Turkey is almost the protein of the month as we head into the end of the year holidays. Long associated with American history, it is one of the most popular protein choices. In addition to whole bird options, folks are now gobbling up turkey as burgers, bacon, hot dogs, luncheon meats and sausage. The boom in turkey products is linked to greater interest in healthy eating.
Overall turkey is a good source of protein—the nutrient needed to build new cells, maintain healthy tissues, organs and hormones. Additionally turkey is a good source of selenium and zinc which help maintain a healthy immune system, energy enhancing phosphorus along with heart-healthy niacin and vitamin B6. Turkey also contains tryptophan one of the essential amino acid. Tryptophan is converted to niacin or vitamin B3 by the liver and it also plays a role in regulating appetite and sleep, and elevating mood. Though nutrient content will differ for specific turkey products, turkey is an excellent choice for any menu.
Some of the new turkey products are ready to eat and will simply require heating for optimum flavor. Whole turkeys, the centerpiece of holiday menus are now available fresh, frozen, frozen stuffed and smoked. In planning a meal that includes a whole turkey, consider the following to aid in selecting the best option for you.
Fresh Turkey—According to the USDA “fresh” means whole poultry has never been below °F. Fresh turkeys should be refrigerated at 40°F or below. In most home refrigerators it is best to store the turkey on a tray in the lower section of the refrigerator. They don’t require thawing, however if plans change and they can’t be cooked as originally planned, they can be frozen for use later.
Frozen Turkey—These turkeys have been held at temperatures between 0 °F and 25°F. If this is your choice, keep in mind that you’ll need to allow time for the turkey to thaw in advance. Thaw the turkey in the refrigerator on a tray. Once the turkey is thawed, it should be cooked within four days of thawing.
Frozen Stuffed Turkey—These turkeys are commercially prepared in USDA approved plants. The turkey is stuffed and must be completely cooked. Do not thaw this turkey—frozen stuffed turkeys should be cooked from frozen, according to directions on the package.
Smoked Turkey—Smoked turkeys are fully cooked. They may be available thawed or frozen. If needed, they should be thawed on a tray in the refrigerator, and then reheated to 100°F until warm. They can also be sliced and served without reheating.
If your preference is for all white meat, a turkey breast is your best option. Breasts are available in for purchase with and without rib bones. Generally speaking when cooked with the bones, the poultry will be more flavorful.
In planning holiday meals, try to bulk up on foods that are nutrient dense—high in nutrients, but lower in calories. Include plenty of vegetables—green beans, broccoli, carrots, Brussels sprouts, tossed green salads, etc. Try to avoid rich high-calorie sauces. By choosing wholesome options for the menu, you’ll leave family and friends with plenty of leeway to splurge on dessert!
Take Away: Enjoy holiday meals, just consider moderation in making menu choices. With the variety of options found on the menu, there are selections for wholesome eating.
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