3 Ways to Preserve Your Holiday Leftovers and Add Them to Your Pantry

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This weekend, most people’s refrigerators are so full with holiday leftovers that getting to door shut requires the family engineer to play Tupperware Jenga with all of the containers of food. Inevitably, in many households, much of the leftovers go to waste after the 10th turkey sandwich in a row.

In this economy, none of us can afford to let anything go to waste, however. There’s a lot more you can do with those Thanksgiving leftovers besides referring to your What To Do With Leftover Turkey cookbook. (Who knew there was actually an entire cookbook on this?!?) The preserving goes way past turkey – there are lots of tasty ways to preserve your other leftovers too.

Instead of fighting the Black Friday weekend crowds, spend the day adding things that are frugal and delicious to your pantry. Here are 3 ways to preserve your Thanksgiving leftovers.


Nearly all leftovers can be successfully frozen and used in other meals.  For Tess Pennington’s guidelines on freezing food, click HERE.

  • Freeze vegetables in cheese sauce to be used later in a pureed soup.  Cheesy cauliflower and cheesy broccoli soup are big hits in our household.  Simply thaw the veggies in cheese sauce and add to some white potatoes boiled in water.  Thin the mixture down as desired with milk and serve piping hot.
  • Freeze chopped meat mixed with gravy as the basis for a future speedy stew.  If you want, you can also add cooked carrots and roasted potatoes to the mixture.
  • Freeze leftover dinner rolls.  You can reheat them as needed to use as rolls or you can dice them finely and freeze them for use in stuffing.
  • Freeze desserts in individual servings for brown bag treats.  They’ll be thawed out and delicious by lunchtime.
  • Freeze single servings of casseroles, lasagnas, etc.  You’ll have the best lunches in the office!


Another way to preserve your leftovers is by dehydrating them.  Whether you have a commercial dehydrator or you use your oven on a low setting, you can fill many jars with home-dried holiday leftovers. If you’re new at dehydrating, you can find detailed instructions HERE. (Use this handy rehydration chart for bringing them back to life!)

  • Dehydrate the remainder of your veggie tray.  I find that veggies dehydrate very nicely when they are coarsely grated with the biggest holes in the cheese grater.  Be sure and squeeze the excess moisture out with a paper towel to cut down on the drying time. (Ditto for your fruit tray!)
  • Dehydrate leftover turkey or ham to be added to casseroles and soups.
  • Leftover fruit can be pureed and then dehydrated into homemade fruit roll-ups.
  • Dehydrate mashed potatoes, then run them through the blender for instant potato flakes.  You can use these to thicken soups or gravies naturally. (Note:  I haven’t done this but it sounds like it would work very nicely.)
  • Dehydrate leftover stuffing, then rehydrate (“Stovetop Stuffing”-style) with broth when it’s time to serve it. Make sure to get it completely dry and crumbly.

Here’s a book entirely about dehydrating food. Don’t be deterred by “prepper” in the title. Folks who put back food regularly provide excellent advice on making your stored food last longer.


Everyone knows that canning is my favorite way to preserve food.  If you have some jars and fresh lids, your kitchen already contains everything you need to add an abundant amount of food to your stockpile.  The following recipes are from my book, The Prepper’s Canning Guide. Turkey, veggies, and cranberry sauce will all make beautiful additions to your home-canned goods. Use these recipes as a guideline to adapt what you have left over to nutritious homemade meals in jars.

Canning Turkey in Broth

Bone broth is all the rage if you happen to follow the teachings of the Weston A. Price foundation. A cookbook based on Dr. Price’s findings recommends many different ways to prepare the broth, and recommends that every has at least a cup per day.  Your Thanksgiving turkey carcass can provide you with jars and jars of delicious, nourishing broth.  If you don’t have time to process your turkey immediately, wrap the carcass well and put it in the freezer until you do have time.

After a few meals of roast turkey, remove most of the meat from the bones and place it in the refrigerator.  You’ll be left with a rather desolate-looking carcass.   Put that in your crockpot along with the reserved neck and giblets (if you didn’t use those for gravy).  Add some veggies from the holiday snack tray – carrots, peppers and celery are great additions!  Add a couple of tablespoons of salt, a head of garlic and 4-6 onions.  Note:  there’s no need to peel the garlic and onions as long as they are organic – just wash them well.  Fill the crockpot with water and add your favorite spices (not sage – it tastes terrible when canned). I used whole peppercorns, salt, oregano and bay leaves.

