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Using Thanksgiving Day Leftovers in a Healthy Way

Turkey Day has come and gone, leaving us all feeling a little softer around the middle. So what are you supposed to do with all of those leftovers if you're trying to avoid overeating several days in a row? Believe it or not, there are healthy ways to use up some of your leftover food from the holiday.

2008_12_4-Leftovers2.jpg The leftover Thanksgiving Day food with the most healthy recipe possibilities has to be the turkey. Turkey breast is a very lean protein as long as it isn't covered in butter or deep-fried, and as long as the skin is removed. One of my favorite ways to enjoy turkey days after the big feast is assemble a simple turkey sandwich. To keep it healthy, make sure you use whole-grain bread that isn't too high in calories. Also, opt for a small amount light mayonnaise instead of regular mayo, which will add a large amount of unnecessary fat and calories. The light mayonnaise made with olive oil has a unique flavor and provides some heart-healthy fats. Pile on the veggies, and you've got an instantly delicious and nutritious meal.

Another way to use the turkey and any leftover vegetables you have laying around is to make a hearty soup. Starting with a fat-free base like a clear broth, you can add pieces of turkey and any vegetables you have taking up space in your fridge. Toss in some herbs and spices to make a tasty meal that will warm you up during these cold winter days.

If you have leftover sweet potatoes, try pureeing them along with garbanzo beans to make an amazing hummus. Add the usual hummus suspects (tahini paste or oil, garlic, salt, pepper, additional spices), and blend together. Use the hummus as a dip for fresh vegetables (perhaps you have some crudités left over that you need to eat) or as a healthy alternative to high-calorie sandwich spreads.

It's important to remember that any food that you don't intend to eat within a few days after Thanksgiving should be frozen or thrown out. Food-borne illnesses don't take a vacation over the holidays, and food safety is just as important now as it is during any other time of the year.

There are some leftover foods that are just impossible to turn into healthy dishes. These are often the desserts that seem to linger on the counter after the big celebration. The easiest way to avoid turning one day of feasting into a week of overindulgence is to simply send the richest dishes home with guests. Divide up the desserts into individual slices or portions, and be sure to get rid of every last piece so that you won't be tempted. Out of sight, out of mind!


Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at KariHartelRD@gmail.com.




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