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How to Have a Food Waste-Free Thanksgiving

November 26th, 2014
Center for Food Safety

With Thanksgiving coming tomorrow, you’re probably putting the finishing touches on your menu and prepping the turkey for roasting. One thing that’s often overlooked during all these preparations, however, is planning for all of the leftovers.

In one year, Americans waste about 34 million tons of food, and with holiday parties and dinners, the winter season is an especially wasteful time of year. According to Food Tank, between Thanksgiving and the New Year, the United States will waste about five million tons of food.

Food is the single largest component of municipal solid waste reaching America’s landfills and incinerators. Landfills are compacted so tightly that food decomposes without oxygen, creating methane- a greenhouse gas with 23 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. In the United States, landfills account for almost 25% of all methane emissions. This makes food waste a big deal from a climate perspective.

Don’t let all the hard work it took to produce your Thanksgiving feast (and your money) go to waste; instead of throwing out your leftovers, repurpose them into a new and delicious dish.

Check out these recipes for some delicious ideas for your Thanksgiving leftovers!

Turkey Spinach Soup                                                                                                        Adapted from Whole Living Magazine

Total time: 2.5 hours
Servings: 8


  • 1 turkey carcass, broken into 3 or 4 pieces
  • 3 carrots, halved crosswise
  • 2 celery stalks, halved crosswise
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • Coarse salt
  • 1 teaspoon crumbled dried rosemary
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 5 cups spinach leaves, shredded
  • 3 cups leftover cooked turkey, diced
  • 1 package (10 ounces) frozen corn kernels
  • 1 can (15 1/2 ounces) white beans, drained and rinsed
  • 4 green onions, thinly sliced


Place the carcass in a large soup pot or stockpot and add cold water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to a boil over high heat, skimming any foam that rises to the surface.

Add carrots, celery, tomato paste, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon rosemary. Return to a boil then reduce to a simmer and cook until the broth is rich and flavorful, about 2 hours.

With a wire skimmer, remove and discard turkey carcass and vegetables. Strain and transfer 8 cups of broth to a large saucepan; freeze the remainder.

Bring broth to a boil over high heat. Add red pepper flakes and remaining 1/2 teaspoon rosemary and season with salt. Add spinach, reduce to a simmer, and cook until spinach is tender, about 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in turkey, corn, beans, and scallions and cook just until corn is heated through, about 2 minutes. Salt to taste and serve while warm.


Potato Cakes with Turkey-Veggie Hash
Adapted from Food Network

Total time: 50 minutes
Servings: 4


  • 1 cup leftover mashed potatoes, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon finely chopped rosemary
  • Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 small onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
  • 1 small red bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 cups leftover turkey meat, diced
  • 1/2 cup leftover turkey gravy
  • 1/4 cup leftover cooked corn, peas, or chopped Brussels sprouts



Preheat oven to 200 degrees. In a bowl, mix the potatoes, egg, and milk together until combined. Add the flour and rosemary, season with salt and pepper, and mix until smooth. Heat 2 teaspoons oil on a non-stick pan over medium heat; pour about 1/3 cup of the batter onto the warm pan and gently spread it to make a circle about 4" wide. Cook until golden brown, flipping once, about 3-4 minutes per side. Transfer to the oven to keep warm. Repeat with remaining batter to make 4 potato cakes.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a small skillet over medium low heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the red pepper and cook until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the turkey, gravy, and cooked veggies and cook, stirring, until turkey is heated through. Season the hash with salt and pepper.

To serve, put a warm potato cake on each plate and divide the hash evenly among them. Top each serving with a fried egg, if you would like.


Cranberry Tartlets
Adapted from Martha Stewart Living

Total time: 1.5 hours
Servings: Makes 12 tartlets


  • 12 (2 ¾-inch) squares of leftover pie dough
  • 6 tablespoons leftover cranberry sauce
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon heavy cream
  • Sanding sugar or other coarse sugar


Arrange dough squares in cups of a mini-muffin pan. Top each square with 1.5 teaspoons of cranberry sauce and fold in edges to create little squares. Freeze for 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Beat the egg yolk and cream together. Brush tartlets with the egg wash and sprinkle with sugar. Bake tartlets until golden, about 30-35 minutes.

Have a healthy and delicious holiday weekend! Be sure to check out this post for simple tips on how to reduce food waste in your home.