Whole roasted turkey surrounded by various meals.
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingeman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell
Power Hour Meal Prep

Yes, You Should Still Roast a Whole Turkey This Year — Then Turn It into 9 Dinners to Stash in the Freezer

updated Dec 4, 2020
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Power Hour Meal Prep
Power Hour Meal Prep

The uncertainty of how to honor the holidays this year has been looming for months, and it’s finally time to face the music. Thanksgiving 2020 will be unlike any we’ve celebrated before. With families spread far and wide, seats will surely be empty at the table. There’s a temptation to skip the ritual of roasting a turkey, but this is the year to hold tight to treasured family traditions, because it’s also the first step in easing the winter dinner rush.

So, yes, you really should roast that big holiday turkey — even if it’s just a small family of four around the table that hallowed Thursday afternoon. After you’ve eaten the holiday meal and enjoyed your turkey sandwich, use all that leftover turkey to prep meals you can stash in the freezer for the weeks ahead. In a year where our worlds have become smaller, it’s time to think and act big. This is how to turn one Thanksgiving turkey into nine varied freezer meals you can eat over the next two months.

What Size Turkey Should I Roast?

Even with a small holiday on the horizon, go ahead and roast a turkey in the 15- to 17-pound range. Yes, even this year when roasting just one turkey feels insurmountable, we still recommend roasting a large turkey or, better yet, two smaller turkeys. Have faith: Your future self will thank you. The goal here is to roast enough turkey to celebrate the holiday (and the day after!), while leaving about 15 cups of juicy roasted turkey meat to turn into easy freezer meals for the rest of the season. Once you’ve picked the turkey carcass clean, add the bones into the slow cooker with the onion and celery ends and carrot peels from the meal prep session for a savory turkey stock.

Get a refresher: How to Carve a Turkey

Credit: Joe Lingeman

Turkey Transformation Goals

  • Make the most out of your holiday roasted turkey — especially if you’re hosting a smaller gathering this year.
  • Use leftover roasted turkey to prep 9 freezer meals.
  • Prep recipes in an order where dishwashing is minimized.

Meal Prep Plan Snapshot

  • Makes: 6 recipes that yield 9 freezer meals, that each feed 4 people.
  • Prep Time: About 2 hours (after turkey is roasted)
  • Weeknight Cooking Required: Yes, each meal needs to be reheated. All meals can go from freezer to oven (as long as they are in a metal or disposable foil container); alternatively they can be thawed overnight in the refrigerator to shorten reheating time. Some recipes call for optional accompaniments that are best prepared while the meal heats up.

My Meal Plan Recipes

My Shopping List

While you’re shopping for the Thanksgiving meal, add these ingredients to your list. Below you’ll find everything you will need to turn a leftover roasted turkey into an abundance of heat-and-eat freezer meals, without making an extra trip to the grocery store. Check your pantry, refrigerator, and freezer for ingredients you may already have on hand. Staple ingredients like olive oil, vegetable oil, kosher salt, and black pepper aren’t on the list, but make sure you have plenty on hand to carry you through Thanksgiving and this meal prep plan. This plan assumes you’ll start with about 15 cups leftover roasted turkey, from about 1 (16- to 20-pound) turkey after serving a family of 4 for a holiday meal.

  • Deli/Bakery: 4 kaiser rolls, 1 pound pizza dough, 1/2 pound sliced deli ham
  • Meat: 4 slices bacon
  • Dry Goods: 1/2 cup barbecue sauce, Dijon mustard, 1 cup all-purpose flour, 2 dry bay leaves, 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, 1/4 cup finely ground cornmeal, 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger, 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, 8 (8-inch) flour tortillas, 1 3/4 pounds short pasta (farfalle, small shells, or elbows), 3/4 cup pecans, 48 ounces low-sodium turkey or chicken broth, 1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin purée, 1 tablespoon tomato paste, 2 cups red or green enchilada sauce
  • Dairy: 4 slices cheddar cheese, 7 cups grated cheddar cheese, 3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, 1 (15-ounce) container ricotta cheese, 2 large eggs, 1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, 1 cup sour cream, 1/2 cup plain yogurt, 3 cups whole or 2% milk
  • Produce: 1 sprig fresh thyme, 1/2 cup fresh sage leaves, 9 garlic cloves, 5 medium carrots, 6 stalks celery, 3 medium yellow onions, 1 medium red onion
  • For freezing: Heavy-duty aluminum foil, 4 (8×8-inch) disposable foil pans, 1 (9×13-inch) disposable pan, freezer-safe gallon or quart zip-top bags, freezer tape, permanent marker
Credit: Photo: Joe Lingman | Food Stylist: Cyd McDowell

Power Hour: How I Get the Prep Done

After you’ve scored that 5 a.m. Black Friday shopping deal, start a second pot of coffee and clear your kitchen counters. Follow this plan in the order prescribed to streamline the preparation of 6 different recipes, to fill your freezer with 9 freezer meals.

