Turkey Soup and other Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

by Katherine Sacks , Megan Saynisch

Published: 11/09/18, Last updated: 11/14/19

For a lot of us, Thanksgiving is all about cooking: turkey, (or a turkey alternative, thank you very much), stuffing, cranberry sauce, the works. Unfortunately, that also leads to a lot of food waste. Americans waste about a quarter of the food they buy, and, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, that waste increases more than 25 percent during the holidays. (That’s a lot of Thanksgiving leftovers going into our landfills.)

To help reduce your food waste and save your leftover turkey from the trash can, we’ve compiled this handy guide for avoiding food waste, including Thanksgiving leftover recipes. You might be in a turkey coma after the big meal, but don’t forget to put the leftover turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce and pie in the fridge! We promise you the turkey soup or Thanksgiving sandwich you’ll make with the leftovers is worth it!

Waste Less When You Cook

Make a Plan

Good meal planning can help you save money and reduce food waste. Instead of winging it, purchase just enough ingredients to serve your guests. Add a few extra servings if you want to ensure Thanksgiving leftovers. For the turkey, a good rule of thumb is to calculate 1 1/2 pounds per person (this includes room for some leftovers). A genius tip from Martha Stewart: the smaller the bird (12 pounds or less), the lower the meat-to-bone ratio, so plan on at least 2 pounds per person instead.

Serve Buffet Style to Reduce Food Waste

Encouraging self-service for the meal (i.e., buffet style) can help ensure that your guests only take what they think they’ll eat (give or take an extra scoop of mashed potatoes). This virtually guarantees that less food will get scraped off their plate and into the garbage at the end of the meal.

Compost Fruit and Vegetable Scraps

Cooking a large meal like Thanksgiving dinner can generate a lot of fruit and vegetable scraps — potato peels, carrot tops, apple cores. If you aren’t already composting, the holiday season is a good time to start. For smaller kitchens, a counter top container works. If you have a backyard, setting up a worm compost bin is also an option. Many municipalities have food scrap drop off programs which make it even easier to reduce your waste.

At Least Freeze It

Freezing Thanksgiving leftovers is probably the easiest way to avoid food waste. Lots of components of the traditional Thanksgiving meal can be frozen. Here are some tips for chilling Thanksgiving leftovers:

  • Store meat and gravy together to keep the meat from drying out.
  • To freeze gravy without meat: whiz the gravy in a food processor or blender first to keep it from separating when you thaw it. (More excellent gravy-storage tips here.)
  • Freeze stuffing in freezer bags, ideally reusable bags. Sprinkle stuffing with a little broth or water before reheating to avoid the dry-out factor.
  • Freeze cranberry sauce in airtight containers. (Then make fancy grilled cheeses by spreading a little thawed cranberry sauce on crusty bread before adding your cheese of choice and grilling.)
  • To freeze whole pumpkin pies, wrap the pie tightly in plastic wrap, then foil. Freeze. To thaw, defrost in the refrigerator overnight until defrosted.

Lots of Thanksgiving Leftovers? Get Creative!

Maybe you cooked way too much turkey. Maybe you even planned for Thanksgiving leftovers because you’ve been craving turkey pot pie all year long. No matter the reason, if you find yourself with a ton of Thanksgiving leftovers, we have plenty of recipes to help you out.

Leftover Turkey Recipes

  • This is less a leftover recipe, and more of a just-do-it-every-time tip: If you are roasting your turkey, always save the turkey carcass. (This also goes for chicken, duck, pheasant, etc.) First, make turkey stock with those bones. If you have leftover meat as well (and maybe some roasted vegetables), make turkey soup (Check out our recipe below!) This turkey soup recipe adds dumplings, a good way to stretch a smaller amount of leftovers into a full meal.
  • Not ready to make soup right away? Freeze the stock and use it for soups, sauce or any time a recipe calls for broth or stock.
  • Use that stock and leftover turkey to make the Louisiana classic, turkey gumbo.
  • Use all of the fixings to make a beloved classic, the Thanksgiving sandwich.
  • Whip up turkey hash for breakfast. Not only is this a great way to use leftover turkey, but it’s also great for clearing out your vegetable bin. Chop up veggies like bell peppers, potatoes and mushrooms to toss into the mix.
  • Another great way to make use of food scraps and Thanksgiving extras is with leftover turkey pot pie. Along with leftover turkey, you can throw in leftover green beans, carrots, herbs and other veggies.
  • If pot pie isn’t your thing, there are a ton of turkey casserole recipes you can try out to use those Thanksgiving leftovers. Turkey noodle casserole; turkey and mashed potato casserole; turkey and rice casserole. It’s all about the turkey, and all about the carbs.

