Turning Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Fitness Fuel

It’s Monday. If you’re like me, Thanksgiving over-eating has left your body lethargic and your kitchen looking like the upside down from Stranger Things. The house smells like cranberry sauce, your guest bedroom is disheveled and you spent all Sunday making room for a year’s worth of leftovers.

Going through the remains of Thanksgiving dinner can feel like a full-time job. There are only so many turkey sandwiches you can pack for lunch, and while breakfast pie is cool for a day or two, early morning dessert eating can have serious gastric consequences on your morning workout.

So what to do? Throwing it away seems wasteful and feeding it to your pet is irresponsible. Drinking gravy by the pint is tempting, but might result in a lifetime supply of hospital bills.

But never fear. Kelly Newlon, nutrition expert and owner of Real Athlete Diets (RAD), a catering service that crafts meals formulated for athletes, came up with three healthy Thanksgiving leftover recipes designed with your active lifestyle in mind.

Savory Waffles

Savory waffles are a favorite of Newlon’s and Thanksgiving leftovers are just an opportunity to mix up the ingredients.

“We love to make savory waffles for any meal, but also to throw one in the pocket of a running pack or gym bag for the perfect workout snack,” Newlon says. “Adding your favorite Thanksgiving leftovers to waffle mix is fast, easy and ridiculously tasty. We prefer the gluten-free waffle mixes as they tend to have more crunch are often more nutrient dense. An almond flour based waffle mix is a great option for healthy proteins and fats.”

1. Prepare waffle mix per instructed on the packaging and set aside.
2. Gather approximately 1 cup of coarsely chopped leftovers and add to the prepared waffle mix. Good options include turkey, squash or sweet potato, cranberry sauce, stuffing and your preferred Thanksgiving veggies.
3. Add to the waffle iron and cook as instructed. Enjoy with gravy for an extra hearty meal!
Pro tip: Adding flax seeds and a teaspoon of turmeric is a great bonus for an extra nutrient-dense meal that will help aid in post-workout recovery.

Why it works: Newlon enlists savory waffles as her go-to recovery meal for after her runs.

“We often find ourselves jetting out the door on the way to a meeting while still needing to eat something for recovery after our workout,” Newlon says. “Having a handheld item that delivers fiber, carbs and protein is a win. Adding that turmeric for inflammatory benefits and seeds for extra fuel is a bonus. These can also be made in batches ahead of time and frozen individually. Throw them in the toaster to reheat. ”

Sweet Potato Thanksgiving Burrito

While the rest of the world stalks up on turkey and mashed potatoes, Newlon hoards tortillas, the perfect vessel for remnants of Thanksgiving dinner.

“Wrapping a handful of burritos with leftovers from Thanksgiving and keeping them in the freezer is a great way to keep the nostalgia going for days after that last Turkey Trot,” Newlon says.


1. Start with the largest tortilla money can buy.
2. Add one to one and a half cups of filling per shell, depending on just how big of a tortilla you managed to find. Add sweet potato, turkey, veggies, cranberries, corn, and herbs of choice.
Pro Tip: With small four-five inch tortilla shells you can make tiny Thanksgiving tacos. Perfect for a post-workout snack.

Why it works: “If we can fit sweet potatoes into our diets, we should pat ourselves on the back,” Newlon says. “They fit into virtually any diet an athlete might be following and taste great when paired with salty, savory Thanksgiving favorites. Throw in a little cinnamon in your burrito for extra Autumn flavor and a helpful balance of blood sugar to get you through to the second half of your day.”

Mashed Potato Cakes

This recipe is a little more advanced, but Newlon says that even the most novice of chefs can pull it off.

1. Scoop up about quarter of a cup of leftover mashed potatoes.
2. Add goat cheese to taste, one tablespoon chopped onion or scallions, one teaspoon of salt,1/2 teaspoon of pepper, two tablespoons of fresh chopped parsley and one egg.
3. Mix well and form into ball.
4. Place it in a hot pan, well-greased pan, flattening it out until it’s about one half to three quarter inches thick.
2. Fry for three-four minutes on each side, until they are golden brown.
3. For best results, serve immediately, while hot and crispy.

Pro tip: These are great with a fried egg on top served with fresh greens and salsa.

Why it works: “We leave the skins on the potatoes at our house and tend to go for purple potatoes rather than white,” Newlon says. “Any variety of potato works great, but those purple potatoes have an obscene amount of antioxidants and phytonutrients. Go for local pasture-raised eggs or add avocado for some extra fats. Whatever your potatoes or toppings of choice, this delivers loads of great protein, fiber and is a gateway to building an entrée salad.”