homepage logo

Upgrading your menu

By Staff | May 13, 2011

Gretta Irwin, executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation, displays a plate of grilled turkey salad with peanut dressing, which was served at a recent fundraiser for the Iowa Heart Association in Ames. The ITF is aligning itself with heart-healthy groups and activities to promote turkey as a healthy protein for daily use.

AMES – When Gretta Irwin talks turkey these days, she wants consumers to focus on a daily serving of the lean, high-protein food that is produced and processed in huge numbers in Iowa.

“Go ahead and indulge yourself during a few of the holidays with a big, juicy turkey and all of the comfort-food fixings like gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes and all the rest,”?Irwin said.

“Just don’t forget to include turkey as a healthy option to “upgrade” your everyday meals throughout the year.”

She is the executive director of the Iowa Turkey Federation, where she has worked the past 16 years promoting turkey products. The Iowa Turkey Federation is a checkoff program for turkey producers.

“We’re trying to get consumers to understand how to easily upgrade their meals with turkey in their diets. By upgrade, I mean lower fat, lower calories and quality protein,” said Irwin, who is trained as a home economist and often creates her own recipes as part of her promotion work for the federation. “You can upgrade your meals with turkey and upgrade your health with turkey,” she said.

The ITF is aligning with heart-healthy organizations and activities as part of its upgrade campaign, in conjunction with the National Turkey Federation.

Last week, the federation was among the sponsors of an American Heart Association luncheon in Ames, which featured a grilled turkey salad for the 200 or so attendees.

Each attendee also received a turkey recipe book, in addition to recipes for each part of the meal they ate.

The main idea with the upgrade campaign is to get consumers to think about turkey as a substitute for some of their daily protein, to reduce the calories and total fat one eats each day.

“The (turkey) products are so diverse now, we’re there for breakfast, lunch and dinner,” Irwin said.

The National Turkey Federation offers a website at: www.mealupgrade.com, which features dozens of recipes where turkey is substituted for other meat for all meals and snacks.

The website also demonstrates, through a meal calculator, how small changes can lower fat and calories to add up to a significant long-term improvement of one’s health.

Irwin grew up on a small farm near Cresco, in Howard County, and now lives in Boone. In her youth, she was active in 4-H with food, food preservation, clothing and other projects.

“My love of agriculture started with 4-H,” Irwin said, adding that her three children are active in 4-H.

Iowa ranks ninth in turkey production nationally, is the fifth-largest processor of turkey and the industry continues to grow, Irwin said.

Last month, a groundbreaking ceremony was held for a facility near Osceola that is touted to be the world’s largest turkey hatchery, when complete.

Irwin said she enjoys promoting turkey products, but the real joy of her position comes from working with the 130 or so turkey producers in Iowa, which she says is a small enough group that they feel like family. “It has been a pleasure to represent the wonderful people of Iowa that are producing such a healthy product,” Irwin said. “They are just an exceptional group of people.”

Irwin shared the following recipes, with many more that can be found at www.iowaturkey.com.

Grilled turkey salad with peanut dressing


1/4 cup honey

1/4 cup light soy sauce

2 garlic cloves minced

2 teaspoons minced fresh ginger root

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

2 turkey tenderloins

In a large plastic bag combine honey, soy sauce, garlic, ginger and sesame oil. Pierce turkey with a fork and place in the bag with marinade.

Refrigerate 1 hour; turning turkey every 15 minutes.

Preheat grill.

Drain turkey and discard marinade. Over direct heat, grill turkey 8 to 10 minutes per side or until the internal temperature reaches 170 degrees when tested with a meat thermometer. Let stand 10 minutes. Slice into 1/4-inch thin medallions.

Refrigerate until ready to serve.


1 large head of leaf lettuce, torn into bite-sized pieces

3 green onions, sliced

1 medium red onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rings

1 red bell pepper, sliced into 1/4-inch rings

1/2 pound (3 cups) fresh pea pods

1 15-ounce can mandarin orange slices, drained, reserve juice

1/2 cup unsalted roasted peanuts

1 5-ounce can chow mein noodles

On six dinner plates arrange two cups lettuce, green onions, red onion, red pepper, 1/2 cup pea pods and 1/2 cup mandarin oranges.

Top with five to six sliced turkey medallions.

Garnish with peanuts and chow mein noodles. Pour about 2 tablespoons of the peanut dressing over the salad.

Makes 6 servings.

Peanut dressing

1 garlic cloves minced

1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root

1 tablespoon finely chopped cilantro leaves

1/4 cup rice vinegar or white vinegar

1/3 cup mandarin orange juice, 2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter, 1 1/2 tablespoons light soy sauce 1 1/2 tablespoons sesame oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons hoisin sauce

In a food processor combine garlic, ginger and cilantro. Add vinegar, mandarin orange juice, peanut butter, soy sauce, sesame oil and hoisin sauce.

Process until smooth. Refrigerate.

Coach Fennelly’s turkey

popper sandwich

(This was part of a turkey promotion with Iowa State University’s women’s basketball team and coach Bill Fennelly.)

2 ounces shaved or sliced lower sodium turkey breast deli meat

1 multi-grain thin bun

2 teaspoons reduced calorie Italian dressing

1 tablespoon sliced banana pepper rings

1 slice turkey bacon

1 slice reduced-fat Pepper Jack cheese

Drizzle 1 teaspoon of Italian dressing on bottom half of thin bun. Layer on turkey deli meat and sliced banana pepper rings.

Cut slice of turkey bacon in half and cook in microwave on high for 1 minute. Add bacon to sandwich.

Top with cheese and other half of bun. Place on baking sheet and brush top of bun with remaining 1 teaspoon Italian dressing.

Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven for 10 minutes or until cheese is melted.

Enjoy! Makes 1 serving.

Contact Dave DeValois at dwdevalois@yahoo.com.

Please Enter Your Facebook App ID. Required for FB Comments. Click here for FB Comments Settings page