Turn Thanksgiving Leftovers Into Turkey Tortilla Soup

Did you make too much turkey again this year, or did your overly generous host send you home with more of the seasonal poultry than you know what to do with? Fear not! There’s no reason to dread having days and days of microwaved leftovers or sandwiches. There are plenty of other easy, delicious ways of turning extra roast turkey into satisfying senior friendly meals that you’ll actually want to eat.

Turkey Tortilla Soup

What can you do with leftover Thanksgiving turkey?

For beginners, try thinking of leftover roast turkey as you would leftover roast chicken, except that it’s generally blander, the white meat is drier and the dark meat is gamier. On Thanksgiving, smothering the turkey in gravy and serving it alongside a variety of side dishes keeps things interesting. When giving that bag of roast turkey pieces in the refrigerator a new life, try thinking along the same lines: use it in dishes and with ingredients that inherently have lots of flavor. And because the meat has already been cooked once, reheat it gently to avoid drying it out even further.


Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Dice and use in your favorite chicken salad recipe.
  • Shred and use in enchiladas or quesadillas.
  • Chop finely, season well and add to your favorite breakfast hash recipe, topped with a fried egg.
  • Shred, reheat with barbecue sauce and serve on hamburger buns with slaw or bread and butter pickles for “pulled turkey” sandwiches.
  • Dice and use in a coconut milk-based curry.
  • Dice and use in a turkey pot pie.
  • Shred and use in a Chinese cold sesame noodle dish, along with sliced cucumbers, green onions and bean sprouts.
  • Shred and reheat with marinara sauce for another take on spaghetti and red sauce.
  • Dice, combine with cooked fusilli pasta and cherry tomatoes, and toss with pesto sauce.
  • Chop and add to risotto, cheesy grits or rice porridge.
  • Slice and serve with hoisin sauce, sliced green onions and steamed folded buns for Peking-style turkey.
  • Shred or dice and make into a turkey Caesar salad.
  • Shred and add to miso soup with udon noodles.

Alternative Solution for Thanksgiving Leftovers

spinach in bowl

If you are still stumped, the senior friendly recipe below for Turkey Tortilla Soup is another great way to repurpose roast turkey. The method for this Mexican soup has been streamlined—sautéing raw (rather than roasted) onions and jalapeños, using store-bought chicken broth and canned diced tomatoes, and of course, shredded roast turkey.

While unconventional, baby greens are added toward the end for a nutritious boost. Easy-to-find baby spinach can be used, but if your local supermarket carries it, try adding a bag of mixed baby chard, kale and spinach instead.

This clean, one-pot meal comes together relatively quickly and tastes like comfort food without all the heaviness. While the soup is delicious on its own, feel free to use any or all of the suggested toppings to incorporate additional flavor and crunch to the final dish. Just as at Thanksgiving, it’s the extras that keep things fun. 

Turkey Tortilla Soup

Shredded leftover roast turkey from Thanksgiving dinner stands in for chicken in this recipe remake. Both light and dark meat will work. If using turkey breast, be sure to cook the meat until just warmed to prevent it from becoming dry and stringy. If you cannot find mixed baby greens, do not use salad mix such as spring greens or mesclun mix. Stick to baby spinach instead.


Closeup of cilantro

1 large onion, roughly chopped

3 cloves garlic

2 jalapeños, seeded and roughly chopped

2 Tbs. olive oil

1 tsp. ground cumin

1/2 tsp. ground coriander

1 1/2 tsp. kosher salt

1 can (14.5 oz.) diced tomatoes, drained

3 cans (14.5 oz. each) low-sodium chicken broth

3 cups shredded roast turkey

1 cup thawed frozen corn kernels

5 oz. mixed baby greens, such as spinach, kale, chard and collard greens

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

Crushed tortilla chips, diced avocado, shredded lettuce, sliced radishes and lime wedges, for topping

Cooking Instructions


1. Place the onion, garlic and jalapeños in a blender and blend over medium speed until a thick purée is formed.

2. Warm the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion mixture, cumin, coriander and salt and cook until excess moisture has evaporated and mixture is fragrant, about 15 minutes.

3. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil. Add the turkey and corn, reduce heat to medium-low and simmer 10 minutes, adding the greens halfway through cooking. Off heat, stir in the cilantro.

4. Ladle into serving bowls and garnish with desired toppings.

Serves 4.