Put the crockpot on low for 12-14 hours and let it simmer undisturbed overnight.  Zzzzzz……

The next day, strain the contents of the crockpot into a large container – I use a big soup pot and a metal colander.  After allowing the bones to cool remove any meat that you would like to add to your soup.  I always give our dog a big treat – a bowl of turkey with gristle, fat and skin.  (She’s a little on the skinny side because she runs constantly when she’s outside so I think that the occasional fat intake is good for her.)  She also likes the mushy carrots.

Take all of the meat that you put in the refrigerator the night before and cut it into bite-sized pieces.  I like a mixture of light meat and dark meat for this purpose.  Also cut up the meat you removed from the crockpot.

Place approximately 1 cup of turkey in each of your sanitized jars.  (I ended up with about a cup and a half in each jar.) Add 1-2 cloves of garlic to the jars.

You will have a rich, dark beautiful stock from the overnight crockpot project.  Ladle this into the jars over your cut-up turkey and garlic.  Leave 1 inch of headspace at the top of the jars.  If you run out of broth, top it up with water – don’t worry – your broth will still be very flavorful.

Wipe the lip of your jars with a cloth dipped in white vinegar.  Place the lids on and process them in your pressure canner for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, adjusting for altitude.

Your result will be a deep golden, rich meaty soup.  This is an excellent base for turkey and dumplings, as well as any type of turkey soup. When you’re ready to serve it, just throw in a handful of noodles or rice to cook in the broth as you heat it up.


Canning cranberry sauce

If you have leftover cranberry sauce, you may can it for future use. (In our house, I actually make a triple batch when I make cranberry sauce, just so I can put some up for later.) I like to use teeny little half pint jam jars for this.

  1. Heat the cranberry sauce to a simmer on the stovetop.
  2. Ladle the sauce into sanitized jars, leaving 1/4 inch of headspace.
  3. Wipe the rims of the jars, then place the lid on them.
  4. Process in a waterbath canner for 15 minutes, adjusting for altitude.

Thanksgiving Soup

This recipe is adapted from one in my book, The Prepper’s Canning Guide.

Round up whatever veggies that you have left over from Thanksgiving.  Don’t worry if they have some butter and seasonings on them – it will all add to the rich flavor of your soup. However, if they are in a cream or cheese sauce, you need to rinse that off before canning.

My soup contains carrots that were cooked in honey, green beans with some butter, some diced sweet potatoes, and corn with butter.  Use whatever you have.  Don’t be shy about raiding your veggie tray either: chop your crudites into bite-sized pieces and add them raw to your jars – they’ll cook beautifully during the canning process.

  1. Add one cup of your vegetable mixture to each sanitized quart jar.  If you want, throw in some peas and diced potatoes too.
  2. Add 1 cup of chopped turkey to each jar (dark meat is perfect for this!).
  3. Season with a clove of garlic and 1-2 tablespoons of chopped onion in each jar. Because the vegetables were already salted, I did not add any additional salt to my soup.  If you have it on hand, you can also add some carrots and celery.
  4. Top your veggies and turkey with one cup of your delicious stock that you made above.  Then fill it the rest of the way with water.  The flavors will blend – don’t worry!
  5. Wipe the lip of your jars with a cloth dipped in white vinegar and then place the lids on.
  6. Process the soup in your pressure canner for 90 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure, adjusting for altitude.

Variation: If you want a different type of soup, add 2 tbsp of tomato paste to each jar and season with some Italian spices like basil and oregano.

At serving time, you can add some cooked rice, barley, or pasta to your soup.

Want more fantastic ideas for building your pantry?

Check out my online course, Build a Better Pantry on a Budget. You’ll get loads of ideas for stocking up with delicious, healthful food on the cheap.

What do you do with YOUR leftovers?

Do you eat them right away? Do you preserve them? Please share any ideas I haven’t covered in the comments below.


Here are some links to great leftover ideas for all those Thanksgiving goodies:

And some further resources:

3 Ways to Preserve Your Holiday Leftovers and Add Them to Your Pantry
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Daisy Luther

Daisy Luther is an author and blogger. She's the single mom of two daughters and credits extreme frugality and a good sense of humor for her debt-free lifestyle. She is the author of numerous books, the editor of TheOrganicPrepper.com, and is the founder of a small digital publishing company in the emergency preparedness niche.

13 thoughts on “3 Ways to Preserve Your Holiday Leftovers and Add Them to Your Pantry”

  1. Just a comment regarding canning with sage. I make my own breakfast sausage, precook it and then can it – sage is the main flavor ingredient-always tastes great. Maybe because it’s “precooked”??

    1. I wonder – that could be it. I know I’ve had some canning catastrophes with sage, which is why I don’t recommend it. Perhaps there’s less in the sausage than I usually dump into my broth?

