Ground turkey is a popular substitute for ground beef if you’re trying to make recipes more healthy. Not only does ground turkey taste delicious, but it can also offer the same texture in casseroles, burgers, and more without adding a bunch of excess calories and fat.
Read on to learn some of our favorite healthy ground turkey recipes to lighten up your menu!
What Is Ground Turkey?
Ground turkey is a combination of light and dark turkey meat that has been put through a meat grinder to form it into a loose mixture. Ground turkey serves as a popular substitution in recipes for ground beef since it can lend the same texture and can be cooked in relatively the same amount of time.
What Part of Turkey Is Ground Turkey Made of?
Ground turkey can be made of any part of the turkey, but most ground turkey is made up of the following types of turkey meat:
- Turkey thighs
Most ground turkey is made up of these darker cuts because they are less expensive than white turkey breast meat, which is typically used for sandwiches and other cooking applications instead.
Does Ground Turkey Have Turkey Skin and Fat in It?
Most ground turkey mixtures will be mixed with the skin and fat included, which can make the ground turkey more flavorful and fatty since it is bland and lean otherwise. In many cases, meat processing plants and butchers will mix the meat and fat in with other additives and grind it finely before adding to the ground turkey to keep the texture and flavor of the meat consistent.
If you prefer your ground turkey without the skin and fat, you can always get raw turkey meat such as turkey thighs, debone them, and grind them in a meat grinder or food processor at home.
How Is Ground Turkey Used in Recipes?
Ground turkey is often used in dishes where it can be thoroughly mixed into the dish and where it can be kept moist by other liquid ingredients. Here are a few of the most popular dishes you can make with ground turkey (you’ll read about even more of them below!):
- Rice bowls
Any recipe that uses a ground meat mixture such as beef, chicken, or pork can have those proteins replaced by turkey. The taste may not be exactly the same depending on what dish you’re making. However, if you use a good ground turkey recipe, it’ll be flavorful enough to please everyone at the table anyway.
Easy Ground Turkey Recipes for a Light Lunch or Supper
1. Ground Turkey Sweet Potato Skillet
Almost everybody loves a one-dish meal (especially the people on dish duty!). This sweet potato skillet is no exception to the rule. This gluten-free meal comes together with just a few basic ingredients: ground turkey, sweet potatoes, bell pepper, onion, garlic, and spices.
This meal isn’t just simple to assemble, but it can also be cooked in half an hour. Therefore, it makes for a perfect quick weeknight meal that’s still healthy, too. (via Primavera Kitchen)
2. Chinese Green Beans with Ground Turkey
One of the major complaints against healthy ground turkey recipes is that some of them can be a little bland if they’re not prepared right. A good way to get around this challenge is to create ground turkey recipes with some spice to them to keep things interesting.
Chinese green beans add a lovely crunch to this stir fry, while chilies add some heat. Ground turkey makes a sound substitute for ground pork in many Asian-inspired recipes. (via Weary Chef)
3. Ground Turkey Pasta Bake
Pasta dishes aren’t usually associated with healthy dishes, but several light swap-ins make this ground turkey pasta bake lighter than most pasta dishes you could whip up. Make this pasta casserole indulgent but healthy by incorporating ground turkey, nutritious kale, and whole-wheat pasta for a variation that is chock full of vitamins and essential nutrients. Wheat pasta helps keep the simple carbohydrates down in this version, too. (via iFoodReal)
4. Turkey Taco Burrito Bowls
Bowls are a popular way to fix up rice-based dishes without incorporating a lot of extra starches in the form of bread or tortillas. This burrito bowl has seasoned ground turkey mixed up with classic burrito ingredients such as rice, avocados, sour cream, and fresh tomatoes.
