We often think of turkey as being one of the healthier options for the Christmas dinner table – nutritionally it even has the edge over chicken – but there can still be a great deal of variance, depending on the turkey you buy, how it’s prepared and which cuts you choose to eat. So we asked Claire Holland, manager of the Q Guild of Butchers, for her tips for enjoying a healthier Christmas centrepiece.
How to keep it lean
The leanest cut of the turkey is the boneless and skinless breast. It is lower in calories and saturated fat and has less cholesterol compared with dark meat cuts (e.g. thigh, leg or wing). A 100g serving of roasted turkey breast contains just 155 calories, compared with 177 calories in 100g roasted dark meat. There’s also 34g of protein per 100g serving and just 0.7g of saturated fat, according to British Turkey.
Roasting turkey in its own juices, without adding butter under or over the skin, is the healthiest way of cooking it. Taking the skin off, once cooked, will also cut down on saturated fat. You could also try cooking it – skin off – in an oven roasting bag with some spices.
Turkey can be relatively inexpensive but boneless, skinless cuts of turkey breast are harder to find so if you ask your butcher ahead of time they may be able to prepare it for you so you don’t have to do it yourself.
Always go for higher-welfare, free range or organic birds. Free-range birds tend to grow more slowly, meaning they have more flavour, more intramuscular fat in their muscles which offers a better, firmer texture. And buying an organic or free-range turkey can also cut out harmful hormones, which can be found in lower welfare turkeys, where the birds are bred to grow and get fat much more quickly.
The extras (enjoyed the leaner way):
Pigs in blankets are never going to be a truly healthy option, but you can take a few steps towards making them a little leaner (and once a year isn’t going to hurt much, let’s not forget!)
Firstly, look for a premium low-fat chipolata pork or even a chicken sausage, as they are often naturally lower in fat. For your blankets, go for thinly sliced back bacon with the rind trimmed off rather than streaky rashers, which contain more fat.
Another tasty extra is sausage meat stuffing balls. To make your own low-fat versions, look for your favourite premium low-fat pork sausages, de-skin them and mix with your favourite Christmas fruit, like fresh cranberries, orange peel plus some mixed spice like nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves, then roll into balls.
There’s a lot of indulgent, high-calorie food on offer at Christmas, but turkey isn’t something you should feel guilty about.