Imagine this: Everyone has pushed back their chairs and declared they can’t possibly eat one more bite. Pants have been unbuttoned and everyone is feeling luxuriously sleepy. All in all, it’s a sign that Thanksgiving dinner was a success.
But now what? How long are Thanksgiving leftovers good to eat?
Read on to find out how long to keep Thanksgiving leftovers and how to store them safely.
How Long to Keep Thanksgiving Leftovers?
Some people like to leave Thanksgiving dinner on the table until all the guests leave. Others like to start packing up the leftovers as soon as dessert is over.
Unless you have warming trays for all your food, you should refrigerate leftovers within two hours of serving.
You don’t have to let food come to room temperature before putting it in the fridge. That’s a common misconception.
The less time food stays at room temperature, the less likely it will grow bacteria that can make you sick.
If you have steaming hot food, you may want to chill it in the fridge uncovered (so it chills faster) before putting on the lid.
The Best Way to Store Leftovers
It may be tempting to cover your serving dishes with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and put the dishes in the fridge.
But this isn’t the best way way to store your Thanksgiving leftovers. It’s best to pack your items into shallow containers. Don’t put all the leftovers in one giant bin.
Separate each item into its own small container. If you have stuffing inside the turkey, take it out of the cavity and store it in its own container.
Carve the turkey into smaller pieces and place inside a plastic, food-safe bag or food container with a tight-fitting lid.
A big part of how long to keep Thanksgiving leftovers is about how well you store them.
The Best Way to Freeze Leftovers
Many people wonder if you can freeze cooked turkey…The answer is yes!
Freezing food is the best way to prevent food from spoiling. The longer those food items stay in the freezer, the less fresh they will taste. A good rule is to eat all frozen food within three months of freezing it.
You can freeze your Thanksgiving leftovers in airtight containers or plastic freezer bags. Press out all the excess air before sealing the bags.
If you want to freeze soup or gravy, make sure your container or bag has room at the top. Liquids expand when they freeze so you want to leave some room for that.
Make sure to label everything. Once it’s frozen, it all looks the same.
While items are freezing, it’s best to avoid stacking them until they are frozen solid. If you can, freeze them spread out and then rearrange once frozen.
It is OK to refrigerate your items and then freeze them later. But to keep food as fresh as possible, try to freeze your items within 24 hours or two days at the most.
Now, let’s talk about the safe food handling for each Thanksgiving item that may have graced your table.
The last thing you want is to become ill from eating turkey that has sat out too long. So make sure to strip the meat from the bones and refrigerate the turkey soon after dinner is over.
You can keep the meat for 3-4 days in the fridge or up to 3 months in the freezer.
Cranberry sauce can stay in the fridge for about two weeks. You can get creative and use leftover cranberry sauce as a pancake topping or in baked desserts.
It stays good in the freezer for up to three months.
Mashed potatoes will be tasty for about a week in the fridge. But your best bet is to freeze them.
In fact, mashed potatoes are durable and do well for a whole year in a freezer. You can use them for shepherd’s pie and many other recipes.
Sweet Potato Casserole
Sweet potato casserole is a favorite Thanksgiving dish. But if your casserole had marshmallow toppings, it probably won’t taste very good after being frozen.
Instead, store leftovers in the fridge and enjoy these leftovers within five days after Thanksgiving.
Or, scrape off the marshmallows before freezing. When you thaw them later on, you can add fresh marshmallows to your casserole.
Gravy will only taste good for a day or two in the fridge. Your best bet is to freeze leftover gravy for up to three months.
There are many recipes for leftover stuffing you can try. In the fridge, stuffing will stay good for about a week.
It’s not always great once it has been frozen because the texture might be off. But if you use the stuffing in a casserole that is baked, it will firm up nicely.
Store in the freezer for no more than a month for maximum freshness.
Did you know that eating peas and lentils can help you manage your blood sugar?
Whether you have peas, green beans or lentils, you can store them in the fridge for a few days. In the freezer, they will be OK for up to a year.
Now, onto desserts.
Have you noticed how store-bought pies sit out on tables in the grocery store? Well, that’s because those pies have a lot of preservatives in them.
Homemade pumpkin pie should be refrigerated. If you don’t finish it off within three days, you can toss it in the freezer for two months.
Pecan pie can sit in your pantry or on your counter for 24 hours. But if you have lots left, go ahead and store it in the fridge.
You can also freeze it for up to two months.
Good ol’ apple pie. You can keep it out for around two days. In the fridge, it will stay fresh for about a week.
Your apple pie will last about two months in the freezer.
Keep Your Thanksgiving Dinner Longer!
Thanks for reading. We hope that this article on how long to keep Thanksgiving leftovers helps you minimize your waste this holiday season.
Remember, if you won’t eat it within a few days, you might as well freeze your leftovers. You might be sick of turkey now, but in a month, a delicious turkey dinner with all the sides may be just the thing.
Before you go, read all about the best brain foods for brain health.