Friday, June 7, 2013

Meat Aisle 101

One of the hardest learning curves for me when I began doing my own grocery shopping in college was the meat aisle. I grew up in a family where my dad was the chef and he knew exactly what kind of meat he wanted to buy and why. Unfortunately, I never asked him why and spent some time struggling through. I now understand the meat aisle and what the best options are. So here are my tips for selecting healthy beef, turkey and chicken!

I'm a true meat lover at heart, although some days I end up eating more vegan than carnivore. No matter, I love a good marinated steak with a baked potato. So, how do you pick the beef?

  • Keywords
    • "Round" - such as Top Round or Bottom Round are lean cuts 
    • "Loin" such as sirloin and tenderloin are lean cuts as well.
  • Always pick a cut that is at least 90% lean and 10% fat. While we're on that topic, be sure that all your ground meat products have a label like that, not just 90/10. The USDA requires all manufacturers write it out. If it isn't, that manufacturer isn't following the law, and I'm not so sure I'd trust that!
  • Cooking
    • Is medium-rare, ground beef 100% safe to eat? No. During the process of grinding the meat, potentially harmful bacteria on the surface of the meat can get inside to the center of the ground meat. Be sure to have your hamburgers reach a minimum internal temperature of 160 degrees (the temperature at what salmonella and other food borne illnesses are killed). HOWEVER, if you are making a steak, roast or chop...then yes, medium-rare can be safe. With a fresh cut, be sure to have the center reach a minimum temperature of 145 degrees. Making sure to reach the correct internal temperature is the only way to guarantee the safety of meat.

My personal favorite options, ground turkey and chicken, can be hard to find in the grocery store and to properly cook. 

  • Don't be fooled by healthy sounding terms! 
    • "Natural" - this has no enforcement when it comes to the USDA. There is no definition of what it means, so literally, any manufacturer can put this on their label. Don't waste your money!
    • "Free Range" - You may have watched some food documentaries that already de-bunked this myth, but I'll repeat it for you. Although it sounds like a "free-range" chicken lives on a vast farm in the middle of Iowa, the reality is they probably don't. It can mean that chickens were raised in a huge warehouse barn with one 2 feet x 2 feet door at the end. The chicken "has the option to go outside" but most don't. Again, don't waste your money!
    • "Organic" - If the package includes that the chicken was been certified by the USDA, you can be confident that the manufacturer is producing a quality product and isn't running a scam. Sometimes you can even find organic organizations that have given their approval to a manufacturer, which makes it even more trustworthy than what the USDA can guarantee. Although I don't get to do it often, I love going to the local food co-op in Madison and buying my chicken there. It comes from local farms and are certified by the store, which has a high standard when it comes to organic products.
  • What is allowed in ground poultry products? Whole muscle materials like the thighs, neck, breasts and drumsticks can be in ground poultry products. All of the skin and fat near those are allowed to stay as well. This is why it's important to read the lean percentage verses the fat percentage. Ground poultry products can range from 80% lean/20% fat to "extra lean" which is usually 97% lean/3% fat. Be sure to read, or you could end up buying a product that isn't as healthy as you were wanting!
  • Cooking
    • Just like meat, poultry has a minimum internal temperature you should reach to guarantee any bacteria is killed. It is 165 degrees. There's no "sometimes its okay to eat it raw" rule with poultry. So be sure to cook it the whole way through, overtime!

Onto my Recipe of the Day! In college, my roommate and I would always talk about our favorite meals, and they always ended up being the "one bite meal." Our definition of this was when you get everything you need in one bite. There's no chicken with a side of salad with a baked potato. Nope. Its like a sub, or a casserole. One bite, all the goodies. And that brings me to one of my FAVORITE one bite meals. Stuffed Peppers!

Jess's Stuffed Peppers

  • 1 pound, cooked, lean (at least 90% lean/10% fat) ground beef (use medium-heat)
  • 1 1/2 cups, cooked, brown rice
  • 4 green bell peppers
  • 2 (8 oz.) cans, tomato sauce
  • 1 TBSP Worcestershire sauce
  • 1/4 tsp. garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning


  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  • Prepare green bell peppers by slicing off top, and hollowing out the seeds. Then, place them in a large pot, cover with water. Bring water to a boil and let boil for 2 minutes. Drain and set green bell peppers upright in a foil-lined baking dish (usually 9x9 works well for me).
  • In a bowl, mix beef, rice, 1 can tomato sauce, Worcestershire sauce, garlic powder, and onion powder. 
  • Spoon equal amounts of beef mixture into peppers. 
  • Mix 2nd can of tomato sauce with Italian seasoning and pour over stuffed peppers. 
  • Bake for 40 minutes, making sure to baste peppers every 15 minutes with sauce.  

BAM! You have a one-bite meal with vegetables, fiber-packed brown rice and lean ground beef. 

Enjoy your weekend!!

1 comment

  1. Great post and helpful too! I have to admit, I never knew what "round" or "loin" meant haha


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