Summer means BBQ season, and for people who are trying to make healthy food choices, navigating the grill can seem a bit daunting. Thankfully, there are many ways to eat healthily at a BBQ while still enjoying the foods you love! Here are just a few tips to get you started.
Common BBQ staples like hot dogs and sausages are highly processed and full of sodium and artificial ingredients. Instead, lean cuts of meat, including chicken, turkey and extra lean beef are great and simple options. For frequent BBQers, I recommend occasionally swapping red meat for fish – salmon or tuna steaks are especially delicious on the grill and are full of healthy omega 3 fatty acids (which are important for our immune system and brain function). And, they are still great sources of iron and protein, just like beef. Grilled salmon marinated with soy sauce, sesame oil, maple syrup, fresh ginger and garlic is a favorite of mine! Another budget friendly option is using canned, wild salmon for burgers. I also recommend incorporating more plant-based proteins into your diet, and the BBQ is a great place to do this – think black bean burgers or grilled tofu.
Dressing your burger
Topping your burger is a great place to incorporate extra veggies into your meal. Pile your burger high with tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, avocado, mixed greens and red onions for extra crunch. Be careful with condiments – ketchup and mustard are high in sodium and sugar, and mayonnaise contains a high amount of fat, so use these sparingly, as a little can go a long way! A great alternative for mayo is whole grain mustard mixed with Greek yogurt – with this combo you get the creamy texture of mayo along with the health benefits of yogurt (including probiotics, calcium and protein).
Grilled veggies are a great side dish, as grilling brings out their natural sugars and crunchy texture. Using guacamole or hummus as dips for raw veggies also works! To replace mayo-based pasta and potato salads, choose whole grain sides such as quinoa salad with an oil-based dressing.
Nutritionally, grilled meats and veggies are far superior to other cooking methods such as frying and boiling, so this is an easy healthy choice without even trying. However, it’s important to be aware of food safety especially while barbecuing – don’t leave uncooked meat sitting out for too long, and be sure to cook raw meat and vegetables separately to avoid food poisoning. And, be careful not to grill your food too much, as charring can produce unhealthy compounds such as carcinogens.
Additionally, many sauces used for marinades, including BBQ and Worcestershire sauce are hidden sources of added sugar and salt. Try seasoning meat and veggies with fresh herbs or spices instead.
And last but not least, my most important tip: be realistic and enjoy yourself! If you want really want that hot dog or hamburger – go for it. An enjoyable BBQ with friends and family is equally important for your health. Happy BBQing!
Julia Burt, M.Sc(A), RD