Try These Tips for a Safe, Flavorful Thanksgiving

Turkey safety has been in the news with a nationwide Salmonella issue. Be sure to handle your Thanksgiving centerpiece safely.

Actually, if Ben Franklin would have had his way, we would have a different official U.S. bird. The bald eagle would need to step aside and let the turkey assume its place of honor.

Perhaps our Thanksgiving menu would be different today if Ben’s choice made the cut. Serving the national bird as the menu centerpiece would not be advisable.

We consume about 46 million turkeys on Thanksgiving. Turkey ranks fourth in popularity among U.S. consumers, after chicken, beef and pork, and Americans eat about 17 pounds of turkey a year per person.

Turkey is an excellent source of protein and is lower in fat and calories than many other types of meat. Many people have definite preferences for white meat or dark meat. A 15-pound turkey is about 70 percent white meat and 30 percent dark meat.

When comparing turkey with and without skin, dark turkey meat with skin has the highest amount of fat and calories at about 232 calories and 13 grams of fat per 3.5-ounce serving. If you have the same amount of white meat without skin, the totals drop to 160 calories and 4 grams of fat.

That’s a 70-calorie difference. Through time, calories add up. Just 100 extra calories a day can mean a 10-pound-a-year weight gain. Some people don’t need the extra insulation.

Besides stuffing ourselves, many people stuff the turkey with flavorful stuffing or dressing, too.

While it’s safest to bake the stuffing in a separate dish, stuffing the turkey is considered safe as long as the bird is stuffed loosely right before roasting. Allow about three-fourths of a cup of stuffing per pound of turkey. Cook the stuffing to an internal temperature of 165 degrees in a 325-degree oven.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends cooking turkey and other poultry to an internal temperature of 165 degrees, down from the former 180 degree recommendation for whole turkeys. If you prefer the texture and eating quality of the meat at 180 degrees, that’s certainly safe.

Turkey, like other high-protein foods, is susceptible to spoilage and growth of illness-causing bacteria. Refrigerate leftovers within two hours and use refrigerated turkey within three or four days.

Better yet, freeze the leftovers in recipe-size, air-tight containers. You’ll appreciate the opportunity for quick meal options during the winter. You can freeze cooked turkey up to six months and still have a good-quality product if you use appropriate containers. See this publication for details:

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/publications/food-nutrition/fight-bac-keep-food-safe-this-holiday-season-lets-talk-turkey/fn1443.pdf

If you become bored with turkey sandwiches, try turkey chunks mixed with grapes, dried cranberries and mandarin oranges over a bed of mixed greens. How about turkey enchiladas or stir-fry turkey and vegetables? For something a little more traditional, try using some of your leftover turkey in this hearty stew from the Virginia Cooperative Extension Service.

Brunswick Stew

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1 medium chopped onion
2 c. chicken broth, low-sodium
2 c. cooked, diced and boned turkey (or chicken)
2 c. tomatoes, canned or cooked
2 c. lima beans, canned or cooked
2 c. whole-kernel corn, canned or frozen
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in a large pan. Add onion and cook in oil until tender. Add all remaining ingredients. Bring to a simmer for 30 minutes at medium-low heat.

Makes eight servings of about 1 cup each. Each serving has 200 calories, 5 grams (g) of fat, 22 g of carbohydrate, 5 g of fiber and 20 percent of the daily recommendation for vitamin C.

(Julie Garden-Robinson is a North Dakota State University Extension Service food and nutrition specialist and professor in the Department of Health, Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.)

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