Ham is a traditional centerpiece for many people for Easter dinner. But what kind of ham should you buy? Does it need to be cooked even if the label says it is already fully cooked? And what about leftovers? How should they be handled?
Most hams are a good low fat source of protein. A three-ounce portion of lean ham contains about 165 calories and 10 grams of fat. All hams contain a lot of sodium; some contain a lot more than others. Reading and comparing labels can help you determine which type of ham is best for your dinner table - especially if you are trying to limit the amount of sodium in your diet.
When selecting the type or size of ham you need, keep in mind individual appetites, number of guests, other menu items and how much time and space you have available for preparation and storage of leftovers. When you're purchasing a ham, you can't always judge value by price per pound. It's the price per edible serving that really counts, so be mindful of the size of bone that the meat may have.
Some bone-in hams are sold as whole hams, half hams, shank and butt half or center slices and provide about two to three servings per pound. Boneless hams, made from sectioned pieces of lean, cured meat with some of the exterior fat trimmed away, provide four or five servings per pound.
Under USDA regulations, four types of ham products can be labeled "ham." "Ham" means that the lean meat contains at least 20.5 percent protein. "Ham with natural juices" must contain at least 18.5 percent protein. "Ham - water added" must contain at least 17 percent protein. And "ham and water product" may contain any amount of water, but the label must state the percent of added ingredients. Read the labels carefully to make sure that the money you are spending is actually buying meat and not water!
Most hams today are labeled "fully cooked" and so they are ready to eat. These hams can be sliced cold and eaten, or you can roast them, following the label directions. If there are no roasting instructions, it takes about 18-20 minutes per pound to roast a whole or half ham to an internal temperature of 140 degrees in a 325 degree oven. If your ham is not already cooked or is only partially cooked, then it should be heated to an internal temperature of at least 160 degrees.
Leftovers are a bonus of big dinner. As soon as the meal is over, the leftovers should be packaged and refrigerated. The leftovers should not be left on the counter to "nibble" on throughout the afternoon. It's best to put ham in plastic containers, rather than foil wrap. Ham will keep well in the refrigerator for several days if it has been refrigerated properly immediately after the meal.
Leftovers can be scrambled into eggs or omelets for breakfast, used for sandwiches or chef salads for lunch or baked into hot dishes or main dishes for dinner. If you purchased a bone-in ham, you have additional tasty options for making soups and stews with the bone.
If you are trying to cut back on the sodium in your diet, then you might consider offering a second meat that is less salty, such as roast turkey, pork or beef. You could also limit the size of the portion that you eat. A three to four ounce serving of ham could easily have 800-1200 mg of sodium, so it is definitely important to be mindful of your intake if you are trying to limit salt and sodium in your diet.
Whatever meat or entre you choose for your dinner - enjoy! Happy Easter!
(Cheryl Rude is a registered dietitian at Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center)