There’s no rule saying Thanksgiving has to be unhealthy, it simply has to be delicious. The centerpiece of most Thanksgiving Meals starts with the Turkey. Though the turkey on its own is relatively healthy, there are a few tweaks to make the meal even better.
- calibrated meat thermometer
- turkey baster
- shallow pan
- aluminum foil
Thaw. Properly thawing a turkey is the only way to cook a healthy meal. Improper thawing leads to an increased risk of food borne illness. Thawing doesn’t involve much work but it does require time. A big bird needs a few days in the refrigerator. If you are pressed on time, either use the cold water method of thawing, cook the frozen turkey as is or buy a fresh, never frozen turkey. Cooking time for a frozen turkey is about 50% longer, but this method is safer than using room temperature to thaw. Plan ahead, give yourself plenty of time and don’t put yourself in a situation in which you are forced to improperly thaw a turkey.
Preheat. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.
Prepare the Turkey. Once the turkey is thawed, remove it from its wrapper and place it in a shallow pan breast side up. Remove the neck and giblets. These parts are used to make a broth or gravy later.
Peel/dice the onions, carrots and celery sticks. Place the vegetables into the pan surrounding the turkey. Coat the entire turkey in oil and apply herbs, spices and seasoning to the skin.
Prepare the stuffing and stuff the turkey. Do not mix wet and dry ingredients until you are ready to stuff the turkey. Once the turkey is stuffed and seasoned and the vegetables are in the pan, place it in the preheated oven.
Basting. If the turkey is self basting, skip this step. A self basting turkey is injected with butter, oil or broth and doesn’t need to be manually basted. Check the package for details. If the turkey isn’t self basting, you need to baste every 30-45 minutes; collect the fluid from the bottom of the pan with a turkey baster (or large spoon) and spread it over the top of turkey. Basting keeps the turkey moist.
Browning. Once the turkey gets brown enough (personal preference), place a sheet of aluminum foil over the turkey to stop further darkening.
Internal Temperature. A calibrated meat thermometer is the only way to tell if a turkey is ready. Tools such as the Turkey Cook Time Calculator or a pop out thermometer are great guidelines on time needed, but reading the internal temperature is the the only way to ensure a turkey is safe for consumption.
Use a meat thermometer to check the temperature at the following locations:
- the thickest part of the breast
- the innermost part of the thigh (not touching the bone)
- for stuffed turkeys: the middle of the stuffing
All three temperatures should read at least 165 degrees F.
Once the turkey has reached an internal temperature of at least 165 degrees F, remove it from the oven. Use the turkey juices and vegetables at the bottom of the pan as a gravy flavor enhancer. Let the turkey sit for 20 minutes and carve.
Is this recipe healthy?
Turkey on its own is a healthy meat. Without the skin, it’s low in fat/calories and high in protein. The main problem with Thanksgiving and the rest of the Holidays is when people get into a holiday season mentality.
The Bottom Line
A few large meals won’t do any harm if you continue healthy habits through the holidays. If you let healthy habits slip away, eat excessive amounts of food for weeks instead of days and enter a long period of physical inactivity, you will start the New Year on the wrong path. If you continue those healthy habits, exercise regularly and eat a few big meals, you won’t have any holiday regrets.