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 packed with lean protein and healthy fats. With these dietitian-approved healthy grilling ideas, you’ll impress an entire room (or backyard) of family and friends, without weighing them down.
Healthy Grilling Ideas for Year-Round BBQ
1. If You Eat Meat, Be Choosy With Your Cuts
Look for leaner forms of proteins, or proteins with omega-3 fatty acids (like salmon, shrimp, or ground turkey) in lieu of beef burgers when you can, and avoid processed meats like sausage and hot dogs, Andy De Santis, RD, MPH, advises. Your best options will be lower in saturated fats and cholesterol, and less likely to release carcinogenic chemicals when cooking due to their lower-fat content.
Chimichurri Grilled Shrimp skewers from Anne Mauney, RD, MPH, of fANNEtastic food, cook in less than 10 minutes (about 3 minutes on each side). Plus, the fresh herb sauce of cilantro, lime, garlic, jalapeño, and parsley adds heat to your meal.
2. 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," Hillary Pride, RDN, LD, NASM-CPT, says. "HCAs are linked with cancer from studies that have shown they may alter DNA."
Lower your flame and flip the meat or fish so it doesn’t blacken. And if it does? Don't worry. Just remove the charred parts or blackened skin, and you’re good to go.
3. 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,” Pride says.
There's not necessarily a need to hold the sauce all together, but wait until your meat is nearly finished cooking to add it, so that 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.
4. Explore Plant-Based Protein
There are more meat-free healthy grilling options on the market than ever before right now, from Impossible Burgers to Beyond Burgers and more. Try a grilled tofu “steak,” which you can barbecue like you would meat, De Santis recommends.
“One brick of extra-firm tofu has 50 grams of protein,” he adds.
Tempeh, another soy-based protein, is also great for grilling.
“Tempeh delivers plant-based unsaturated fats to a vegetarian meal," Pride says. "Add it to kabobs or grill it alone to top a salad or bowl."
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.
5. Make Veggies Your Star
And unlike meat, you don’t have to 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 five to seven days in the fridge).