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24 easy weeknight recipes to make with ground turkey

Take the ground turkey out of the freezer for lightened-up pastas, stuffed peppers, tacos, shepherd's pie and more.
/ Source: TODAY

Turkey is one of the easiest ways to lighten up lunch or dinner without sacrificing a craving for a rich-tasting, meaty dish.

It stands out among other types of meat for its ability to substitute for ground beef in pretty much any recipe. Many folks at home may try their own swaps based on their favorite Bolognese, beef tacos or meatballs. And while that can be a simple switcheroo, it’s always great to have effortless recipes to guide you in achieving the most moist, flavorful and fabulous ground turkey dishes. We're here to help!

We put together a roundup of some of our favorite dishes featuring the lean, protein-packed (and let’s not forget, in most cases, more affordable) meat. We’ve got you covered with recipes that make it easy to never miss your meal plan staples (hello, spaghetti and meatballs and taco night!). But no recipe collection would be complete without a few showstoppers — you know, those dishes with ingredient combinations that’ll make everyone exclaim, “This is amazing!” and “Why didn’t I think of that?”

We don’t want to give too much away, but let’s just say there’s a sage stuffing surprise in one of the juicy, flavor-packed meatloaf recipes and a few other recipe tricks that will make every home cook feel like a pro.

So, stock up on the ground turkey when it’s on sale at the grocery store or grab a few pounds from the butcher, and keep it stashed in the freezer, ready to be pulled out for a busy weeknight. We're talking turkey.

Best-of-Fall Shepherd's Pie

If you're all about one-pot meals (and who isn't?), this one hits all the marks for a great comfort dinner. A take on more traditional shepherd's pie with ground lamb or beef and mashed potatoes, this one is lighter, a little sweeter (it has butternut squash mash) and still has all the rich, savory goodness of sage and gravy.

Adam Richman's Spaghetti Pie

Can't decide between pizza pie or spaghetti and meatballs? Don't choose! Instead, use ground turkey in a rich yet lean sauce and make Adam Richman's spaghetti pie.

"My mom added classic Haitian seasonings — thyme, parsley, and fruity, fiery chile — to her meatloaf, which made it extra special," says Gregory Gourdet. "When I replicate her triumph today, I make sure there's some leftover for sandwiches the next afternoon."

Salsa Turkey Tacos

This healthier version a classic ground beef taco is one Daphne Oz's Taco Tuesday favorites. The beans and turkey are packed with protein and the spices add a ton of flavor. You get all the goodness of a taco and don't feel like you're missing out on flavor.

Joy Bauer's Loaded Bell Pepper 'Nachos'

Think the gang will miss those crunchy nachos? Prepare to be surprised. Everyone seems to enjoy the sweet, crispy bell pepper base and appreciate the color, nutrition and flavor that they bring to the table. It's low-carb love!

"I don't want to say I'm 'hiding' veggies in this dish, but I certainly squeeze in as many as I can! Once there's melted cheese on everything, Calvin is happy," Dylan Dreyer says about this simple dish. "These are great for a quick dinner or lunch, an excellent way to use up leftover vegetables, filling and somewhat healthy!"

This lightened-up version of a classic meatloaf uses ground turkey instead of ground beef. It's flavored with Valerie Bertinelli's favorite Italian herbs for a truly unique take on a classic. Serve alongside some zoodles or salad for a low-carb meal.

Joy Bauer's Baked Ziti Casserole

Cheesy, saucy, noodle-y and satisfying, this lightened-up version will not disappoint. Just imagine: whole-grain penne tossed with ground meat, three different cheeses (mozzarella, ricotta and Parm) and flavorful tomato sauce, then baked to perfection in the oven. Plus, there's a little spinach in there for extra iron a dose of greens.

Joy Bauer puts her own spin on the Ikea fan-favorite, using ground turkey. The meatballs get simmered in a lightened-up-yet-completely-indulgent cream sauce to take them over the top. Let's just say they go faster than we can wind our way through the entire store and find the exit!

This healthy and outside-the-box rendition of pasta with meatballs features loads of wholesome ingredients, like avocado and spaghetti squash, and the cilantro-lime chimichurri adds a ton of flavor. It pairs perfectly with a glass of crisp white wine.

Ryan Hardy tosses cavatelli pasta in a hearty turkey and sausage ragu for a delicious Italian dinner. If you can't find fresh cavatelli pasta, you can use dried cavatelli pasta or another pasta shape that has lots of nooks and crannies to carry the delicious sauce.

Turkey Meatball Hero Sandwiches

Sometimes, nothing quite hits the spot (especially if you're from New York or New Jersey!) like a meatball sub. This one hits the spot with plump, juicy turkey meatballs drenched in sauce that sops into the soft bread.

The blend of bacon and turkey creates a burger that's smoky, juicy and packed with a surprise for everyone at the table. It gets topped off with melted brie and honey mustard to turn this into the most luxurious eating experience.

This salad is so perfect and hearty, you won't miss the taco shells. Just combine the crumbled ground turkey, pico de gallo, Greek yogurt (instead of sour cream), cheese and a lime wedge!

Anne Burell's Killer Turkey Burgers

Transform your usual turkey burgers with just a few easy ingredients. Soy sauce, cilantro, water chestnuts — and a few other pantry staples — add a ton of flavor and terrific texture to these easy-to-make burgers.

Slow-Cooker Turkey Chili

Whether you need a game-day meal for a crowd or just want something warm and cozy on a cold day, this slow-cooker turkey chili is sure to please!

Air-Fried Turkey and Whole-Wheat Meatballs

"In this recipe, I took a traditional, beloved dish and made it heart-healthy without sacrificing flavor," says Donatella Arpaia. "I swapped out red fatty meat for lean turkey, white bread for whole-grain bread, and deep-frying for air-frying, achieving the same delicious results."

Glazed Turkey Meatloaf with Sage-Cornbread Stuffing

When you're longing for the flavors of a Thanksgiving dinner (and don't want to make a whole Thanksgiving dinner), try Phil Johnson's inventive dish. The traditional turkey is still there, but it comes in the form of a meatloaf, seasoned with classic barbecue flavors and filled with a surprise center of cornbread stuffing, all topped with a zingy, fresh cranberry glaze.

Turkey Bolognese

This dish is pure comfort food — a hearty, rich Bolognese, packed with delicious vegetables and satisfying ground turkey. You can serve it over spaghetti squash, zoodles or whole-grain pasta — eater's choice.

Joy Bauer's One-Skillet Enchiladas

We love this fuss-free, one-pan wonder. Simply layer everything in the same skillet, then I top it off with plenty of shredded cheese, and the single pan goes straight into the oven to cook. Easy, peasy.

This meatloaf is light in texture but heavy in flavor, and when it's combined with Siri's favorite potato recipe of all time and cooked on just one sheet pan … it's pretty much an award-winning dish.

This lightened-up meat sauce cuts down on cook time and calorie count but doesn't lose any of the rib-sticking, slow-simmered comfort of a classic Bolognese sauce. How could this be? By using a mix of ground turkey and ground beef as the base, plus some beef or chicken broth, the sauce boasts a beautifully earthy, salty flavor.

Spaghetti with Turkey Meatballs

Usually we think of a big plate of spaghetti with meatballs as being a more decadent, special occasion meal but not with this recipe! This healthy pasta dish is only 500 calories per serving, so it's definitely weeknight-worthy.

This delicious dish is everything you love in a taco. Every meaty, cheesy, and bean-filled bite will burst in your mouth and deliver finger-lickin’-good Tex-Mex flavors. Each spoonful can be loaded and layered with extra toppings and garnishes. Taco 'bout exciting!