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  • Writer's picturedeborahreinhardt

You'll flip over these 3 Thanksgiving leftover recipes

Easy to make and sure to please, these dishes will give your leftovers a makeover. Turkey, dressing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, and even pumpkin pie get a new spin after the big holiday.

There are two schools of thought when it comes to Thanksgiving leftovers. The first involves preparing just enough turkey and trimmings to feed those around the table once. It’s carefully calculated and executed with drill team precision. The second doubles whatever recipes are being used to ensure guests are given a plate to take home for the next day and the hosting family has leftovers to enjoy for at least two days following the feast.

Our family fell into that second camp.

green casserole with ground beef, mixed vegetables and topped with mashed potatoes
Shepherd's pie is a great way to use up those leftover mashed potatoes.

I can’t comprehend not having Thanksgiving leftovers. It just feels weird to me. In recent years when I’ve been a guest at the friend-of-a-friend’s home and went home empty-handed, I made a small Thanksgiving dinner for myself the next day so I could have “leftovers.” Judge me if you must, but I totally understand where this need comes from: Mom and Grandma. (Thank you both.)

Growing up, that turkey carcass was stripped to the bone, and even then, it was thrown into a pot for soup. Here’s how it went down: Day-after-Thanksgiving menu was simply the reheated dishes from the previous day. Somehow, it tasted better. Saturday after Thanksgiving meant a trip downtown to see the elaborate store window decorations, followed by lunch at The Mayfair Hotel (now Magnolia Hotel St. Louis), which meant a “lighter” dinner for us that was usually turkey tetrazzini and salad. By Sunday, the turkey soup was on the stove for lunch next week, and any leftover sides—called “must-goes" by Mom—rounded out a roast beef dinner.

But by far, Mom’s favorite leftover dish was a turkey sandwich with dressing. Not dressing on the side, but sandwiched between the bread without any gravy. She might do a light spread of Durkee sandwich dressing, but only when she was feeling sassy.

And when I found this turkey slider recipe on the website, I knew I had to try this as an homage to Mom. It now is my favorite Thanksgiving leftover recipe for three reasons: It reminds me of Mom; it uses four Thanksgiving leftovers in the refrigerator, and it’s easy to do…really a hack more than a recipe. I used leftover cranberry relish instead of sauce because that’s what we always make for Thanksgiving, but either will provide the balancing sweetness.


Search the Web for “favorite Thanksgiving sides” and mashed potatoes will come up as No. 1 and with good reason; heavenly mounds of starchy potatoes are whipped into submission with butter, cream and sometimes sour cream or cream cheese (mouth is watering over the keyboard). And probably few sides have as many leftover applications as this one, whether we’re talking about potato doughnuts or savory shepherd’s pie. Because I have another sweet for you, let’s do savory here. Traditional pies use ground lamb, but most Americanized recipes employ ground beef in the recipe. Either will work well.


As if our politics aren’t enough to divide this nation, we can add pie to the list. According to a 2019 survey by Reader’s Digest, pumpkin pie is the dessert most associated with Thanksgiving, but other pies—like apple and pecan—topped it, depending on what part of the country you live in. Can’t we all just get along and bake three pies (apple, pecan, and pumpkin) for Thanksgiving?

Maybe because I fall in that central part of the U.S. where pumpkin pie is always present, I enjoy a slice (and weirdly enough, because Missouri borders the Southern state of Arkansas, also pecan pie), but it tends to lack appeal the days after Thanksgiving. We often would have at least a third of a pie left over; but then again, Grandma always baked a few varieties of pie, being a true patriot. So, here’s the solution to that problem, a wonderful Betty Crocker recipe that will use up leftover pumpkin pie. It’s so stinking good and ready in just 10 minutes. And who doesn’t want to sip a milkshake while watching a holiday movie?

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