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

Looking for Healthy Meals

Healthy MealOkay, I’ve got a story for you today. My husband and I were recently eating lunch — I had made us each a quick salad with lettuce, apples, some thawed frozen berries, avocado, leftover grilled chicken and homemade balsamic vinaigrette. As we ate, my husband commented, “It’s amazing that you look in the refrigerator and see salad; when I look in the refrigerator I just see soda.”

That seems to capture a common sentiment in a nutshell. How do people plan menus and think about turning what’s available into a healthful meal? Is this something that’s intuitive or can it be learned?

For me it’s easy, because I love to cook and experiment with food. But what about people who really don’t like to prepare meals or don’t have these skills?

All home management experts say that planning meals ahead of time is the number one way to save time, have balanced meals, control the food budget, avoid food waste, and reduce trips to the grocery store. However, I’m realistic enough to know that most families don’t do this.

So, how can we, as health educators, make this easier for our clients?

Here are a few of my latest ideas…

  • Try planning just a few meals a week instead of setting up a program for all seven days. If this works, then perhaps you could develop a menu rotation.
  • Have everyone in the family contribute their menu ideas and meal likes and dislikes.
  • If other members of your family are just learning to cook, or don’t yet have a wide recipe repertoire, having menus posted can help them learn and develop their cooking and menu-planning skills.
  • Keep MyPlate in mind as you go. We all know the concept of trying to fill half the plate with fruits and vegetables at each meal, so now it’s time to put it into action. Remember to fill the other half with a lean protein and a whole grain, then add low-fat dairy on the side to round out the meal.
  • Post your planned menus. That way, everyone in the family knows what’s for dinner. This could help the first one home to get dinner started too!
  • Make sure that the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry are stocked with the foods that you need for these menus. It’s especially important to have a variety of fruits and vegetables available for meals and snacks. After all, how can you fill half your plate with fruits and vegetables if there aren’t any fruits and vegetables in the house?

Try these tips and who knows? Maybe the next time your family looks into the fridge, they’ll see dinner!

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

Here’s a free PDF handout with a few of the top tips from today’s post…

Healthy Meals

Here are some more healthy meal resources, brought to you by the Nutrition Education Store!

Healthy Kitchen Poster Set

Learn to Cook Workbook

Heart Smart Cooking PowerPoint Presentation

Do-it-yourself roasted chicken

Many folks grab a rotisserie chicken as a quick last-minute dinner decision. My investigation into these chickens shows that they can be a good financial decision dependent upon where you’re purchasing them and the net weight. Nutritionally they are higher in sodium than a home roasted chicken or comparable sized single-person frozen entrees or most restaurant meals. Depending upon the rest of your meals that day, the rotisserie chicken may quickly put you over the recommended daily amount of sodium.

It’s easy to roast a chicken at home if you have two hours. The “active” time needed is minimal. When you choose “do-it-yourself” you have control over the type of seasonings and the amount of added sodium. In addition to the sodium content, some people say that the seasoning in a rotisserie chicken may add “too much” flavor for some palates. You’re in control of this when you do-it-yourself.

Plan on roasting a chicken on the weekend when you’re home doing other chores. Refrigerate the whole chicken for a meal or two during the week. Financially this could save you money, especially if you can find the roasting chickens or whole fryers on sale. Another thought, while you have the oven on to bake the chicken, what else could be cooking at the same time? Baked potatoes? Baked squash? Baked apples?

Planning and preparing meals ahead can save you both time and money. Encourage the kids to help. This also gives them a “buy in” for what is being served, they may be more inclined to eat it if they helped plan and prepare it.

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

Plan a Meal Together

Planning a family meal together can be a great experience for kids and parents alike. You can turn an everyday dinner into a dinner party with just a few simple steps…

Preparation Timeline

Plan your menu.

  • Check out cookbooks, websites, and family recipes for inspiration.
  • Remember to balance the plates appropriately and include lots of fruits and vegetables.

Make lists of everything you need.

  • Ingredients that you need to locate (ie pantry staples that are probably somewhere in your house, like pasta, rice, and spices).
  • Ingredients that you need to buy.
  • Equipment that you need to have at the ready.

Go shopping for the ingredients and equipment that you need.

On the Day of Your Party…

  • Prep everything (that you can) ahead of time — pre-chop, even pre-measure if possible.
  • Cook the food.
  • Serve it to your guests.

Elements of Stylish Gatherings

If you want to have a remarkable meal together, a few simple changes can really make a differenec.

• Set the table with…

  • All the silverware that you would need to eat all of the dishes.
  • Nice glasses for water.
  • Napkins — decide whether you need cloth or paper options.

• Consider adding…

  • A nice centerpiece — try flowers, candles, or an arrangement of glasses.
  • Placemats.
  • A tablecloth.
  • A runner over the tablecloth.

Basic Dinner Party Building Blocks

Number of Guests

  • A dinner party typically involves 6 to 8 people, but make exceptions as you see fit.

Courses

  • A simple dinner party may limit itself to salad or soup, a main course, and dessert.
  • You could also include amuse-bouches, appetizers, or even palate cleansers.