When you think of summer, backyard barbecues are part of the mental montage: sausages sizzling over open flames, potato salads slathered in mayo, and icy cold bottles of beer. It may sound delicious, but it’s not the healthiest of menus. (Keep reading to learn how charred hot dogs and burgers can come with a crust of carcinogens.) Fear not, you can have your fish tacos, and enjoy them, too. Here are eight tips and tricks to keep your outdoor meals tasty. Happy, healthy grilling!
1. Reach for Healthy Apps First
Skip the chips and heavy dips, which can be loaded with calories, salt, and fat. Opt for a platter of fresh veggies and shrimp, served with a variety of lighter dips like hummus, guacamole, and curried yogurt.
2. Hold the Hot Dogs and Sausages
Processed meats have been shown to increase your risk of developing cancer, so save hot dogs for holidays and special occasions, and give brats the boot. Instead, choose lean cuts of fresh meat, like sirloin, chicken breasts, turkey burgers, or fish.
3. Avoid Charring the Meat
Cooking protein-rich meat, poultry, or fish at high temperatures, or in direct contact with a flame, produces carcinogenic chemicals that no one needs. Lower the temp slightly and turn your meat often to get a nice, light sear. Or slide your salmon or chicken breasts on a cedar plank to control the temperature and avoid direct heat.
4. Coat Your Meat in an Antioxidant-Rich Marinade
Marinades help to make leaner cuts of meat and chicken more tender and juicy, and can also significantly reduce the formation of harmful chemicals. They provide a barrier to the heat, and the antioxidants protect the meat. Skip the bottled stuff, which often contains loads of sugar, and make a simple homemade sauce instead. Whisk together extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice, and throw in a boost of flavor from herbs and spices. Experiment with different flavors, and don’t be shy—add a couple of teaspoons per serving (4 oz/125 g) of meat.
5. Give Grilled Veggies a Chance
Not every barbecue has to mean meat—veggies love a little smoke, too! Yellow squash, zucchini, and eggplant splashed with extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and rosemary, make a tempting dish. Thread chunks of peppers, mushrooms, and onions between pieces of chicken breast on a skewer. Or skip the meat altogether, and go for giant portobello burgers.
6. Say Hello to Healthier Sides
Creamy potato and pasta salads don’t do your waistline any favors. If you love traditional sides, just learn to lighten them up. Dilute the mayo (without sacrificing flavor!) by halving it and mixing in non- or low-fat plain yogurt or buttermilk. And fold in bright veggies, like green beans, peas, celery, or carrots, to add a burst of color and lighten the calorie load.
7. A Little More Lemon Water, a Little Less Beer
If you tend to barbecue with a beer in hand, you might want to find another grilling buddy. Alcohol is not your friend. It’s high calorie and slows your metabolism. Throw in sugary cocktail mixes, and it’s an even bigger calorie bomb. Choose light beer, wine spritzers, and small cocktails filled with lots of ice. And then chase every alcoholic drink you consume with two glasses of water—and don’t forget to log it in your Fitbit app.
8. Go All the Way and Grill Your Dessert, Too
Skip sugary s’mores and fatty apple pie, and reach for fresh and healthy fruit instead. Lots of fruit works well, but stone fruits, like peaches and nectarines, are perfect for plopping on the grill. Cut them in half, remove the pit, grill them for a few minutes, and serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon and a dollop of ricotta.
This article is not intended to substitute for informed medical advice. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or condition. Always check with your doctor before changing your diet, altering your sleep habits, taking supplements, or starting a new fitness routine.