Now that summer has officially started, barbecuing and grilling can go on in full force! You can still have a blast even if your cookout is limited to the backyard rather than a park, or shared with family or a few very close friends due to social distancing measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Standard sides for burgers can be frighteningly high in calories and low in nutrients, but there are tons of healthy options, too. Here are a few of them.
1. Kale Chips
Do you need a crunch with your burger? Swapping baked kale chips for fried potato chips can save fat and carbs while loading up on fiber and vitamin A. Just rip up a head of kale – or buy a bag of ready-to-use cut kale – and massage it with heart-healthy olive oil. Seasonings can include sea salt, parmesan cheese, black pepper, red pepper flakes, or anything else you like. The chips go into the oven and are ready when crisp. Beet chips are another option.
2. Sweet Potato Fries
Sweet potatoes may be higher in starch and calories than most other vegetables, but they are a good choice if you cannot enjoy a burger without fries because they are packed with beta-carotene and potassium. After julienning them and tossing with a bit of olive oil, they are ready to bake. Julienned carrots, rutabagas, and turnips also work.
3. Almond Crusted Zucchini Fries
These are a great alternative to fried, battered zucchini sticks. The health improvements come from using almond meal instead of flour or breadcrumbs, and baking instead of frying. A beaten egg can help the almond meal stick, and seasonings can include salt, pepper, garlic powder, and onion powder. Green beans and julienned avocado can be used instead of zucchini.
4. Grilled Summer Veggies
As long as the grill is going, why not toss on some of those abundant summer vegetables? Zucchini, yellow squash, eggplant, and bell peppers are excellent accompaniments to burgers and can even go between the bun. On the side, they are good plain or with a sprinkling of crumbled goat or feta cheese.
5. Raw Veggies
Hey, there is nothing wrong with a side that is simple and easy! Raw veggies are low in calories and filled with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, so load up! Bell pepper strips, baby carrots, and sugar snap peas are colorful and great-tasting choices.
Mayo-laden coleslaw can have 300 or more calories per cup, which begs a question: why would you do that to an innocent vegetable like cabbage? Instead, what about tossing colorful shredded red and green cabbage and orange carrots with a few tasty superfoods? Olive oil adds heart-healthy fat, onions add vitamin C and fiber, cilantro has antioxidants, and toasted pumpkin or sesame seeds add healthy fat and fiber. Garlic powder, black pepper, and balsamic, red wine, or apple cider vinegar round out the flavor profile.
7. Pasta Salad
Traditional pasta salad can be as bad as it gets, with refined starch from white pasta and an overload of fat and calories from mayo. It is even worse if it contains processed meats. Instead, using half whole-grain pasta and half cooked cauliflower, diced onion and tomato, reduced-fat or fat-free Italian dressing can keep it simple and waistline-friendly. Diced grilled chicken breast can fill in for fattier meats such as pepperoni or salami.
8. Egg Salad
Egg salad can be a creamy, low-carb health food if it contains pureed avocado instead of mayo and egg whites instead of whole eggs. For fewer calories, Greek yogurt can work, too. Standard seasonings include diced celery, pepper, Dijon mustard, paprika, and cumin.
9. Green Salad
A fresh salad with spinach, romaine, arugula, or mixed greens, plus your choice of toppings such as pecans, cherry tomatoes, mandarin orange wedges, sliced mushrooms, or anything else you like, offers a fresh crunch.
10. Cucumber Salad
A light, refreshing cucumber salad can be just the thing to sit next to your burger. Thinly sliced cucumbers with diced onion in rice wine or white wine vinegar can be the foundation, while dill or light soy sauce and ginger can add character.
11. Corn on the Cob
Sweet summer corn is abundant, easy to prepare, and high in fiber and vitamins. When it is not drowning in butter, it is calorie-controlled, too. Try serving it in half-cob servings to keep portions small.
Speaking of summer, nothing says “summer fun” better than watermelon. A single watermelon can feed a crowd, and all you need to do is cut it up before serving it. You can save hundreds of calories by serving watermelon for dessert instead of sugar-laden fruit pies, crumbles, cobblers, and crisps.
13. Watermelon Salad
A nice blend of sweet and savory elements, watermelon salad can include cheese such as blue or feta, arugula or cucumber, diced onion, olives, and mint or basil. Or, try watermelon salsa with cilantro, onion, lime juice, garlic, tomatoes, and cucumber.
14. Grilled Peaches
Grilled peaches and other summer fruit, such as pineapple and cantaloupe, can offer a sweet contrast to a savory burger. Cooking fruit can bring out the sweet taste, so there is no need to pour sugar onto your fruit.
We hope this list of healthy sides for burgers inspires you to make a few healthy swaps. Don’t forget to check out ideas for building healthier burgers and other grilled items in our article here!