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Handling Holiday Leftovers

Safe Eating

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What should you do with a table full of holiday leftovers? While it's a pity to waste good food, it is unsafe to let leftovers linger. Any food left out for more than two hours is susceptible to harmful bacterial growth and should be tossed. This is true for any part of the meal, not just the meat. Here's how to handle what's left:

  1. Try and make an honest assessment of what you are likely to eat over the next three or four days, since that is how long most leftovers are good for, unless you choose to freeze them, which you should do immediately.


  2. Save only the food you know to have been handled safely in the first place, and which hasn’t been tainted by double-dipping or by lots of hands picking at it.


  3. Make sure your refrigerator is working to keep food cold enough. The temperature should be no more than 40 degrees (the freezer should register 0 degrees). You can also help by not overloading the refrigerator, which compromises its efficiency.


  4. Store foods properly. For example, keep stuffing separately from meat; use plenty of plastic or foil wrap to cover foods, or use clean sealable plastic containers. Remove any knives, forks and spoons from serving dishes. Divide leftovers into manageable portions. This will allow faster cooling and more efficient storage. Mark the containers or bags with a date so you know when to use or toss their contents.


  5. When reheating, leftovers must be cooked to 165 degrees to kill any bacteria. Be sure to use a thermometer to check.


  6. Finally, resist the temptation to poke and pick at leftovers, even if they are in the refrigerator. You can still contaminate them. Also, if you find you are being lured to the refrigerator because of all those tempting treats, perhaps you should get rid of them after all. A quick spoonful of pie here and there will soon add up, leaving you feeling guilty and ultimately miserable.

Using Low Fat Leftovers

Having made your choices and stored what leftovers you deem fit to be kept, what can you do with them? Whether you ate ham, roast pork, beef or turkey, try the following tips to help you prepare low fat meals and snacks.

Use leftover meat in soups, salads, omelets, wraps, pizza toppings, panini, pasta dishes or quesadillas. Just be sure to use low fat or fat free ingredients alongside them, and use whole grain breads, rolls and wraps where possible.

  • Use fat-free mayonnaise and turkey bacon with your leftover turkey for, say, a turkey club sandwich.


  • Grill thin slices of leftover ham or pork plus reduced-fat cheese between two slices of wholewheat bread for a tasty panini-style sandwich.


  • Add some arugula or watercress and a few slices of red onion to thinly-sliced leftover roast beef to make a delicious lunchtime roll or sandwich.


  • Sprinkle reduced fat cheese on ham, turkey, pork or beef pizzas or quesadillas.


  • Use de-fatted stocks or fat-free, low sodium broths for leftover ham, turkey or beef soups. Puree leftover vegetables such as peas or squash to help thicken them.


  • Use egg substitute or egg whites as your base for a ham or turkey omelet. Be sure to throw in some crunchy, colorful veggies.


  • Try a combination of fat-free sour cream and plain yogurt as a base for a turkey salad. Add in toasted chopped almonds and celery for crunch.


  • Make main course turkey or ham salads with winter leaves such as arugula, watercress and endives, or toss your leftover meats on to a bed of spinach leaves, sliced mushrooms, red onions, shredded carrots and cucumber. Make a basic vinaigrette dressing using canola or olive oil, balsamic vinegar and Dijon mustard to go with them.

These are just a few basic ideas for how to use leftover meats in low fat dishes. It’s hard to repackage leftover pie, trifle or cake, however. Instead, allow yourself one more helping in the day or two after Christmas, then donate or toss the rest. That way, you neither deprive nor over-indulge yourself, and you can look forward to what I hope will be a happy, healthy new year.

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