If you invite a group of folks over for a holiday meal, it’s imperative that there is enough food on the table. In fact, when hosting a large gathering, I like to follow two key guidelines: 1) Appeal to the guests; and 2) Prepare more than enough food. Of course, you can do whatever you’d like, but if hosting an event that guests remember fondly is important to you, I’d observe these two recommendations.

If you do, then you’ll be cooking basic meals and larger-than-normal portions. This is why large birds, roasts, and hams are so popular at the holidays—the preparation is relatively straightforward, the sizing ensures you have enough, and your guests are fairly comfortable with the tastes and textures. Heck, some might even look upon these items as comfort food. The issue with this, however, is that you, as the host, will likely have ample leftovers. Perhaps this doesn’t concern you. If that be the case, great! But if you happen to be one of those hosts who spends the last quarter of your event hocking food, preparing to-go containers, and constantly asking, “You wanna take some food with you?” in order to stave off eating the same meal for the next seven days straight, you’ve probably been left with the following predicament: You don’t want to throw food away, but you don’t want to eat the same meal until MLK Day either.

That’s where the art of leftovers comes in. Growing up, I never cared for leftovers. Why? Because I like variety, day-to-day. Luckily, there a few things I can do to make sure I appease my palate while not being wasteful and using the leftover food I have in my fridge. Of course, if you love a meal, you can heat up the same thing the next day, and probably be satisfied. However, if you’re looking for something different because you’ve had reheated pork roast for the last five meals in a row and you can’t take it anymore, you need to engage in the art of leftovers. These techniques stretch your original meal, using some cooked ingredients in different ways, to keep your subsequent meals fresh and unique.

Pork Roast

This Christmas staple is great for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, or even New Year dinners. They are so easy to prepare and they are usual pretty appealing (at least to meat-eating crowds). When the dust has settled on your original meal and you’re faced with a large portion of pork roast in your fridge, you might be tempted to order a pizza and let it sit there. Don’t! Try these three things instead:

  1. Reheat your pork in gravy. This trick has been used by my mom for years. It’s easy, and it creates the illusion of a completely different meal using the same pork (or beef, or turkey) you ate last night. Slice your pork no more than one-quarter-inch thick. Then heat up your favorite gravy (it can be instant gravy, no one is judging you) in a saucepan. Then, add as many slices of meat as you want. After about five minutes, you have a hot pork and gravy main dish distinct from the plainer carved version served the night before.
  2. Make a sandwich. This might seem like a no-brainer, but up until a few months ago, I hadn’t thought to make a sandwich with leftover roast meat. Again, you’ll likely not want to go with slices greater than one-quarter-inch. Stack them between a couple pieces of rye bread, top with cheese, mustard or horseradish, and you have a restaurant quality lunch on your hands. Pro tip: Consider hot, open-faced sandwiches using the hot pork and gravy from above.
  3. Whip up BBQ. This one can be a little bit tricky depending on the pork cut you choose and how long you originally cooked it, but it can stretch your basic pork roast into pulled or sliced BBQ, and that’s a good thing. If your pork is already fork tender, then pull it apart using two forks. Place the pork into a slow cooker and douse it with your favorite BBQ sauce. I’d give it a try on high until the sauce starts to bubble a bit. The trick is to heat up the pork without cooking it (read: drying it out) too much more. I like the slow cooker because there’s less of a chance the sauce (which is high in sugar) will burn while heating it up. Note: If your pork wasn’t pulled apart beforehand, use slices, and either serve as is, or try pulling after you’ve thoroughly heated the sauce and meat.

Turkey

dry brined roast Thanksgiving turkey

This is another Christmas classic. In the old days, goose was the preeminent Christmas bird. These days, this less expensive option seems to rule the roost. The trouble with turkey is that many of us have consumed copious amounts since Thanksgiving. So, as not to burn yourself out, try these ideas for leftovers:

  1. Prepare a cobb salad. For my money, roasted turkey is one of the blander meats. This does not improve once reheated. So, instead of reheating, why not pull it apart and make a fancy cobb salad? A well-roasted bird will leave each slice of meat fork tender. So, just use two forks and pull it apart. In a large bowl, mix in your favorites: greens, beets, bacon, chopped broccoli, corn, black beans, egg, garbanzo beans, and carrots. Then, top with your turkey, a favorite dressing, and mix. Sounds like a perfect, pro-level salad to me!
  2. Make a turkey salad. If you have pulled turkey, don’t settle for plain old turkey sandwiches when you can make turkey salad sandwiches. The easiest way to to this is to mix your pulled turkey with ranch dressing, mustard, and cracked pepper to taste. Add in some walnuts for texture and sliced grapes for sweetness. If you’re feeling bold, throw some cheese on top to make a turkey melt.
  3. Use it in a soup. All you need is chicken broth, pulled turkey, and a pot to heat them up. Then, add whatever you want. Rice (cooked), pasta (cooked), onion, carrots, and celery all work. When the meat is warm and the veggies are tender, you have a hearty soup fit to warm you up on a post-Christmas day.

