There are those who view grilling as a seasonal summer diversion, confined to the months between Memorial Day and Labor Day. And then there are those who recognize it for what it can be: A year-round way to commune with nature while simultaneously turning out delicious, sustaining meals of lean protein and healthy fats. With these dietitian-approved healthy grilling ideas, you’ll be in the second camp.
Healthy Grilling Ideas for Year-Round BBQ
If You Eat Meat, Be Choosy With Your Cuts
Look for leaner forms of proteins when you can (like salmon, shrimp, or ground turkey instead of beef for burgers). And avoid processed meats like sausage and hot dogs, advises Andy De Santis, RD, MPH. Your best options will be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, and less likely to release carcinogenic chemicals when cooking, since they’re lower in fat.
Chimichurri Grilled Shrimp skewers from Anne Mauney, RD, MPH of fANNEtastic food, cook in less than 10 minutes (about 3 minutes on each side). The fresh herb sauce of cilantro, lime, garlic, jalapeno, and parsley, adds heat to your meal.
Don’t Let It Char
“Prolonged cooking time, high-temperature cooking, and exposure to direct flame flare-ups on the grill can all contribute to heterocyclic amine (HCA) formation in cooked animal proteins; HCAs are linked with cancer from studies that have shown they may alter DNA,” explains Hillary Pride, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT. Lower your flame and flip the meat or fish so it doesn’t blacken. And if it does? Remove the charred parts or blackened skin, if you’re cooking salmon, for example, and you’re good.
Mix Your Own Marinade
Ingredients in your marinade may also affect or prevent the release of HCA chemicals into your food. “The high sugar content of some marinades and barbecue sauces can contribute to HCA production,” says Pride. No need to hold the sauce, but wait until your meat is nearly finished cooking, so the sauce doesn’t cause a flare-up and char the meat. De Santis recommends a simple (and research-backed) marinade of onion, garlic, and lemon juice to stem the release of chemicals into your food.
Explore Plant-Based Protein
Now there are more meat-free healthy grilling ideas than ever (Impossible Burgers, Beyond Burgers, and more). Try a grilled tofu “steak,” you can barbecue like you would meat, says De Santis. “One brick of extra firm tofu has 50 grams of protein,” he adds. Another soy-based protein, tempeh, is also great for grilling. “Tempeh delivers plant-based unsaturated fats to a vegetarian meal. Add to kabobs or grill it alone to top a salad or bowl,” Pride says.
Grilled Avocado Stuffed with Chickpeas and Tahini, from Taylor Kiser, nutrition coach and personal trainer of Food Faith Fitness, boasts protein from the chickpeas, along with monounsaturated good fats.
Make Veggies Your Star
And don’t fear their char! “Veggies don’t produce HCAs, so grill away,” Pride says. Add cherry tomatoes, onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and bell peppers to skewers to make antioxidant-rich veggie kabobs. Your salad can be grilled too, for a different flavor and texture. “Grilled romaine hearts make an awesome smoky, savory bed of salad to load up with plant-based proteins and your favorite toppings and dressing,” she adds. Dress up salads with grilled fruits (watermelon, pineapple, and stone fruits like peaches work great), or serve them up as a clean dessert.
This Grilled Quinoa Salad from Kylee Melo, RD, of Kylee’s Kitchen features beautiful grilled veggies (whatever is in season and in your produce drawer). Make a big batch and meal prep for the week (it keeps for a full 5 to 7 days in the fridge).