In our last post in the “Grocery Shopping for Your Health” series, we focused on the home pantry. Today, we trek back to the store, hitting the poultry area to talk turkey (and chicken and more).
In the poultry area, you will find more than just chicken and turkey. Here you can also find duck, goose, Cornish hens and even quail at some stores and markets. You can find poultry as fresh or frozen products, ground or whole, cooked or uncooked, in bulk or portions, pre-packaged and more.
Whatever your preference, you can pretty much find it in the poultry area.
And you can generally find healthy, economical optionspoultry products generally are economical purchases, with chicken and turkey high in protein, (usually) very lean, and providing healthy options.
As with everything, there are caveats.
Though generally lean, you can further reduce the fat content of poultry by using white-meat cuts, such as the chicken or turkey breast, rather than thighs, legs or other dark-meat pieces. Removing the skin also trims the fat content. And, roasting these cuts with minimal or no oil added keeps the fat levels at a minimum.
Check the nutrition facts label for sodium content, too. Uncooked poultry might be injected with a saltwater solution to keep the cut moist during cooking, add flavor, and tenderize the meat. Make sure to read the label, if sodium levels are a concern.
If ground meat is on your shopping list, you might try to swap it out for ground turkey or ground chicken. Again, remember that if the ground turkey is combined with the dark meat and skin, it will have a higher fat content. Check the nutritional facts label on the product to make the comparison.
What are the qualities to look for when selecting fresh poultry? First, check the product dating on the food label and select one that has the most recent date. This is important whether you are buying pre-packaged, prepared poultry, or a fresh or frozen product.
Next, look for meaty birds that have a creamy-to-yellow skin color, with no torn or dry looking skin. The skin should be free of bruising, should not have any tiny feathers and the packaging should be intact with no holes.
As Thanksgiving is approaching, you might consider purchasing a whole turkey. And you’re likely to find a wide range of options in the grocery store, including the “self-basting” bird. But, what is a “self-basting” turkey?
Simply, self-basting turkeys have been injected with a fat-and-sodium solution to keep the turkey moist and add extra flavor. But, that adds, well, fat and sodium, which can be problem for anyone watching their diet. For a healthier option, consider purchasing a bird that is not self-basting and baste the turkey yourself, with a broth of your choosing or just the juices released by the turkey during cooking.
Keep your poultry dish moist by cooking it breast side up.
Remember, too, that roasting any whole bird with the breast side up helps keep the meat moist(er).
We’d be remiss if we didn’t discuss the Thanksgiving turkey before we leave this blog. Many of us will buy a frozen turkey as we plan and prepare for the big, holiday meal. If that includes you, keep in mind that you can store a frozen turkey for up to a year in your freezer without losing quality, and you should only thaw it if you are ready to cook.
Remove giblets from the turkey cavity after thawing and cook separately.
On that note, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) notes three ways to safely thaw a turkey:
- Refrigerator: Thaw your turkey in the refrigerator, which should be set between 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping, and place the turkey in a dish so that it will catch any juices that may leak from the wrapped bird. Depending on the weight of the bird, it may take several days to thaw in your refrigerator, so plan ahead. As a rule of thumb, you will need 1 day of thawing for every 4 to 5 pounds of bird. So, for example, a 15-pound turkey would need at least three days to thaw. Cook your turkey within two days of thawing.
- Cold water: Submerging a frozen turkey in cold water will thaw the bird more quickly than the refrigerator method. Keep the turkey in its original wrapping, and submerge the package into cold water in a sink or other container, making sure to change the water every 30 minutes (with fresh, cold water). Be careful that juices don’t leak into the water during thawing. When thawing turkey this way, allow approximately 30 minutes per pound. Cook the turkey immediately after it is thawed to avoid foodborne illnesses, and do not freeze the meat.
- Microwave: This is the quickest option, but be sure your turkey will fit into your microwave before you make plans to thaw your bird this way. Remove all of the outside wrapping from the bird and place it in a microwave-safe dish, to catch juices, before placing it into your microwave. Check your microwave operating manual for the proper power level/setting and approximate minutes-per-pound to thaw. Allow for 6 minutes per pound, as a general rule. After this thawing process is complete, you will need to cook your turkey immediately to avoid any foodborne illness.
Buy and cook a whole bird, and carve it into portions yourself. Use leftover meat for sandwiches, casseroles or salads the next day.
For more information on how to safely thaw your turkey, go to my blog, “How to Safely Thaw a Turkey” (Nov. 12, 2018).
Thanksgiving food safety
And, while we’re talking about Thanksgiving, keep these food safety tips in mind:
- Don’t leave cooked or re-heated dinner or food items sit out at room temperature for more than two hours. It’s important to refrigerate your leftovers promptly to avoid foodborne illnesses.
- Divide your leftovers into smaller portions and refrigerate or freeze in a covered shallow dish, to help speed the cooling process.
- Enjoy the leftover, refrigerated turkey, stuffing and gravy within 3 to 4 days.
NEXT: We focus on the meat and deli case.