  • Set pizza dough out, boil water, and heat the oven. Room-temperature pizza dough is easier to work with, so take it out of the refrigerator now. Fill a large pot with water, cover, and bring it to a boil. Heat the oven to 450°F.
  • Cook bacon. Cook 8 slices of bacon for the Freezer Club Sandwiches (the microwave is the fastest route) or plan to save some slices from your holiday brunch.
  • Prepare produce: For the Turkey Noodle Casserole, dice 1 yellow onion, 2 carrots (about 1 cup), and 3 stalks celery (about 1 cup), and mince 4 garlic cloves. For the Turkey Vegetable Soup dice 2 yellow onions, peel 3 carrots and cut into 1/4-inch rounds, slice 3 celery stalks 1/4-inch thick, and mince 3 garlic cloves. For the BBQ Chicken Pizza thinly slice 1/4 cup red onion. Extra credit: Don’t forget to toss the celery and onion ends and carrot peels into the slow cooker with the turkey bones to make turkey stock.
  • Boil noodles. Add 1 3/4 pounds dry short pasta (use the same type of noodles for both recipes) to salted boiling water and cook 1 to 2 minutes shorter than al dente, about 10 minutes. Drain and use slightly more than half of the cooked pasta for Pumpkin & Ricotta Pasta Casserole and the remaining pasta for the Turkey Noodle Casserole.
  • Make Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Vegetable Soup. Sauté onions, carrots, celery, and garlic in a Dutch oven until soft, then add the tomato paste. Remove from the heat and add the remaining ingredients. Transfer to a storage container or zip-top bag to cool before freezing.
  • Prepare Turkey Noodle Casserole. Use the same Dutch oven to sauté onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for the casserole. Once the vegetables are tender, add the flour then the milk to make the cream sauce. After the milk thickens, stir in shredded cheddar cheese, followed by the cooked noodles, turkey, and sour cream. Divide the mixture between two greased 8×8-inch disposable pans. Cool, then cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Assemble Pumpkin & Ricotta Pasta Casserole. Whisk the ricotta, pumpkin purée, and other seasonings together, then fold in the cooked pasta and about 2 cups cubed, cooked turkey. Divide the mixture between two greased 8×8-inch disposable pans. Top with leftover Thanksgiving stuffing, if desired. Cool, then cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Make Turkey Enchiladas. Spread about 1/4 cup store-bought enchilada sauce in the bottom of a disposable 9×13-inch baking pan. Assemble the enchiladas, filling the tortillas with turkey and grated cheddar or Monterey Jack cheese. Roll the tortillas around the filling and place in the prepared pan. Once the pan is full, top with the remaining cheese and cover with heavy-duty aluminum foil.
  • Roll out and par-bake pizza dough. Make frozen pizzas by dividing the pizza dough in half, then stretch each piece into a 10-inch round. Slide the doughs onto a parchment paper-lined baking sheet or pizza stone and bake until puffed and dry, 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool before topping.
  • Make BBQ Chicken Pizza. Spread barbecue sauce in a thin layer over the par-baked pizza crusts. Top with shredded mozzarella, cooked and cubed turkey, and thinly sliced red onion. Freeze the pizzas until solid, then wrap for long-term storage.
  • Assemble Freezer Club Sandwiches. Evenly divide the remaining cooked turkey (you should have about 2 cups or 1 pound meat for this recipe) among the kaiser rolls to prepare up to 8 freezer-friendly club sandwiches. Make sure to spread butter on the cut sides of the rolls to prevent the bread from turning soggy. Wrap each sandwich in a piece of foil. Place the sandwiches in a gallon zip-top bag labeled with the reheating instructions.
  • Wrap and store all items. Once the meals are completely cool, cover them with heavy-duty aluminum foil and label them with freezer tape and a permanent marker. Make sure to indicate what the recipe is, the date it was prepared, and any reheating instructions.
Credit: The Kitchn

9 Freeze-and-Heat Dinners with Turkey

  • Post-Thanksgiving Turkey Vegetable Soup: Thaw the soup in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat in a saucepan over medium-high heat. Add leftover cooked rice or boiled short pasta, if desired. Ladle into bowls and top with fresh chopped parsley leaves and freshly ground black pepper.
  • Turkey Enchiladas: Thaw the enchiladas in the refrigerator overnight. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the enchiladas, uncovered, until the cheese melts and the enchiladas are hot, 20 to 30 minutes.
  • Turkey Noodle Casserole (two meals): Thaw one of the casseroles in the refrigerator overnight. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Bake the turkey noodle casserole, uncovered, until the cheese melts and heated through, 30 to 40 minutes.
  • Freezer Club Sandwiches: Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F. Unwrap the frozen sandwich(es) and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake until the cheese melts and the sandwich is hot, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  • BBQ Chicken Pizza: Prepare the frozen pizza according to this recipe. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 550°F. Unwrap the frozen pizza and slide it into the preheated oven (on top of a heated pizza stone, if desired). Bake until the crust browns and the cheese bubbles, 8 to 10 minutes.
  • Pumpkin & Ricotta Pasta Casserole (2 meals): Thaw one of the casseroles in the refrigerator overnight. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 375°F. Uncover the casserole and bake until the stuffing topping browns and the casserole is heated through, 35 to 45 minutes.


Power Hour Meal Prep is the series where we help you put it all together. We show you how to eat well during the week with an hour or two of Power Hour pre over the weekend. Every plan is different; mix and match to find your own personal sweet spot.