  2. I made an “after Thanksgiving Day” casserole using leftover cornbread and turkey. I just mixed up a seasoned butter sauce (like for stuffing), threw in the minced turkey and crumbled cornbread and added cubed butternut squash. It’s baking at 350 for a bit.

    I hope it tastes as good as it smells :).

  3. We divided up leftovers between five families – each taking what s/he wanted. Of course we snacked on leftovers and we’ll have them for dinner on Saturday. What doesn’t get consumed will be frozen. We usually freeze turkey portioned for a meal and portioned to add to soup (be it homemade or canned which we always enhance).
    For those of us who love dark meat, we tend to benefit a bit more from leftovers. Our take is if the meal was good the first time, the leftovers will be also.
    My family cooks the giblets and uses the broth/some of the giblets in the dressing. Some dogs/cats we’ve had liked giblets – cooked that is.
    Food waste in the US is appalling and is a real budget buster.

  4. Great idea on dehydrating, especially the mashed potatoes. I’ve been doing a ton of canning, but hadn’t thought to dehydrate leftovers from Thanksgiving. With my leftover turkey and broth, I am going to try canning a Turkey/sweet potato/black bean chili. Have been soaking the beans today to cook overnight, then will assemble tomorrow and can. Kind of making up a recipe from several I have seen on different sites. Thought it would be something different and would can well. Thanks for all the great ideas to preserve leftovers.

    1. Wanted to share a successful experiment with leftover sweet potato casserole – turned it into delicious sweet potato bread! I pureed what was left of my sweet potato casserole with 2 cups of warm water, added 6 cups of flour, 2 1/2 tsp. yeast, and 2 tsp salt. Mixed it all up in a stand mixer with dough hook, let it knead for a bit, then left it in the bowl to rise. Formed it into a long loaf shape on a greased cookie sheet (could make two smaller loaves), cut a few slits across the top, and let it rise again covered. Then baked at 400 degrees. I don’t know the timing, probably around 30-40 minutes – I find when we can smell it, it’s done. I got the idea of making the puree from the Tightwad Gazette book – she mentioned pureeing leftover cereal to use as the liquid part of bread. Seemed like a good idea for this application as well. I’m excited it came out well – family was pretty happy with the bread. 🙂

      1. I made sweet potatoes first time (large batch) in pan then put leftovers in small warmer/dip crock pot that I plugged in for Thanksgiving dinner. Now what’s left is almost puree & didn’t want to throw away so put back in fridge. I have all ingredients for your bread & will try this weekend. Thank you for sharing.

  5. There was barely enough turkey left on our bird to make turkey pot pie. But, the carcass is in the crockpot and I’m filtering water to add. I’ll let it cook till Sunday and then strain and can it. I made too much cranberry sauce, so I’m going to stick that in half pint jars tomorrow so it will be shelf stable. I rolled up leftover fried onions, dressing, and cranberry sauce in some egg white wraps and fried them in bacon grease. That was a yummy breakfast.

  6. I immediately pick turkey apart after dinner during clean up. I portion it into quart size freezer bags/put into glass dish with lid & put into freezer for casseroles/soup later. I never made broth from bones as I repeatedly hear people talk about it. I just got bunch of boxed broth but will consider doing next time (we always get extra turkey for freezer at cheap prices & buy chickens from farmer for freezer). Does it work if use steak bones? I have most beef cut into steaks instead of roasts & everything else into ground burger.
    There’s never much veggies left, so any go into leftovers or dogs.

    1. Watcher in the Rye

      Yes, steak bones are good. Any kind of beef bones, raw or cooked work well. I cook my bone broth in an 8 qt electric pressure cooker (Instant Pot) for 4 hours. The bones are turning to mush and the broth is dark and fragrant. It jells up very well. You can use the mush as dog treats (just a little at a time.) or dig it into your garden.

      I do the same with turkey, chicken or a combo. I don’t use pork bones because it just doesn’t taste very good. Maybe someone can tell what I’m doing wrong with pork bones.

  7. I put leftover turkey (or chicken) carcass and meat in a gallon freezer bags with veggie scraps and freeze them. When two bags are full (like now!), then a bag goes in each of my 6 quarters crockpots to simmer on low overnight or all day. Then, I strain out the bones and wilted veggies and can 7 quarts of stock in the pressure canner. On a flat-top electric stove I think it takes longer than it would on a gas stove to get up to temperature and pressure, but once it’s there it holds. My pressure canner says stock is 25 minutes at 10 pounds of pressure (once the weight is rocking).

    With the size of my family, it’s hard for me to make enough to get enough leftovers to last long.

    I’ve never canned fruit, but I like the idea of canning the cranberries! I roast, then freeze, butternut squash. Cranberry butternut squash muffins are delicious!

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