Better Living for Texans: Turkey Day is Near!

(As I’m sure most of you probably know, one of our Prosper Waco community goals is McLennan County residents will live healthier lifestyles and access the best available care. With that in mind Act Locally Waco is teaming up with Better Living for Texans to bring you a monthly blog post full of tips for healthy living. For more of the posts in this series, click here: Better Living for Texans. – ALW)

by Lindsey Breunig

November may have just begun but the Thanksgiving holiday will be here sooner than we think! From the food, to the guests, to travels, or planning around a football game, Thanksgiving can be simple or a day of hustle. There will always be the unexpected, but creating a plan for your Thanksgiving will help ease stress, keep the family healthy and safe, and better yet make your Turkey Day restful. Below I will talk about some tips and share recipes all in the spirit of Thanksgiving. So, let’s start planning!

Turkey 101:

There are many new and alternative ways to cook the turkey. Some will stick to the traditional oven baked while others are ready to explore new options. Whatever you choose it’s important to know which methods are safe and which are not. Remember that no matter the method – the minimum internal temperature for a whole, cooked turkey is 165 degrees Fahrenheit. Always, always, ALWAYS check for doneness with a thermometer. A beautifully browned turkey can still be frozen solid inside. Doing a temperature check is preferable to worrying about getting guests sick.

When taking the temperature, insert the food thermometer in the thickest part of the food, away from bone, fat, or gristle. If your turkey comes with a pop-up thermometer, it is still recommended to check with a conventional food thermometer as an added precaution to gauge both safety and doneness.

It is also important that you carefully read the instructions for the cooking method and that you wash your hands, utensils, and counters that may have been contacted by raw turkey. You do not need to wash the turkey. Let’s look at a few safe and unsafe methods:

Safe, alternative methods include:

  • The Oven cooking bag method involves preheating your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and should produce a moist-heat cooking environment for the turkey (use fresh or thawed turkey for this method).
  • The Fried method is usually done with smaller turkeys (8-10 pounds) and peanut oil.
  • The Grilled method is also used with smaller, unstuffed turkeys, weighing 8 to 14 pounds. The oven should be set between 325 to 350 degrees Fahrenheit to grill a turkey.

 Unsafe, alternative methods include:

  • The Brown Paper Bag Method involves placing the turkey in a large brown paper bag and cooking. Chemicals in the bag may seep into the food, making it unsafe.
  • The Slow-cooking overnight method puts you and your dinner guests at risk of food poisoning due to the low cooking temperature used.
  • The Trash Bag method involves placing the turkey in a trash bag and marinating it for several hours at room temperature, which could result in bacteria buildup.

 Sides – Ingredient stock up and recipe collecting:

Are you planning to use that favorite recipe you already have memorized? Or do you like to change up the menu? Maybe a little of both? Start collecting recipes now rather than the week of Thanksgiving. By collecting new recipes, you may find a new family favorite, introduce new flavors, or learn new ways to alter meals in a healthier manner.

Once the menu is set, it is time to hit the grocery store. While you are out now start purchasing ingredients you know you need. Take note of sales and purchase the must-have-items before going out of stock. Canned ingredients, frozen items, spices, or boxed items will last, and even the turkey can be stored in the freezer. Stock up today and reduce your risk of special ingredients being sold out or having to pay full price!

Recipe prep can sometimes take longer than the recipe implies so go ahead and prep side dishes and desserts the day before. Chop veggies or prep ingredients to avoid a cluttered counter space the day of. Veggies like onions, carrots, peppers, celery, and garlic can be stored in containers or plastic bags in the fridge to use as needed on Thanksgiving Day.

Food Safety Reminder: When re-warming up dishes, use a food thermometer to keep the family safe. Anything being reheated should reach an internal temperature of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.


It is well understood the calorie intake on Thanksgiving increases. (I am equally guilty!) Thanksgiving focuses on food and tradition, so why not create active traditions of your own! Participate in your local turkey trot or create your own with family and friends. Plan your route alongside your favorite designations (maybe downtown, along the river, or at Cameron Park?) and walk, run, or jog before the day even starts! Take advantage of guests visiting, create teams, and play your favorite sport – try football, softball, soccer, or kickball to name a few. Lastly, before settling in for that second slice of pie take a short walk around the neighborhood, your stomach will thank you! Just a few fun ways to burn off excess calories and spend quality time with friends and family.

A day of Thanks:

No matter what happens, if the sides don’t turn out like the picture or you need some extra gravy on the turkey – it is a day of thanksgiving. Whoever you are with, I challenge each of you to share five things you are thankful for.  Enjoy the day! 

Recipes to try:

Wanting to add some new recipes to the menu? Here are some unique recipes to try!

Cranberry Pumpkin MuffinsThese have become a favorite of mine. Start off Thanksgiving morning in the spirit! I used dried cranberries here.

Turkey Tacos and Cranberry SalsaMake these tacos with leftovers or use the recipe to make mini-street tacos as an appetizer! You can use ground turkey or shred up leftovers. A fun twist!

Pumpkin Pie Parfait  – This dessert is a healthier alternative to traditional pumpkin pie and are a delicious way to get your vitamin A in for the day! When you see orange colored veggies that is visual sign of there being a lot of Beta-Carotene. Beta-carotene is a carotenoid that can be converted into a form of vitamin A in the body. Vitamin A is important for maintaining healthy skin, teeth, skin, and promotes good vision, especially in low light.

Lindsey Breunig is a graduate of Baylor University and currently works as the Better Living for Texans Educator for the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. She is originally from Grapevine, TX and now calls Waco home. Here in Waco she loves to venture out to Cameron Park, visit the local Farmers Market, and try out the awesome eateries in Waco. If you see her and hear a loud bark, that’s her pup Lucy just saying hello.

The Act Locally Waco blog publishes posts with a connection to these aspirations for Waco. If you are interested in writing for the Act Locally Waco Blog, please email [email protected] for more information.

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