Baked casserole is a great way to spice up leftover turkey

What to Do with Leftover Turkey: 10 Ideas (+ Recipe)

By: Jasmine Shea

Some may argue that the best part of the holiday season is the Thanksgiving leftovers. For myself, there aren’t many things better than a fresh, warm pile of mashed potatoes and gravy and a side of stuffing. I’m also a fan of a great Thanksgiving turkey, but eating leftover turkey day after day can get a little… boring.

Boring isn’t in my vocabulary when it comes to food, though—especially with such a variety of dishes that can be created with leftover turkey. That’s right: a turkey sandwich or turkey soup isn’t your only after-Thanksgiving option. Save your bird for a multitude of delicious leftover turkey recipes that you’ll enjoy for many days to come. These Thanksgiving leftovers will be anything but boring.

Why reuse my turkey leftovers?

Leftover turkey recipes save time, thanks to having pre-cooked turkey on hand, as well as other Thanksgiving leftovers, such as mashed potatoes, gravy, cranberry sauce, green beans, and other casserole dishes. So let the hard work of preparing that Thanksgiving turkey and stuffing pay off with easy recipes in the days after your holiday feast.

You may enjoy your leftover turkey so much that it helps you practice portion control during the feast. Knowing your turkey won’t go to waste is a great motivator to slow down and savor every bite, while looking forward to creating a leftover turkey casserole later.

Of course, you’re a lot less likely to savor (and therefore reuse) your turkey if you don’t jazz it up with some new flavors and textures! Eating plain turkey day after day is a surefire way to make you lose your taste for Thanksgiving leftovers!

On the other hand, using your turkey meat in a variety of leftover turkey recipes allows for better nutrition—since you’ll be using additional ingredients in your dishes that provide ample vitamins and minerals to complement the benefits of your leftover turkey. For example, turkey pot pie, turkey salad, turkey tetrazzini and turkey casserole recipes all incorporate various vegetables, such as green beans, mushrooms, frozen peas, sweet potatoes and more, to turn your leftover turkey into an easy-to-make meal.

How long do turkey leftovers last in the fridge?

It’s best to keep your cooked turkey in the fridge for only three or four days. After that, you'll need to freeze it or dispose of it—or turn it into an amazing leftover turkey casserole, turkey pot pie or other turkey recipe. Refrigerating your leftovers is a great way to give your whole family easy access to comfort food. Just be sure to plan out your bakes—such as turkey tetrazzini, stir fry and leftover turkey casserole—before your meat needs to be moved. Cubing or shredding your turkey meat before freezing is a good way to save time when you want to make a turkey casserole recipe later.

Can turkey leftovers be frozen?

Not only can freeze your leftover turkey meat, you can freeze the entire bird, bones and all, for up to six months! This is a great way to free up space in your refrigerator for leftovers that don't freeze well, like those mashed potatoes and gravy. Freezing the entire turkey is a good idea if you are planning a post-holiday soup. Otherwise, you'll thank yourself later if you slice, cube or shred the meat now and freeze it in the portions needed for future turkey recipes.

Baking your turkey into a casserole first and then freezing it saves even more time and energy because it’s ready to eat once you heat it up, versus only freezing the leftover turkey and still needing to consider what you’ll be eating with it. So get creative with your turkey leftovers, enjoy the many benefits that they yield, and freeze them to prolong those benefits…and save time!

What is the best way to reheat leftover turkey?

The best way to heat leftover turkey is whatever is most convenient for you. Turkey reheats well for a day-after Thanksgiving meal or year-round (versus something like a potato dish that tastes best fresh). My go-to method is reheating in the microwave.

If you have a leftover turkey still in a pan, you could cover it with foil and bake in the oven to reheat. Depending on how you’re using your leftovers, you could also heat them in a large saucepan on the stovetop over medium-high heat.

Keep in mind that leftover turkey served cold is also a convenient and delicious way to enjoy it (such as turkey salad or leftover turkey sandwiches).

How do you make leftover turkey moist?

No one wants to eat dry, bland meat. The best way to ensure your leftover turkey is flavorful and moist (aside from the initial cooking method) is to use it in an easy turkey casserole, pot pie, soup or other recipe. This allows other moisture to be added, additional flavors to be used, and for the leftover turkey to pair with other delicious ingredients.

If you want to eat leftover turkey plain and still ensure it is moist, seal it in an airtight container before refrigerating, and then add a tablespoon of water to the meat before reheating in the microwave. You can also do this if heating in the oven: add about a tablespoon of water for every cup of turkey to rehydrate it.

