Tasty Recipes Using Healthier Ground Turkey

Ground turkey is considerably less popular than its beefy counterpart, but the mixture of light and dark turkey meat is generally healthier and less expensive than ground beef. As long as you buy your ground turkey lean, you can cook up nutritious and delicious dishes with your meat, while also saving yourself money. What’s more, ground turkey is surprisingly versatile and can star in a number of protein-packed recipes, seven of which we’re highlighting for you today. Grab your ground turkey and get ready to enjoy a deviation from your typical ground beef dinners.

1. Penne with Turkey and Broccolini

Penne with turnip greens

Penne with broccolini | iStock.com

First up is a pasta dish from Rachael Ray. Combine carbs, veggies, and meat, and you’ve officially covered all the food bases. This penne with ground turkey and broccolini is easy on both your waistline and your wallet, and it’s fast and flavorful, too. The light lunch or dinner requires only a handful of ingredients — most of which you likely already have in your pantry — and it can be prepared in 20 minutes or less.


  • ¾ pound penne
  • ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 bunch broccolini, tough ends trimmed, stalks, and florets chopped into 1-inch pieces
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat

Directions: In a large pot of boiling, salted water, cook the penne until al dente, 11 to 13 minutes. Drain, reserving 1 cup of the pasta cooking water.

Meanwhile, in a large skillet, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the broccolini and season with salt and pepper. Stir in 2 tablespoons water, cover and cook until crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl.

Lower the heat to medium, add the remaining olive oil and the onion and cook until soft, 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and crushed red pepper and cook until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Push the onion to the side of the pan, increase the heat to medium-high and crumble in the turkey; season. Cook, stirring, until the meat is no longer pink, about 5 minutes.

Add the pasta, broccolini, and three-quarters of the reserved pasta water to the turkey; toss well. Add the remaining pasta water if needed to thin the sauce.

2. Turkey Empanadas with Salad

Turkey empanadas | Thinkstock

Ready for more of a challenge? Try these turkey empanadas from Real Simple. They’re actually not difficult to make as long as you can seal the edges of turkey-filled pie crust, but the empanadas still come out of the oven looking striking and sophisticated. Your dinner guests will inevitably request your secret recipe when they realize that ground turkey can be fun when it’s enlisted in empanadas.


  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • ¾ pound ground turkey
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ⅓ cup raisins
  • ½ cup pitted olives
  • kosher salt and black pepper
  • 2 refrigerated rolled pie crusts, halved
  • 4 cups mixed greens
  • ½ small English cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
  • 4 radishes, thinly sliced
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Directions: Heat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Line a baking sheet with parchment. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the turkey, onion, garlic, and cumin and cook, breaking the meat up with a spoon, until browned, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the raisins and olives; season with ½ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper.

Top the 4 piecrust halves with the turkey mixture; fold in half and seal the edges. Place on the prepared baking sheet and bake until golden, 20 to 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the greens, cucumber, and radishes with the vinegar and the remaining 3 tablespoons oil. Serve with the empanadas.

3. Turkey Sloppy Joes

Turkey sloppy joes | iStock.com

Here’s a slightly less sophisticated (but still satisfying) dish from Taste of Home. Turkey sloppy joes are just as meaty and messy as their beefy counterparts, but they’re made with ground turkey along with a sauce that combines ketchup, vinegar, mustard, and Worcestershire sauce. Serve your protein-packed meat on buns or a bed of greens and you’re sure to please all carnivores.


  • 1 pound lean ground turkey
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ½ cup no-salt-added ketchup
  • 3 tablespoons barbecue sauce
  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon prepared mustard
  • 1½ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ teaspoon celery seed
  • ¼ teaspoon pepper
  • 6 whole-wheat hamburger buns, split

Directions: In a nonstick skillet, cook turkey and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink. Stir in the ketchup, barbecue sauce, vinegar, mustard, Worcestershire sauce, celery seed, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Serve on buns.

4. Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs

Spaghetti and turkey meatballs | Thinkstock

Up next is a fun spin on traditional meatballs. Introducing turkey meatballs, featured on Epicurious, which come on a bed of carbs, but they also can be enjoyed alone, on a bun, or on a salad. This food formula serves 8 and the meatballs couldn’t be easier to make. Simply combine soaked bread, ground turkey, salt, and one egg, and roll your mixture into 16 meatballs before you introduce them to the (whole-wheat) carbs. Enjoy your spaghetti with meatballs while making responsible choices, too.


  • 8 pounds tomatoes, cut into chunks
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • ¼ cup plus 1½ tablespoons olive oil, divided
  • 5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes or 1 small dried hot pepper, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt, preferably sea salt, divided
  • 2 cups Italian bread, torn into bite-size pieces
  • ¾ cup 1 percent milk
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • ½ pound whole-wheat spaghetti
  • Grated Parmesan or Romano (optional)

Directions: Heat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large baking dish, combine tomatoes, onion, ¼ cup oil, garlic, pepper flakes, and 1 tablespoon salt; cover; roast 45 minutes. Remove dish from oven; mash mixture to break down tomatoes. Cook, uncovered, until sauce is thick and reduced, 45 minutes. In a bowl, soak bread in milk until it absorbs liquid, 10 minutes; add turkey, egg, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt; mix until just combined.

