The stockings are no longer hung by the chimney with care, and St. Nicolas has already arrived and been there. The Christmas feast was tasty and fair, but the leftovers are stacked up everywhere! It's time for some day-after damage control.
Two things readily come to my mind when I think of leftovers; they would be food safety and managing the calories. We deal with leftovers after many meals, but big meals and family get-togethers often produce even more leftovers than normal. And it's not just leftover turkey and gravy - it's cookies and candy and snack mix and more!
I read an interesting article that noted some studies that show more weight is gained immediately after the holidays than during them, and that pattern starts the day after the festivities. I can believe that. With family and friends still around and the refrigerator and counters full of containers of leftovers, it is pretty easy to let our practice of eating "mindfully" slip away as we enjoy "just one more cookie" or finish up the rest of the fudge.
The best thing we can do is to get back on track and remind ourselves that it is not necessary for us to feel obligated to single-handedly finish up the leftovers. This "clean plate club" mentality is a hard one to break when we don't want food to go to waste. But we've probably all heard the adage of "a moment on the lips is a lifetime on the hips." First think about if you are really hungry. If you are, then plate up a normal-sized portion and enjoy it. If there are leftover fruits and vegetables, be liberal with including them on your plate. Getting back into your healthy eating habits and exercise routine can help you stay on track with your eating pattern goals.
An equally important concern with leftovers has to do with food safety. Holiday meals with family and friends are a highlight of the season. But just like in the summer when we picnic and have food sitting out for an extended period of time, holiday meals can end up with our food sitting out at room temperature for extended periods of time as well. Whether served family-style or buffet, sometimes our feasts can last for a couple of hours. Hopefully you were able to keep your cold foods in the refrigerator right up until serving time and then you put them back in the refrigerator right after serving. But if you had dips or spreads or salads that sat out for extended periods of time, they probably aren't safe to eat as leftovers.
It's also common to let food sit out to cool before they go into the refrigerator. Sometimes that turkey can sit out for several hours. Leftovers should be refrigerated or frozen within two hours of cooking the food. Leftovers should be stored in airtight, shallow containers and your refrigerator temperature should be set below 40 degrees and your freezer temperature should be set at less than zero.
When you do reheat leftovers, make sure you heat them up hot enough and don't just "warm" them up in the microwave. They should be reheated to 165 degrees, and leftover gravy should be brought to a steady boil. Refrigerated, cooked turkey should be consumed within three or four days or else put into the freezer. Leftover casseroles and cooked vegetables should also be eaten within three or four days, provided they were properly refrigerated after the meal.
And one of the most important rules of all with regards to food safety - if in doubt, throw it out. Risking food poisoning is not worth it!
Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. In addition to her column, you can also find nutrition tips and ideas on the blog she writes at www.averastorycenter.org.