How to Package Thanksgiving Leftovers

How to Package Thanksgiving LeftoversThanksgiving leftovers are the best reminder of the wonderful meal we shared with family and friends. I often cook double the amount of food just so I have enough leftovers to divvy up and send home with everyone. Call me crazy, but I have no doubt everyone wants to wake up and enjoy a turkey-stuffing sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes the next day. It’s a holiday tradition, at least at my house.

But, let’s face the facts: Our refrigerators are already stuffed to capacity with all the extra celebration. And now we have to find room for all the leftovers we desperately want to keep and enjoy again and again. The fridge will not accommodate all the weird shaped bowls, Tupperware and various containers we need and want to fit in there.

Over the years, my solution has been Ziploc® bags – all shapes and sizes as well as freezer and non-freezer varieties. They're a lifesaver when it comes to packaging foods that are liquid, solid and oddly shaped – think jumbo turkey wings. The best part is that once everything is in Ziploc® bags, the bags can be stacked neatly on top of each other in a small corner of the fridge. It’s a perfect resolution to the over-stuffed fridge predicament. Plus, if I'm not able to consume the leftovers in a couple of days, the freezer bags easily transfer to the freezer for longer storage. It’s a total win-win situation for me.

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The key to storing food safely is getting it packaged and cooled down quickly. Within two hours of serving is considered best practice. Storing the leftovers in Ziploc® bags allows for a larger surface area exposed to cold air, helping the food to cool down quickly. Clear out a spot in the refrigerator a day ahead so you're not rearranging the fridge under duress of holiday activities.

When it comes to storing leftover turkey, remove any stuffing from inside the bird and cut leftover meat from the turkey carcass. Cut the meat into smaller pieces and separate into appropriate-sized Ziploc® bags. It’s up to you if you want to sort white and dark meat into separate bags. The carcass can also be bagged and placed in the freezer to make stock at a later time. I also assemble a large bag of cubed turkey meat that's ready for casseroles, soups or turkey salad sandwiches.

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Side dishes such as mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes and veggies should be stored separately in their own clean bags to avoid contamination. Gravy and soups should be cooled down quickly by setting their containers in bowls of chilled water, then transferring them to a Ziploc® bag where they can lay flat.

Food doesn't have to come to room temperature before storing it in the refrigerator, and the less amount of time it spends at room temperature, the better. After Thanksgiving dinner has finished, enlist everyone’s help in getting the food packaged and into the refrigerator.

Desserts also store well in Ziploc® bags. Everything from sturdy pie slices – think pumpkin – to brownies and cakes all slide easily into Ziploc® bags. Store in the refrigerator, freezer or on the counter, depending on what's appropriate.

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Freezing leftovers is a great way to prevent growth of spoilage bacteria. Foods can be frozen for 6-8 months at 0˚ F without going bad. For taste purposes, however, foods consumed within 2- 3 months of freezing are best.

Make sure to use freezer-storage Ziploc® bags if you're planning on freezing your leftovers. If you freeze gravy or any other liquid, remember to leave room at the top of the package. Liquids tend to expand during the freezing process.

Cool down food in the refrigerator a few hours before moving it to the freezer. Don’t forget to label and date each package — everything tends to look the same after it’s frozen.

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Make sure to reheat leftovers to a safe temperature of 165˚ F before eating. Test with a thermometer if you're unsure. When using a microwave, rotate the bowl and stir the food a couple times. This ensures that the food is heated properly in all areas. Food tends to lose moisture and dry out every time it's reheated, so warm up only the portion you’re planning to serve and place the unused portions back in the refrigerator.

Leftover gravy, soups and sauces should be brought to a full boil on the stove during the reheating process.

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Extra Bonus Tip:
Leftover wine ... what? Who has leftover wine? It does happen, especially if you’ve experienced Thanksgiving at my house. We try to taste every dish with three or four wines to see what pairs best. It’s hard work.

Although we have a lot of empty bottles at the end of the evening, there are many with a cup or half cup of wine left in them. I use small portions of wine in many of my recipes, so I portion the wine out into ½ cup servings and pour the wine into small, Ziploc bags. The small portion bags go into one large Ziploc® freezer bag so they don’t get lost in the freezer.

The next time I’m cooking and need a little bit of wine, I don’t have to open a new bottle. The frozen wine can go right into the hot pan on the stove and be used in my reductions.

How to Package Leftovers

Disclosure: This content has been sponsored by Kroger. As always, all opinions are 100% my own. I continue to work with brands I believe to be leaders in their industry and that bring quality products to us all. Please support them in any way you can.

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