Gently roll meat mixture into 16 equal-sized balls. In a large nonstick saucepan, heat remaining 1½ tablespoons oil over medium-high heat. Sauté meatballs, turning occasionally, until light brown, 5 minutes. Add tomato sauce to meatballs; reduce heat; simmer until cooked through, 20 minutes. Cook pasta as directed on package. Serve sauce over pasta; top with cheese, if desired.

5. Asian Turkey Lettuce Cups

Asian lettuce wrap with minced chicken

Turkey lettuce wraps | iStock.com

Here’s a dish on the healthier side from Cooking Light. Asian turkey lettuce cups are fun, fast, and boast an enjoyable Asian flare thanks to cilantro, mint, sesame oil, and fish sauce. Though the vehicle for the Asian-flavored ground turkey is lettuce cups rather than carbs, the dinner is still wholly refreshing, satisfying, and spicy.


  • 1 teaspoon grated peeled fresh ginger
  • 1½ pounds ground turkey
  • ½ cup thinly sliced green onions
  • 1 tablespoon brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1½ tablespoons fish sauce
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dark sesame oil
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, finely chopped
  • 12 large napa (Chinese) cabbage leaves
  • ¼ cup chopped unsalted, dry-roasted peanuts

Directions: Heat a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. Add ginger and turkey to pan; cook 7 minutes or until turkey is done, stirring frequently. Drain turkey mixture; place in a large bowl. Add green onions and next 8 ingredients; toss well. Spoon ⅓ cup turkey mixture into each cabbage leaf. Top with peanuts.

6. Turkey Spinach Sliders

Mini Turkey Burgers

Turkey sliders | iStock.com

Many carnivores serve their patties with ground beef, but here’s a twist on the typical burger recipe from Bon Appétit. These turkey spinach sliders are not only leaner and meaner than your typical beef burger, they’re packed full of protein and greens, too. Garlic, cumin, spinach, scallions, and turkey make up the burgers, and because Bon Appetit’s recipe serves 4 with the food formula yielding 12 slider-sized patties, each one of your dinner guests will get three of their very own burgers.


  • ½ bunch flat-leaf spinach, thick stems removed, leaves chopped 
  • 4 scallions, thinly sliced
  • 1 garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 pound ground turkey
  • ¾ teaspoon ground cumin
  • Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 12 slider buns or small dinner rolls, split, lightly toasted
  • Mayonnaise, sliced red onion, and pickle slices 

Directions: Combine spinach, scallions, garlic, turkey, and cumin in a medium bowl; season with salt and pepper. Using a fork, mix gently just to combine. Form turkey mixture into twelve ½-inch-thick patties.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Working in 2 batches, cook patties until golden brown and cooked through, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer to a plate. Serve turkey-spinach patties on buns with mayonnaise, onion, and pickles.

7. Turkey and Black Bean Enchiladas

Chicken Enchiladas

Turkey enchiladas | iStock.com

Our last recipe from Skinny Taste puts a Mexican spin on ground turkey. Take your turkey and mix it with beans to yield these enchiladas that come with a kick. This dish proves that Mexican comfort food doesn’t have to be unhealthy. The enchiladas are full of fiber and protein, and they can be served alongside a salad or on their own. They promise to fill you up without sacrificing your wallet or your waistline.


  • 1 pound extra lean ground turkey
  • 1 (15.5-ounce) can black beans, drained
  • 1 (4.5-ounce) can chopped green chiles
  • 1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • ¼ cup chopped onion
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 to 2 teaspoons cumin
  • ⅛ teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt
  • 8 low-carb whole-wheat flour tortillas
  • 1 cup reduced fat shredded Mexican cheese
  • nonstick cooking spray

Enchilada Sauce

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons chipotle chiles in adobe sauce
  • 1½ cups tomato sauce
  • ½ teaspoon chipotle chili powder
  • ½ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ¾ cup fat free chicken broth
  • Kosher salt and fresh pepper, to taste

Directions: In a medium saucepan, spray cooking spray and sauté garlic. Add chiles, chili powder, cumin, chicken broth, tomato sauce, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. Set aside until ready to use.

In a large skillet, brown the turkey and season with salt. When the turkey is browned, add onion, garlic, black beans, cilantro, green chiles, diced tomatoes, cumin, and chili powder. Mix well and simmer on low, covered for 20 minutes. Remove lid and simmer an additional 5 to 10 minutes to reduce the liquid.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Spray a 13-by-9-inch glass baking dish with non-stick spray. Put ½ cup turkey mixture into each tortilla and roll it. Place on baking dish seam side down. Top with enchilada sauce and cheese. Cover with aluminum foil and bake in the oven on the middle rack for 20 to 25 minutes. Top with low fat sour cream, cilantro, or scallions if you wish.

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