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9 Savvy Ways to Repurpose Holiday Leftovers

  • Stocksy

    'Tis the season for leftovers

    The typical American family ends up throwing away about 25 percent of all the food it buys for Thanksgiving, and 35 percent of their Thanksgiving turkey goes to waste. That doesn't sound like we're being very thankful. Here are some tips for reducing food waste this holiday season.

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    Send 'em packing

    All year long, I stockpile plastic food containers that might otherwise be thrown away. Come the holidays, we invite dinner guests to help themselves to a container and load up on leftovers to take home. We also fix some plates to go, and take them around to people in the neighborhood who we know haven't been able to get out or prepare a holiday meal of their own.

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  • Istock

    Start a soup sack

    Some of the best homemade soups are concocted using little portions of leftover vegetables and meat from the holiday dinner table. If you're not going to make soup right away, freeze leftover items in individual plastic bags or containers, and keep them all together in a larger plastic "soup sack" in the freezer. When you're ready to make soup, you can easily see all your ingredients.

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    Make dog food

    Fido deserves a holiday treat, too. Be careful and do your homework — because some human foods (including onions, chocolate, some spices, grapes and raisins) can be dangerous or even fatal to a dog. Check out the Bark magazine3 Lost Dogs and other websites for more safety information and for recipes on how to make healthy pet treats from leftovers.

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    Don't just count heads

    Most folks just count the number of chairs around the dinner table to calculate the amount of food they will need to serve. This often results in preparing way too much food, since all eaters aren't created equal. Study your guest list, adjusting amounts downward based on the number of kids and other light eaters who will be attending.

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    Check out apps for appetizing leftover recipes

    Love Your Leftovers is a cooking app that helps minimize waste and maximize taste. Just enter your ingredients, and it will help you find recipes that incorporate those items. A number of cooking websites, including Epicurious and Allrecipes.com, let you do the same thing.

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    Be safe

    Most people know that stuffing should be removed from inside the holiday turkey before serving in order to prevent dangerous bacteria from developing. Keep food out of the "bacterial danger zone" (40 degrees to 140 degrees) as much as possible, and properly store leftovers within two hours after cooking. For more advice on proper food storage and handling, check out the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service's website.

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    Don't let date labels confuse you

    If you buy more cooking ingredients than needed, don't throw them away prematurely. According to the USDA, a sell-by date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. A best-if-used-by (or before) date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date. A use-by date is the manufacturer's recommendation on when last to use the product for peak quality.

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    Pick the right container

    Store most of your leftovers in relatively small containers to reduce the chances of bacteria growth. Place fruit and vegetables in separate compartments or containers, since they give off different gases that can interact and cause faster deterioration. And never refrigerate anything in an open can. It leads to faster spoilage, and the metal can will leach into the food and leave a metallic taste.

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    Stock up on long-lasting winter produce

    Some of the healthiest and tastiest seasonal produce — including winter squash, yams, apples, pomegranates, parsnips, beets and Brussels sprouts still on the stalk — are often bargain-priced during the holidays, and they will last a long time if stored properly. Real Simple magazine's website has a good guide on how to best store different types of produce.

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