You can also add any other vegetables you like, such as beans and corn. Burritos don’t have the best reputation for being healthy, but using turkey instead of beef or pork and a bowl instead of a tortilla is a quick way to lighten up this classic Mexican dish. (via Together As a Family)
5. Teriyaki Turkey Rice Bowl
Mexican-inspired rice bowls are a popular way to use ground turkey, but another popular style of the healthy rice bowl is the Asian-inspired rice bowl. Ground turkey works great in this teriyaki-flavored turkey rice bowl along with classic Chinese vegetable mix-ins such as broccoli, carrots, bean sprouts, and water chestnuts. An advantage of this recipe is that it is easy to mix and match whatever veggies you have available or whatever is on sale. (via Yellow Bliss Road)
6. Firecracker Ground Turkey
Firecracker casseroles are usually seen with ground beef instead of ground turkey, but this light ground turkey version from Weight Watchers can give you the same range of flavors with less fat and calories. This casserole also incorporates healthy vegetable add-ins such as broccoli and scallions.
This dish only takes fifteen minutes to put together and only one pot to prepare, so you can’t do better for a fast weeknight meal or a dinner for any night you don’t feel like cooking. (via Lite Cravings)
7. The Best Healthy Turkey Chili
Chili is a healthy dish since it brings together vegetables like beans, tomatoes, and corn with an animal protein. Using ground turkey instead of ground beef can help keep things light while still pumping up the amount of protein your chili provides.
The key to a perfect chili is making sure that the spices are balanced to the number of ingredients you’ve included. Chili is also a good option for freezing or reheating the next day since it’s usually better after sitting overnight. (via Ambitious Kitchen)
8. Ground Turkey Lettuce Wraps
An easy way to reduce the amount of calories and carbs in your meal is to replace tortillas and bread with lighter options, such as these delicious lettuce wraps. Lettuce provides a refreshing and crunchy wrapper for the seasoned ground beef filling, but isn’t as filling as eating a tortilla wrap. These lettuce wraps are a smart option for a light dinner or even a keto-friendly appetizer for a larger family-style meal. (via Cooking Classy)
9. Turkey Taco Salad
Taco salads are a crowd-pleasing entree. However, the traditional taco salad made with ground beef and steak can be a heavy meal, especially when you add in a bunch of sauces, sour cream, and guacamole. Indulge in this Mexican salad without all the excess fat and calories by replacing the ground beef with ground turkey instead. Another way this recipe reduces fat and calories is to replace the traditional sour cream with a yogurt and salsa based dressing instead. (via Well Plated)
10. Turkey Chili Mac and Cheese
Just because you’re watching what you eat doesn’t mean that you have to skip out on indulgent main dishes like chili mac and cheese casserole. While this dish is usually made with ground beef, using ground turkey instead can lighten it up without changing how it tastes much.
This one-pot meal can be cooked in half an hour, so it’s great when you’re in a hurry. You can also change up the seasonings or the type of cheese you use to do some variations on this iconic meal. (via The Recipe Rebel)
11. Ground Turkey Meatloaf
Ground turkey can be used in meatloaf to make it healthier, but a big challenge with cooking ground turkey this way is keeping the meatloaf moist. This recipe from Inspired Taste manages to stay moist in the middle while developing a chewy crust that even the pickiest of eaters will fall in love with.
The secret ingredient in this meatloaf is minced fresh mushrooms, which help keep the meatloaf moist as they cook while also giving it a meaty texture and a rich base flavor. Meatloaf is also a great dish to make ahead of time and freeze for nights when you don’t feel like cooking from scratch. (via Inspired Taste)
12. Ground Turkey Sloppy Joes
Sloppy Joes are a good meal to throw together when you don’t have much time or energy to put into dinner, but using traditional ground chuck can leave you with a rich dish that has a lot of calories. To make it more healthy, replace the ground beef with ground turkey, serve on whole wheat buns, and incorporate fresh vegetables such as white onion.
