Turkey: Food for Everyday Fun and Fuel

By Gretta Irwin, executive director and home economist, Iowa Turkey Federation

In honor of June being National Turkey Lovers’ Month, Gretta Irwin, executive director and home economist with the Iowa Turkey Federation, shares why this versatile protein is a perfect addition to summertime celebrations.

Whether you’re firing up the grill for Father’s Day or attending a backyard barbecue for the Fourth of July, turkey can be the perfect menu item for any summertime holiday. Not only is it tasty, it’s also versatile, affordable, low-fat and packed with protein.

Iowa has a lot to celebrate when it comes to turkey! The state is home to more than 130 turkey farmers who raise approximately 12 million turkeys each year. The state’s turkey industry contributes about $10 billion to Iowa’s economy. Most turkeys raised in Iowa are processed into deli meat for Jimmy John’s and Subway.

Turkey farmers place significant emphasis on sustainability and being environmentally responsible in all aspects of their operations. For example, Tim Graber is a fourth-generation turkey farmer from Wayland. His family takes great pride in the way they care for turkeys and how they can help provide safe and reliable food for families in the community, state and nation.

Food for Fuel

In my role at the Iowa Turkey Federation, I’m passionate about promoting turkey's nutritional benefits, great flavor and versatility year-round, not just during the holidays. Like many Americans, this nutritious protein is also a regular part of my diet. It’s gratifying and exciting to see per capita consumption has grown from 8.3 pounds in 1975 to 16.6 pounds in 2016.

Turkey is a nutritional powerhouse. A 3-ounce serving of boneless, skinless turkey breast is low-fat and provides a whopping 26 grams of protein. Protein is important in helping you feel full longer, your body needs protein to stay healthy and work the way it should. Protein is also a critical part of the processes that fuel your energy and carry oxygen throughout your body in your blood.

During the summer, when we’re more active with outdoor activities, it’s especially important to fuel your body with optimal nutrients.

Ground turkey and deli turkey are the most popular turkey items sold in grocery stores. From using ground turkey in tacos, lasagna or soup to adding turkey bacon or turkey sausage to the breakfast table, the possibilities for turkey are endless.

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Meal Planning Made Easy

Food – from exploring new ingredients to eating out at a new restaurant or trying a new recipe at home – has long been a part of my life. I’ve learned to create a menu for the week, shop for ingredients on the weekend and then put the ingredients in a container together in the refrigerator so it’s easy to access when I’m ready to cook. Chopping vegetables and organizing ingredients when my schedule is less busy helps make the hectic weeknights easier.

By thinking ahead, I am able to serve my family a wider variety of meals and use ingredients that are in season, such as a variety of fresh vegetables in the summer.

During the summer months, grilling turkey is an easy go-to, but it doesn’t mean soup is always off the table!

I used shredded turkey tenderloin as my inspiration and created a delicious, fresh and light soup for a chili contest. I had fun researching traditional ingredients raised in Mexico, and then developed an original, veggie-filled chili.  Hominy, zucchini and parsnips are not traditional chili ingredients, but they are perfect for this recipe and make great use of garden-fresh produce.

When cooking with turkey and promoting it as part of my daily job, it’s gratifying to understand the care farmers put into raising healthy products consumers of all ages can enjoy.   

Editor’s Note: The Iowa Turkey Federation recently published a new cookbook, “Everyday Turkey,” featuring easy and delicious recipes the entire family will love.