good food ending up in the trash or in the disposal. Before you toss leftover mashed potatoes or honey-baked ham, here are some tips and suggestions for helping make your leftovers last.

Think outside the sandwich.
Make the most of your leftovers with creative recipes and use holiday standards in new and non-traditional ways.

Toss leftover vegetables with some herbs and olive oil over small portions of pasta or brown rice.

Create a hash out of cubes of potatoes and leftover ham or turkey.

Extra nuts and dried cranberries make a healthy addition to salads.

Mix leftover meat with eggs and cheese for a quick breakfast omelet.

Make quesadillas and tacos with shredded leftover turkey or pork and some salsa or tomatoes.

Cut back on high calorie favorites like mashed potatoes or creamy soups by adding fresh or frozen vegetables to them.

You can even use the turkey carcass after it’s been picked over to make this delicious soup.

Store it properly.
Be sure to store leftovers properly to avoid bacteria growth. Cover food tightly with plastic wrap or aluminum foil, place in plastic storage bags, or divide it in to shallow containers. The containers should be no more than two inches deep, according to the Institute of Food Technology, allowing food to chill quickly. If you use plastic bags, press as much air out of each bag before zipping it closed.

Refrigerate leftovers promptly. It’s recommended that you keep your refrigerator temperature set to 40°F or lower. Slice whole roasts, hams, and turkey breasts before storing. According to the USDA, you can leave legs and wings whole.

And don’t forget your freezer! Some leftovers like soup, cooked vegetables, cookies, and bread freeze very well and can be thawed later for a quick meal.

How long is too long?
The USDA offers some general guidelines for how long typical holiday foods can be kept in the fridge or freezer without spoiling:

  • Fully cooked poultry or ham slices: 3-4 days in fridge, up to 2 months in freezer
  • Gravy: 1-2 days in fridge, up to 3 months in freezer
  • Stuffing: 3-4 days in fridge, up to 1 month in freezer
  • Cooked casseroles (such as lasagna): 3-4 days in fridge, up to 3 months in freezer

Not sure whether to toss it or eat it? Take this short quiz.

Don’t let leftovers linger.
It may be tempting to take a nap or wait to clean up the kitchen after your meal. The dishes can sit, but make sure you put the food away! Nearly any food left out at room temperature for two hours or more can begin to grow harmful bacteria, according to the Partnership for Food Safety Education.

Get leftovers in the fridge promptly, especially perishables like meat, poultry, and eggs. Things like bread, cookies, and crackers don’t usually require refrigeration, but be sure to store in a sealed container to keep them soft and to avoid attracting bugs or mice.

Reheat the right way.
According to food safety experts, most leftovers should be heated to 165°F in the center. Whole cuts of beef or lamb can be left slightly rare when reheated, as long as they were seared at a high temperature when first cooked. Leftover sauces, gravy, and soup should be brought to a rolling boil. It’s not safe to warm leftovers in a slow cooker.

Most people are fine to eat a sandwich made with cold turkey or ham, as long as the meat hasn’t been in the fridge for more than three or four days. The exceptions to this are young children and people over 50, and anyone who is pregnant or has a compromised immune system.

Give it away.
Avoid the extra calories altogether and plan to send leftovers home with your guests. Buy plastic resealable bags and various sized plastic food storage containers ahead of time (you can find these cheap at the Dollar Store). Have them handy so you can fill them quickly as your guests are leaving.

If you’re not expecting guests over the holidays, prep some leftover plates, cover with foil, top it with a bow, and deliver them to your neighbors. You’ll be spreading holiday cheer, and burning calories!