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Turkey-Pesto Pinwheels: An Easy Make-Ahead Lunch or Snack

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In this my 12th year of daily lunch packing for my boys, I finally decided to give pinwheels a try and I haven’t looked back. These turkey-pesto pinwheels are truly the easy make-ahead school lunch you have been dreaming of.

plate of turkey-pesto pinwheels

Years and years ago, I read a post on one of my favorite blogs, Real Mom Nutrition, about a super easy dish that Sally had been making for her sons’ school lunches: ham and cheese pinwheels. At the time, I was skeptical of using a pre-packaged doughs and so I passed them by without much thought, but this year, as my eldest entered high school and both boys were in the midst of big growth spurts and were super busy with lots of activities, I decided to give them a try.

We started with the version Sally shared on her blog and they were such a hit that there were actual fights over who would get the last pinwheel. For a few weeks, I’d make a double batch of ham and cheese pinwheels each week and then watch in wonder as they disappeared, both into lunchboxes and as portable snacks.

Never-Ending Varieties of Pinwheels

They were SO easy to throw together that I wanted to keep the trend going without my kids getting sick of them, so I started to play around with flavors. I tried different cheeses, different deli meats, and adding sauces. So far there hasn’t been a single version my kids (and husband) haven’t loved. Here are some of the combinations we’ve tried with great success:

  • Ham and Swiss
  • Turkey and Swiss
  • Ham and provolone
  • Turkey and provolone
  • Ham and mozzarella
  • Turkey and mozzarella
  • Ham and Muenster
  • Turkey and Muenster
  • Marinara sauce and mozzarella (pizza pinwheels)
  • Pesto sauce and mozzarella
  • Marinara sauce, ham, and mozzarella
  • Pesto sauce, ham, and mozzarella
  • Marinara sauce, turkey, and mozzarella
  • Marinara sauce, pepperoni, and mozzarella
  • And, finally, there is our household favorite: pesto sauce, turkey, and mozzarella

As you can see, there are a HUGE number of variations. And this is just skimming the surface. There are other ingredients I still want to try including baby spinach, thinly sliced and sautéed mushrooms, feta, and peanut butter and jelly.

baked pinwheels on cooling rack

A Note on Crescent Dough Brands

Many people grew up on pastries made with crescent dough. I was not one of them. My mom was a bake-from-scratch person and, for the most part, I have been as well. So, when I first went to use crescent dough that comes from a tube, I was a bit skeptical. But in the subsequent months, I have learned to love the stuff, but also that not all crescent doughs are created equal.

I want to first say that you should use whatever crescent dough you can find and afford. The easiest brand to find is Pillsbury and if you want a really good deal, I have found that Costco sells a 5-pack at a discounted price. But, fair warning, while they still taste delicious, this brand doesn’t taste as good as the others I will highlight.

immaculate brand crescent rolls

The three brands that my family enjoys the most are Immaculate, Annie’s, and Trader Joe’s, all of which have a more natural (less chemically) flavor and don’t contain any hydrogenated oils or synthetic colors (which is important to me, but may be less so to you). If you have access to a Trader Joe’s that sells the crescent dough, this is my top choice because it tastes just as good as the Immaculate and Annie’s versions, but is half the price (and when you go through at least two tubes a week, like I do, that adds up).

pinwheels in lunchbox

How to Make Turkey-Pesto Pinwheels: An Easy Make-Ahead Lunch

Packing school lunches is the bane of many a parent’s daily routine. It is a slog to get those lunchboxes packed day in and day out. One of things that I have found makes our mornings run more smoothly, however, is if I have pre-made main dish options that are easy to grab and throw into a lunch box.

In the past, I have shared various ideas for school lunches, many of which are make-ahead, but of all the make-ahead options I believe these pinwheels may be the easiest. Not only are they ready in just 20 minutes, but of that time only 5 minutes is active. Here’s how to make them:

Open your crescent dough tube, remove the dough, and lie it out flat on your counter.

Form one big rectangle with all eight triangles and press the perforated edges together to seal.

pinwheel dough

Spread 2 Tablespoons of pesto onto the dough. Lay the turkey slices out on the pesto and the sprinkle the mozzarella on top.

pinwheel dough with pesto, turkey, and cheese

Starting at one of the short ends, roll the dough to form a log.

rolling pinwheels

Using a very sharp or serrated knife, carefully cut the log into eight slices.

Lay the spirals out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat to prevent sticking. Make sure to space them apart as they will spread some while baking.

uncooked pinwheels

Bake for 12 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, until golden brown.

Remove the pinwheels to a cooling rack. Enjoy warm or, once they are at room temperature, refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to use them.

baked turkey-pesto pinwheels on cooling rack

Storing Your Pinwheels

Pinwheels can be stored both in the refrigerator and freezer for easy access. Here’s what you need to know.

How to Refrigerate Pinwheels

These turkey-pesto pinwheels will last for 3-4 days in an airtight container in the fridge. After that, they aren’t bad for another 2 days or so, but they do start to get a little soggy. If you need to re-crisp them, you can do that easily in a toaster oven or the oven.

How to Freeze and Defrost Pinwheels

If you aren’t sure that you are going to get to all of your turkey-pesto pinwheels in 3 or 4 days, then your best bet is to freeze them, where they will last well for up to 3 months.

To freeze your pinwheels, cool them completely on cooling rack, then return them to a baking sheet and freeze them for about an hour (freezing them separately like this will prevent their sticking together). Once they are solid, transfer the pinwheels to a freezer bag.

When it is time to defrost your pinwheels, I recommend leaving them out on a paper towel-lined plate on the counter. Doing it this way will soak up any excess moisture from the pastry. Defrosting them in the refrigerator, on the other hand, is not a great idea because the fridge has a lot of moisture, which can make the pinwheels soggy as they defrost.

plate of pesto-turkey pinwheels

Turkey-Pesto Pinwheels

Jessica Braider
These versatile cuties are the make-ahead lunch or snack option you have been searching for. Easy to make, incredibly delicious, and easy to adjust to everyone's taste preferences.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 12 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Dish
Cuisine American
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

  • 1 can refrigerated crescent rolls
  • 2 tbsp pesto
  • 1/4 lb sliced deli turkey may need more or less depending on thickness and size of slices
  • 1/3 cup part-skim shredded mozzarella cheese (or use any variety) or to taste

Instructions
 

  • Open your crescent dough tube, remove the dough, and lie it out flat on your counter. Form one big rectangle with all eight triangles and press the perforated edges together to seal.
    pinwheel dough
  • Spread 2 Tablespoons of pesto onto the dough. Lay the turkey slices out on the pesto and the sprinkle the mozzarella on top.
    pinwheel dough with pesto, turkey, and cheese
  • Starting at one of the short ends, roll the dough to form a log.
    rolling pinwheels
  • Using a very sharp or serrated knife, carefully cut the log into eight pieces.
  • Lay the spirals out on a baking sheet lined with parchment or a silicone baking mat to prevent sticking. Make sure to space them apart as they will spread some while baking.
    uncooked pinwheels
  • Bake for 12 minutes at 425 degrees Fahrenheit, until golden brown. Remove the pinwheels to a cooling rack. Once they are at room temperature, refrigerate or freeze until you are ready to use them.
    baked pinwheels on cooling rack
Keyword 30 Minutes (or less) Meals, Freezer-Friendly, Kid-Friendly, Make-Ahead
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