Leftover Mashed Potato Recipes

Leftover Stuffing Recipes

Leftover Cranberry Sauce Recipes

  • If you’ve gone to the trouble of making homemade cranberry sauce, don’t waste it! As easy way to use it up is served like a chutney, spread on sandwiches, with roast meats and alongside hard cheeses like cheddar.
  • Substitute cranberry sauce for recipes that call for jelly, such as cocktails, marinades or baked goods. Try it out with our pancake recipe below.
  • Use cranberry sauce to flavor dairy products like yogurt or whipped cream or spoon it over vanilla ice cream.
  • For leftover fresh cranberries that never made it into a sauce, make cranberry pie.

Thanksgiving Leftover Recipes

Megan Saynisch

Recipe: Turkey Bone Broth

Makes 2 quarts

I promise if you make this broth from your leftover bird, you won’t be disappointed. Use it to make soups, turkey pot pies and much more. This recipe is adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton’s bone broth recipe.


At least 2 pounds turkey bones
Vegetables such as onion, carrot, celery or garlic peels, ends and skins (optional)


  1. Place bones and vegetables in a heavy-duty stock pot and add cold water to cover by 2”, about 1 gallon.
  2. Bring to a simmer over low heat. Simmer gently for 3-3 1/2 hours, skimming any foam that forms.
  3. Scoop out bones and large vegetable pieces with a slotted spoon. Strain broth through a colander into a large heatproof bowl. Strain again through a fine mesh sieve into a large heatproof bowl or container.
  4. Set broth aside to chill, then refrigerate until cold; fat will solidify on top, making it easy to remove. Store chilled broth for up to 5 days or freeze for up to 6 months.

Recipe: Stuffin’ Muffins

Serves 6

Got leftover stuffing? Got a muffin tin? Then you’ve got stuffin’ muffins! Serve with poached eggs and a salad and you’ve got the perfect Thanksgiving-inspired breakfast or an easy lunch. For a vegetarian version, omit the bacon and substitute vegetable stock for the turkey stock or chicken broth.


1 tablespoon melted butter or cooking spray
6 cups prepared stuffing
1/4 cup turkey stock, chicken broth or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
2 slices cooked bacon, chopped (optional)
1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped (optional)
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper


  1. Preheat oven to 400F.
  2. Grease a 6-cup muffin pan with melted butter or cooking spray.
  3. Use your hands to slightly break up the stuffing in a large bowl. If the mixture is dry, add stock to moisten. (See note.) Add bacon and jalapeno, if using, and combine. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  4. Divide batter among muffin cups, packing tightly so the muffins hold together. Bake until muffins are golden brown and fragrant, 20-25 minutes.
  5. Transfer to a wire rack and cool in pan 10 minutes. Run a thin, flexible paring knife around muffins to unmold. Serve immediately.Cook’s Note: If your stuffing mixture is fairly dry, add extra stock to moisten the mix before it goes into the muffin tins. If your recipe already calls for bacon or sausage, feel free to omit the bacon. The chopped jalapeño adss extra spicy goodness here; feel free to omit this, if you don’t like the spice.

Recipe: Cranberry-Buttermilk Pancakes

Serves 4

I don’t know about you, but we always — always — have cranberry sauce left! If you’re like me, then this recipe is for you. This recipe works with whole-berry cranberry sauces — the canned jellied sauce won’t cut it here. To make life even easier, you can skip the stirring-the-cranberry-sauce-into-the-batter step and just spoon a few tablespoons of sauce right on top of your short stack. Easy peasy.


1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
Kosher salt
2 eggs, separated
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup whole milk
4 tablespoons butter, melted and cooled slightly
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 cup leftover cranberry sauce, plus more
Butter, for greasing pan and serving
Maple syrup, for serving


  1. Whisk flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and a pinch of salt in a large bowl.
  2. Whisk egg yolks, buttermilk and milk in a small bowl. Slowly whisk melted butter into milk mixture. Whisk in vanilla. Add milk mixture to dry ingredients and whisk to combine.
  3. Whisk egg whites in a small bowl until frothy. Gently fold whites into batter until combined. Fold in 1/4 cup cranberry sauce.
  4. Let pancake batter sit for 10 minutes. Heat a large griddle or non-stick pan over medium; brush with butter. Working in batches, scoop 1/4-cupfuls of batter onto pan; cook until small bubbles appear all over the surface and the edges begin to look slightly dry, 2-3 minutes. Flip and continue to cook until golden brown on both sides, 2-21/2 minutes more. Serve immediately with butter, warm maple syrup and additional cranberry sauce.

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