The holidays are a time for celebrating friends and family, giving to the ones we love and eating—a lot. This joyous time of year always seems to fly by in a whirlwind, but when the decorations are taken down and the wrapping paper is stashed away, there’s one thing that remains: leftover food.
During the holidays, we stock up on foods like ham and turkey, and an overwhelming amount of food goes to waste each year. In fact, according to a 2016 turkey study, approximately 1.78 billion pounds (about 35 percent) of turkey is wasted every year in the United States.
Instead of letting all that food go to waste this year, use your leftovers to make a variety of delicious meals, host a post-holiday dinner party, or feed someone in need.
1. Donate Your Leftovers
We put this one first because it’s just one small way to make a big difference. While we may end up with an excess of food after the holidays, many people didn’t have any to go around to begin with.
Donate your leftovers to local charities, food pantries, or homeless shelters. A quick search online will show you all the places that accept donations. Before you go, check whether they take pre-made food or not—some places only take cans or boxes, while others will accept homemade soups, mashed potatoes, etc.
2. Make a Sandwich
This is one of the most classic ways to use leftovers, and one of the easiest to boot. Grab leftover ham, turkey, or roast beef and pile it up between two slices of bread. Add your favorite condiments and enjoy a delicious sandwich at home or in the office, or pack one for your kids for lunch.
Don’t forget to add holiday sides to your sandwich as well, or get creative and liven up your leftover sandwich with these ideas.
3. Cook Up Leftover Breakfast Frittatas
Leftovers are perfect to use in frittatas since most of the ingredients need to be pre cooked anyway. Sautée some veggies in olive oil or butter and throw in leftover ham, bacon, turkey, or whatever you have leftover.
In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, cheese (optional), and seasonings of your choice. Combine the veggies, meat and eggs in an oven-safe pan and bake at 350 for 15 minutes. This delicious meal will appeal to even the pickiest eaters, and is the perfect hearty breakfast before a day of winter adventures outside.
4. Give Leftovers to Party Guests
If you want to give gifts to people who attended your party, use your leftovers. Buy festive Tupperware containers, and at the end of the meal, put leftovers together for everyone. Don’t forget to include a little of everything, including dessert. At the end of the night, when everything is cleaned up and put away, you won’t have to worry about finding space in your fridge for all that extra food.
5. Bake a Ham and Egg Breakfast Casserole
Casseroles are a great way to use pre-cooked ingredients and items you may already have in the kitchen. Plus, depending on what you use, you can eat casserole for lunch or dinner. If there aren’t many people in your household, it can be dinner or lunch for your entire week.
Cut up leftover ham and add to a baking pan. Toss in veggies, potatoes, or bread crumbs as well, if you’d like. In a separate dish, mix eggs, milk, cheese, and salt and pepper. Add the egg mixture to the pan and bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
6. Host a “Leftovers Night”
If you haven’t had enough of your friends and family just yet, have everyone back over for a big leftovers evening. Let everyone make their own creation, by putting everything out for people to choose from. You’ll have fun seeing what everyone comes up with and get rid of your leftovers in the process.
7. Put a Spin on Your Favorite Mac and Cheese
Homemade macaroni and cheese is the ultimate comfort food and a great way to use leftover holiday ham. Make sure you have all the necessary ingredients, which include: macaroni noodles, cream, milk, flour, and your favorite type(s) of cheese.
Boil the noodles until they’re tender; drain and set aside. In a large bowl, mix cream, milk, flour, and salt and pepper. Add cheese and ham and mix well. Add the noodles and toss to coat in the mixture. Transfer all the ingredients to an oven-safe baking dish and sprinkle leftover cheese on top. Bake at 350 for 20 minutes.
Note: You can make a variety of different pasta dishes with leftovers; you just need the right noodles and ingredients.
8. Make Croutons or Bread Crumbs
Salvage your stale bread by grinding it down into bread crumbs or dicing it into squares for croutons. This is especially fun if you had a variety of artisan breads, allowing you to make all different kinds of croutons and bread crumbs that will add flavor to many means to come.
9. Whip Up Turkey Tostadas
When it comes to tostadas, anything goes. You can use whatever ingredients you want for this delicious, easy-to-make meal. One option is to warm your leftover turkey in the stove, along with your any leftover veggies and your favorite spices.
While that’s heating, spread tortillas with refried beans—note that you can bake corn tortillas to make them crispy or buy pre-made tostada shells. Top with cheese and put them in the over for two to three minutes to melt the cheese. Top the tortillas with your turkey mix and add your favorite toppings like lettuce, tomato, salsa and guacamole.
Remember, leftovers keep in the fridge for no more than 4 to 5 days, so if you’re not going to use them right away, store in the freezer to avoid waste. If you’re not going to use all your leftovers at all, donate them to someone who may not have a had a warm holiday meal.
BIO: Jessica Thiefels has been writing for more than 10 years and is currently a lifestyle blogger. She’s written for Reader’s Digest, AARP, Shape and more. Follow her on Twitter @Jlsander07 for money-saving ideas, health tips and more.