10 turkey leftover ideas that won’t disappoint

Turkey is a healthy option for your Thanksgiving dinner, as it’s a lean meat packed with protein and low in saturated fat. In addition to its health benefits, turkey is a very versatile staple that can be used in a variety of ways, including these top 10 leftover turkey recipes below:

  1. Turkey Enchilada Casserole (see recipe below)

  2. Turkey Pot Pie with Stuffing

  3. Grilled Cranberry Turkey Sandwich

  4. Thai Turkey Soup

  5. Turkey Salad Croissant Sandwiches

  6. Turkey Noodle Soup

  7. Turkey Gumbo with Sausage

  8. Southwest Turkey Soup

  9. Turkey Pesto Panini

  10. Turkey Chili

How to make turkey casserole with leftovers

One of my favorite ways to use leftover turkey in a casserole is No. 1 on the list above: Turkey Enchilada Casserole. It’s a quick way to create a yummy meal, and this family-friendly casserole is sure to be loved by all. (My toddler LOVES this meal, and my husband devours it, too.)

This casserole is a mixture of fresh ingredients, pantry staples, and the leftover turkey from your holiday meal.

Turkey Enchilada Casserole

Ingredients:

12 oz cooked leftover turkey, shredded
32 oz red enchilada sauce
4 oz diced green chilies
½ onion, chopped
1 ½ cups cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese, shredded
8 whole wheat tortillas
2 avocados, sliced
Green onions, chopped

Preparation:

  1. Add the enchilada sauce to a bowl and stir in green chilies.
  2. Pour a very thin layer of the sauce into the bottom of a 9 x 13 casserole dish.
  3. Add half of the tortillas to the bottom of the dish (on top of the sauce).
  4. Top the tortillas with half of the turkey, half of the onions, half of the remaining sauce, and half of the cheese.
  5. Repeat the layers with tortillas, turkey, onions and sauce, topped with cheese.
  6. Bake in the oven at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 25 minutes (until the middle is warm and the cheese is fully melted).
  7. Serve topped with sliced avocado and green onions.

Nutritional Values per serving

Total Servings: 6
Calories: 419 calories
Protein: 25 grams
Carbohydrates: 28 grams
Fat: 23 grams

Tips for success

The best part about this turkey casserole is that it sets you up for success in a big way: You don’t need to spend time perfectly rolling the filling into tortillas and hoping they don’t tear. Instead, you’re layering all of the delicious Tex-Mex ingredients into a dish to make a crave-worthy casserole. You’re also getting ample nutrients while experiencing a variety of complimentary flavors.

This Mexican-inspired casserole recipe is very forgiving with substitutions. You can easily swap corn tortillas for whole wheat tortillas in your turkey casserole. You can use dark or light meat, and bake it with green enchilada sauce in place of red, if you prefer. You can also add layers such as black beans or corn and top your casserole with sour cream or breadcrumbs.

This leftover turkey casserole can even be modified to use other leftovers from your holiday dinner, such as stuffing and sweet potato.

Do I get enough tryptophan from my turkey leftovers?

You know how people often get sleepy after eating a big turkey dinner? Well, turkey contains tryptophan, which is one of several essential amino acids that promotes good sleep. But it is more likely that a big meal full of carbohydrates is actually making you sleepy, because eating turkey alone won’t provide you with enough tryptophan to make you drowsy.

But you want the tryptophan it does have. Tryptophan helps your body produce both the “sleep hormone” melatonin and the “happy hormone” serotonin, which plays an important part in mood, behavior and cognition.  

Why take tryptophan supplements?

Because of tryptophan's role in serotonin and melatonin production in the body, supplementing with L-tryptophan helps to promote healthy sleep and mood, and it encourages a healthy stress response. It can also support satiety—the feeling of fullness you get after eating.

Your body actually requires the essential amino acid tryptophan to produce and maintain healthy serotonin levels. Also, studies show that incorporating tryptophan as part of a healthy diet supports overall health and nutrition.

Its role in melatonin production is part of this. Melatonin is called your sleep hormone because it rules your sleep-wake cycles, helping you fall asleep at night and then wake feeling refreshed. Melatonin also supports your immune health and helps inhibit oxidative stress.

If you’re unsure about your nutritional needs, a supplement quiz is a great place to start when determining which supplements are best for supporting healthy sleep, mood and well-being.

After all, we don’t gobble down turkey or turkey casseroles every day. But with leftover turkey casserole recipes like the enchilada bake, turkey tetrazzini and more, eating turkey might one day become a year-round tradition.

About the Author: Jasmine Shea, MS, is the author of over a dozen e-cookbooks and the founder of Your Dinner Is Planned: the fastest and most affordable way to prepare dinners. With Jasmine's passion for sharing cooking tips, she generates over one million impressions weekly with recipe and lifestyle content to show others that eating delicious food can be easy and fun!

Website: https://www.jazzythings.com/about

References

Scientifically Reviewed By: Holli Ryan, RD, LD/N

By: Jasmine Shea