When shopping for your holiday bird, keep these ten things in mind.
1. Dark meat is not a nutritional villain.
Boost flavor and save cash by joining the dark side. Turkey and chicken white breast meat is prone to dry out during cooking but dark cuts like turkey drumsticks and chicken thighs tend to stay deliciously moist and richer tasting. Less expensive dark poultry contains only an extra gram or two of fat per serving compared to white meat but it provides higher amounts of iron, as well as immune-boosting zinc. If you’re watching your fat and calorie intake, go light on the skin since this is where plenty of fat lies.
2. Ground poultry isn’t always lean.
Don’t be fooled by ground poultry. It can have just as much fat, if not more, than ground beef because it often includes the skin. To save calories, look for the words ‘lean’ or ‘breast’ on the package.
3. Bones can save you money.
Bone-in cuts (chicken and turkey breasts, thighs, drumsticks) can be an economical choice over boneless options. Plus, the bones add flavor during cooking.
4. “Enhanced” poultry breast isn’t a step up.
“Enhanced” is code for a saltwater or broth injection, which can spike sodium levels in a 3-ounce serving from about 50 mgs to 300 mgs or more. Manufacturers routinely inject breast meat with salt to reduce drying during cooking and increase juiciness. So read the fine print for the sodium levels on poultry products. Smart cooking methods, like poaching and en papillote, can deliver a juicy chicken breast without the need for processed enhancement. Note: Read labels carefully to make certain your bird does not contain gluten and other allergens.
5. Choose organic.
There are a number of reasons to cry foul about conventionally raised fowl. Case in point: An investigation by scientists at Johns Hopkins University found that poultry raised on factory farms are routinely exposed to a slew of chemicals in their feed, such as antibiotics, arsenic, antihistamines, acetaminophen and caffeine. These compounds may make it to your dinner plate. So when possible, hunt down organic chicken and turkey. A recent study in Environmental Health Perspectives determined that organic poultry operations--which aren’t allowed to routinely give antibiotics to the animals—had significantly lower levels of drug-resistant bacteria than their conventional raised counterparts. Another study found that organic chicken contains up to 38 percent more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and less heart-hampering saturated fat.
6. Don’t be fresh obsessed.
Poultry labelled “fresh” just means the meat has never been stored below 26°F (the temperature at which poultry freezes). Generally, fresh poultry is not guaranteed to be higher quality than frozen.
7. “Natural” isn’t always best.
Chicken and turkey meat labelled “natural” only means that no artificial ingredients or colors were added. But it’s an extremely vague label and doesn’t guarantee higher standards when it comes to poultry feed and raising conditions, such as antibiotic use and cramped living quarters. Hormones are not allowed in poultry production, so a “hormone-free” label isn’t as meaningful as it sounds.
8. Free-range is often overrated.
For “free-range” chicken, farmers must demonstrate that the birds have been allowed access to the great outdoors for a minimum of 5 minutes per day. But the ease of this access and whether the birds actually use it are anyone’s guess, making the label not necessarily worth the higher price.
9. Visit a farm.
Buying your holiday poultry directly from the source eliminates the middlemen, which can help you score your meat for less. What’s more, the quality of the product will often be better than what’s in the Styrofoam trays at the supermarket.
10. Don’t be shy.
Many grocery stores mark down the price of their poultry products at a set time during the day. Ask the butcher at your local grocery store for the best time to shop for priced-to-sell meat.
Matthew Kadey, RD, (muffintinmania.com) is a registered dietitian and food writer. He is author of Muffin Tin Chef and The No-Cook, No-Bake Cookbook.