~ Ground beef recipes are quick, easy options on busy nights – a staple at family dinners. But sometimes they get a bad rap for being unhealthy. Not to worry! We’ve got tips, tricks, and loads of ideas for easy … and HEALTHY ground beef recipes your whole family will love! ~
Ground beef (sometimes called hamburger meat) is absolutely one of America’s go-to ingredients for creating quick, easy dinners. It cooks up fast and is super versatile, adapting to all sorts of flavor profiles and cooking methods.
Basically, simple ground beef recipes are a busy cook’s dream.
But what isn’t quite so dreamy is the nutrition profile of lots of those easy-peasy ground beef meals. That’s mainly because ground beef can be pretty high in fat (especially heart-unhealthy saturated fat).
But, the good news is that this doesn’t have to be the case!
We’ve got lots of tips and tricks up our sleeves, plus tried-and-true, family-favorite, healthy ground beef recipes your family will love, too!
Tips for Making Healthy Ground Beef Recipes
1) Use Extra-Lean Ground Beef
Ground beef varies widely in the percentage of fat it contains – from as much as 20 or even 30% fat … to only 4 or 5% fat. That’s a big difference!
So, we always recommend choosing extra-lean beef, preferably a blend labeled 95% or 96% lean. You’ll still snag some great nutrition and that beefy flavor you’re craving, but with a whole lot less artery-clogging, naughty fats coming along for the ride.
And if you want to delve further into how those fat ratios are calculated, you can read up about how that’s figured out, and what is lean ground beef HERE.
2) Remember That Ground Turkey Isn’t Necessarily a Lower-Fat Choice
A lot of people assume that a no-brainer, easy way to eat healthier is to cook with ground turkey, instead of ground beef. But, it’s just not quite that simple. Substituting ground turkey into a recipe that calls for ground beef doesn’t automatically wave a magic nutrition wand and make that recipe leaner or lower in fat.
That’s because ground turkey – just like ground beef – also varies in the amount of fat it contains. So, using a ground turkey blend that’s, say … 85% lean … is definitely NOT leaner that using a ground beef blend that’s 95% lean.
Don’t get me wrong here. I’m not dissing turkey! I like cooking with both ground beef and ground turkey – depending on the specific recipe and the flavors I’m trying to create. (Mmmmm … I’m looking at you, Indian-Spiced Turkey Chili!)
I just want to be clear on the fact that swapping the two isn’t an automatic health win.
Read the labels carefully, so you’re certain about the amount of fat in the meat you’re selecting. (You can dive deeper into ground beef vs. ground turkey nutrition HERE). And, if you really want beefy flavor in a recipe, simply choose a lower-fat ground beef blend – rather than sacrificing beefy taste by using turkey.
3) To Wash … Or NOT To Wash …
Some people suggest rinsing and blotting cooked ground beef, to wash away excess fat. But that’s honestly just a couple steps too many, as far as I’m concerned. I’d rather start with lean beef, rather than washing away beefy flavor and adding more work to my dinnertime rush.
But, if you happen to find yourself with a really fatty blend of ground beef, rinsing and blotting can, in fact, help to reduce the fat. If you want to go that route, I found a handy article for you on exactly how the whole rinsing and blotting technique works and how much fat you can cut from those fattier blends.
4) Adjust for Lean Beef’s Tendency to Dry Out … and Treat It Nicely!
Because extra-lean ground beef has so much less fat, it’s also more likely to dry out during cooking than other fattier blends of hamburger meat. There are a few things you can do to compensate:
• Watch recipes like grilled burgers carefully, to make sure you don’t overcook them.
• Add (nutritious!) veggies and cheeses directly into your mixture for burgers, meatloaves, and meatballs. And, dress up those types of recipes with flavorful sauces and moist toppings (like we do with our Pizza Burgers and Fajita Burgers) that will save the day by adding moisture to the overall final recipe, in case you do happen to overcook the meat itself.
• And don’t overwork the ground beef when you’re mixing together ingredients for hamburger patties, meatballs and meatloaves. Don’t compress it too forcefully when shaping it, either. Overworking it can make it tough, and pressing too hard can make it less fall-apart tender. Basically, handle the ground beef as little as possible, and you’ll be rewarded with better texture after cooking!
5) Make Beef a Co-Star (or Supporting Actor) Instead of a Scene-Stealer
Another great tactic in making your ground beef dinner recipes healthier can help you save money, too!
Beef doesn’t have to be the runaway superstar – the entire focus – of your dish. Stretch that beef further by including lots of healthier ingredients like brown rice and veggies (as we do in our Un-Stuffed Pepper Skillet and Mexican Rice Skillet). Or, simply downsize the beefy component of the recipe, like we did in our Hoisin-Glazed Mini Meatloaves with Asian Noodles (pictured below).
Not only will this strategy leave more room on your plate for veggies, whole grains, and even some refreshing fresh fruit … it can also help you save a little money at the grocery store, since meat tends to be one of the most expensive ingredients in typical meals.
6) Choose Your Recipe’s Other Ingredients Carefully
And while we’re talking about all those other ingredients …
You can also up the nutrition game in the final recipe by carefully selecting the rest of your ingredients with healthfulness in mind.
Reach for whole-grain buns, tortillas, rice, and pasta – instead of white. Use reduced-fat (not nonfat) dairy products as another way of keeping the recipe’s overall fat in check. And pile on veggie-focused toppings or supplement with side dishes that are full of colorful produce.
By including plenty of other high-fiber veggies and whole grains throughout the entire meal, you’ll end up with a complete package that’s well balanced and nutritious in total. The overall nutrition of a meal isn’t ONLY about the beef!
One more tip, totally unrelated to nutrition:
My Favorite Tool for Breaking Up Ground Beef
For years and years, I used a plastic spatula or a rubber scraper for breaking up ground beef, turkey and sausage while cooking them in a nonstick skillet. It worked ok, and it never really occurred to me to try something different.
And then … EPIPHANY!
My mom loves to fill my Christmas stocking (which, yes, my parents still lovingly do for me every single year, even though I now have kids of my own!) with quirky and fun cooking gadgets. A couple of years ago, she gave my the mini version of this “masher” tool, and I’ve never looked back!
It makes breaking up ground beef sooooo much quicker and easier. Seems silly, but it truly does work much better, and now I just adore this little tool!
Alrighty, then! You’re now armed with lots of healthy ground beef know-how! Now all you need are some fantastic recipes. And boy-oh-boy have we got some great ones for ya!