Lean Protein Spotlight: Turkey

The other day, I roasted a 15-pound turkey, but I was only serving two people. What was I thinking?

Actually it’s a simple answer.

Before Thanksgiving last year, our grocery store offered whole turkeys at $0.37 per pound if you bought $35 worth of groceries. I had to take them up on that deal, which meant that I had two turkeys in the freezer. Recently, I decided to cook one of them for guests, but they cancelled. Since I already had the turkey thawing in the fridge, I cooked it anyway. That’s the easy part: no dressing, no basting, cook until the thickest parts reach 165 degrees F. Results: a lot of food for two people.

Frozen turkeys will keep for a long time if held below zero degrees. They’re usually packed in air- and water-resistant plastic wraps that help prevent loss of quality during freezer storage. The general recommendation for freezer storage is one year, if the food has been frozen that whole time. This is a quality recommendation and not a food safety deadline.

According to the National Turkey Federation, removed bones typically reduce the weight of the turkey by 25% and my turkey was fairly true to that estimate. I weighed the bones after I cooked them down for soup and picked the meat off, and I had 3.3 pounds of “waste” (there was additional fat and moisture I couldn’t weigh) from my 15-pound turkey. We ended up with about 10 pounds of meat at around $0.50 a pound. What a deal!

The usual recommendation is to purchase one pound of turkey (on the bone) for each person served. This is geared for holiday meals with all the trimmings and to save leftovers too. With my February turkey, we had a few meals of roast turkey and then two big pots of soup. We also had lots of leftovers for sandwiches at a much better price, taste, and quality than that expensive processed turkey meat in the deli. Plus, I froze a few packages of cooked turkey for quick meals later. The recommendation for frozen cooked turkey is to eat it within three months.

The US Dietary Guidelines suggest choosing lean or low-fat meat and poultry as your protein source. Turkey is lower in fat and calories than many other foods in the protein group and can be a good choice. According to the USDA Nutrient Database, 3 ounces of whole turkey (meat only) contains 135 calories, 24 grams of protein, and only 3.26 grams of fat.

Even if you can’t get as good a price as I did, roasting your own turkey or turkey parts any time of the year can be an easy job with lots of nutritional benefits.  Why wait until Thanksgiving?

By Cheryle Jones Syracuse, MS, Professor Emeritus at The Ohio State University

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updated on 11-20-2017