Making up a homemade sauce from scratch instead of buying canned Manwich sauce can also help cut out unnecessary additives and preservatives. (via Ambitious Kitchen)
13. Ground Turkey Vegetable Soup
Homemade vegetable soup made with ground beef is already a pretty healthy favorite, but you can make it even lighter by using ground turkey instead. This hearty tomato-based soup is a great option to put up in the freezer for quick winter meals and it’s even better the next day after it’s had a chance to sit in the fridge overnight. This vegetable soup recipe calls for canned vegetables, but you can use fresh sauteed vegetables if you want to make it even healthier. (via Dear Crissy)
14. Thai Sweet Chili Turkey Meatballs
The Thai flavors of ginger, garlic, chives, sweet chili sauce, and cilantro that are the basis of this turkey meatball dish are perfect for spicing up a protein that many people may consider a bland, inferior substitute for ground beef or pork. On the contrary, ground poultry goes much better with these Asian-inspired meatballs since the lighter meat pairs well with subtle Thai flavors.
This dish is both savory and sweet. It’s also easy for you to adjust the amount of heat involved by adding dried chilies to spice it up if you need to. (via Will Cook for Smiles)
15. Ground Turkey Stuffed Pepper Casserole
Bell peppers of any color – green, yellow, orange, or red – all go well with ground turkey, and they’re a good option for adding some color and flavor to the meat. This “unstuffed pepper” dish has all of the classic flavors of stuffed peppers without the finicky preparation methods necessary to make them.
Without spices and some colorful vegetables, ground turkey runs the risk of looking and tasting bland. This casserole also incorporates brown rice instead of white rice to add some whole grains to your meal, and the pepper jack cheese is spicy enough to keep this dish from being boring. (via Well Plated)
Ground Turkey FAQ
Is Ground Turkey Good for You?
Ground turkey is one of the healthiest animal proteins you can eat as part of your regular diet. With a low amount of calories and a high amount of protein, it makes a much healthier substitute for fattier meats such as pork and beef.
Is Ground Turkey Good for a Diet?
Ground beef is good for a diet if you’re trying to lose weight since it provides a good protein source that doesn’t also come with a ton of calories and fat. As long as you mix your ground turkey with fresh vegetables and seasonings instead of dairy and starches, you can use ground turkey to keep your diet lean.
How Do You Know When Ground Turkey Is Bad?
You should never eat turkey that you think has gone beyond its expiration date, but it’s usually easy to tell when ground turkey is spoiled. Here are some of the signs you should look out for to know when to throw your ground turkey out:
- Slimy texture
- Grayish color (fresh ground turkey should be bright pink)
- Sour, rotten smell
Raw turkey only lasts for one to two days in the fridge, so be sure to use any ground turkey you have as soon as possible. If you’re not planning on eating the ground turkey you purchased for a few days, it’s a better idea to freeze it and thaw it out later.
Do You Cook Ground Turkey the Same as Ground Beef?
The same cooking methods and recipes used to cook ground beef can also generally be used for ground turkey. However, you may need to adjust your cooking temperatures or times accordingly.
Ground turkey takes slightly less time to cook through than beef, and it can dry out more quickly due to its lower fat content. If you’re unsure how to tweak ground beef recipes, use recipes designed for ground turkey that are similar to get the best results.
How Can You Tell When Ground Turkey is Done Without a Thermometer?
If you want to fully cook your ground turkey, the only way to tell it’s done without a meat thermometer is to cook it until it’s dry and crumbling. However, at this point, you can be sure you’ve overcooked your ground turkey.
If you want to cook your ground turkey without overcooking it, you’ll really need to use a thermometer. Both raw and cooked turkey are pink when the turkey has been cooked to a safe temperature of 165F, so it can be difficult to tell the difference without an exact temperature.
Can You Put Raw Ground Turkey in the Crockpot?
It’s possible to cook raw ground turkey on either low or high settings in the crockpot. A crockpot can help you cook the turkey thoroughly while also maintaining a high level of moisture during the cooking process. This can go a long way towards keeping your ground turkey from drying out.
Ground turkey is a much healthier alternative to heavy meats like ground beef, so if you’re trying to eat healthy using it in most ground beef recipes can help you cut excess fat and calories. Pairing any of these healthy ground turkey recipes with other substitutions like lighter dairy products and whole starches can make the entire meal better for you without forcing you to sacrifice any of the flavors you love.