Prime Rib

slow roasted prime rib au jus

Chowhound

This elegant Christmas roast is what you make when you want to go all out! It’s traditional without being boring or overdone. As a result, it’s a wonderful red meat option to the other white meat fare up for consideration. Still, prime ribs are big, and you’ll likely have some to spare. If you didn’t realize, this is the cut of meat that produces ribeye steaks. Therefore, the meat is extremely flavorful due to the higher fat content. This means the meat is well-suited for a variety of uses outside of regular, sliced meat. Try these three ways to stretch out your prime rib.

  1. Throw together tacos, fajitas, nachos, or quesadillas. You’ll want to slice up relatively thin slices of prime rib for this. Combine the meat with your favorite taco seasoning in a skillet until warm. If cooking fajitas, add in peppers and onions and heat until veggies are tender. Then, add to your preferred tortilla or chip, enhance with toppings (like cheese), and enjoy!
  2. Make chili. With a carving knife and/or chef’s knife, chop up small pieces of prime rib. For a nice mixture, try matching a pound of prime rib with a pound of ground sirloin (browned). If you like beans, I recommend one 15-ounce can for every pound of meat. I really like pinto beans and black beans, but kidney beans are pretty classic too. Place your cooked meat and drained beans in a crock pot. Then, add any additional items you like. Onions (to minimize digestive issues, sauté with the ground meat), peppers, and corn are favorites. Next, mix in any variety of canned crushed tomatoes, and tomato sauce you like. For two pounds of meat, I recommend two 15-ounce cans of tomato sauce, and one 15-ounce can of crushed tomatoes. Finally, mix in your seasonings. I like using McCormick’s Tex-Mex Chili seasoning for ease, along with Famous Dave’s Rib Rub seasoning. For more kick, use two packs of McCormick’s seasoning. For less, you only need one packet. Mix well, and cook 2-4 hours on high, or 6-8 hours on low.
  3. Cook up a breakfast hash. Like the chili above, you’ll want to slice and chop the prime rib into relatively small slices. In a large skillet, mix a little oil with your meat, chopped yellow onion, salt and pepper (to taste) and, if you’re living on the edge, some red or green pepper. Sauté until the meat is warm and the onion goes from yellow to translucent. If you want to kick this up a notch and happen to have leftover baked potatoes, cube the cold spuds (with or without skin) and add them to your skillet with a little more oil (or butter), and salt and pepper. Top with eggs (poached or over easy), and you have a diner-style breakfast for you and your crew.

Ham

glazed spiral sliced ham

I know for a fact I’ll be at a party on Christmas Eve with a ham. I also know, if past functions are any indication, that there will be about half a ham left. And while ham is already pretty great, even the most ardent ham consumers will tire of it if they indulge too frequently. That’s why it’s good to mix it up. To do so, try these three ideas:

  1. Make breakfast with your ham. If you chop it up finely, you can add it, along with a little shredded sharp cheddar cheese to your scrambled eggs, or even make an omelet. Use the slices instead of Canadian bacon for eggs benedict. If you’re feeling up to the challenge, make a strata or a quiche. Ham is pretty versatile, which means it works great at breakfast. There’s no need to deal with the mess of bacon when you have ham that’s ready to go (even though bacon and ham sounds incredible)!
  2. Turn a plain grilled cheese into a fancy-pants croque-monsieur or Monte Cristo sandwich. There’s not much to say about this. The former involves ham, melted cheese, and buttery toasted bread, and the latter trades out the bread for French toast. Make these and you’ll wish you had more than half of a ham leftover!
  3. Craft your own pizza. I must admit, I’m not really one to make my own pizza. However, if I had a ton of ham to get rid of and I were looking for ways to keep meals fresh, I’d consider making a Hawaiian-style pie. I’m a pizza impurist, I suppose, because I really like pineapple as a pizza topping (though not on deep dish). I get it by itself. I get it with pepperoni. I get it with sausage. And if I had a lot of ham to eat, I’d pair it with ham. Try this recipe here, except use that leftover ham instead of the referenced bacon.

Just because you have leftovers, doesn’t mean you’re destined to eat the same meal day-after-day until your extras are fully consumed. You can stretch your original meals with the art of leftovers to create unique flavors and textures. Plus, keep in mind, some of my suggestions for one meat can be easily applied to others. So, this year, once your perfectly hosted Christmas dinner is over, instead of begging folks to take food home with them, keep it and try these delectable stretch meals.

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