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Healthy Backyard Summer Grilling

June 24, 2020
Healthy Backyard Summer Grilling - Lark Health

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When the summer days are long and hot, grilling makes sense as it keeps the kitchen from heating up too much. What are you going to throw on the grill, and how are you planning to serve it? Your answers will determine how healthy your barbecue is. Take heart: healthy grilling can be easy and delicious.

Troubling Anatomy of a Traditional Burger

Knowing how many calories a burger can contain may be motivation to make a few swaps to lower the calorie count. A burger with a beef patty, bun, mayo or butter, cheese, and bacon can have 500 to 1,000 or more calories - along with a load of saturated fat and not much nutrition. You can do better!

Lean Protein

The protein tends to be the star of the show when it comes to grilling. Fatty beef burgers, spare ribs, hot dogs, and sausages tend to be high in unhealthy saturated fat, not to mention sodium and nitrates in hot dogs and sausages. Still, there are plenty of nutritious alternatives.

Lean ground turkey or chicken is a lower-fat alternative to ground beef for a burger patty. Adding a bit of milk to the meat and not overhandling the patties can prevent them from becoming dry. Veggie burgers and tofu dogs are vegan options that are even easier to prepare. A portobello mushroom can sub for the protein if you prefer, with the addition of cheese bringing up the protein content.

These are some other nutritious and easy proteins to grill.

  • Salmon steaks or other fish.
  • Shrimp skewers.
  • Tofu.
  • Chicken breast.

These can all be grilled plain, with a bit of olive oil, or with a simple marinade, such as one of the following combinations.

  • Light soy sauce, ginger, onion, garlic, pepper, and orange juice.
  • Lemon, balsamic vinegar, pepper, olive oil, fresh sage.
  • Lemon, olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes (optional).
  • Yogurt, curry powder, garlic, lemon, ginger, turmeric, pepper.

The Bun

Seeds or no seeds? Toasted or not? Let's step back a minute for some even more important questions. For example, refined or whole-grain? Refined white hamburger buns are highly processed and low in fiber, while whole-grain buns are a natural source of fiber. If you are ready to focus just on protein, you can always ditch the bun altogether in favor of a crisp leaf of lettuce or cabbage.


Though piling on bacon can add hundreds of calories, well-chosen toppings can fill out your burger without filling out your stomach. Traditional choices such as lettuce and tomato have certainly earned their place on a burger, while onions and mushrooms, and jalapeno peppers if you like heat, are easy to grill right next to your protein.

A small amount of strong cheese can go a long way. Parmesan cheese, feta, sharp cheddar, Swiss, and blue cheese are all good choices. If you are looking for ooey gooey goodness, low-fat mozzarella or jack can be lower in calories than some other choices, but you might want to stay aware of your other choices to keep your burger from turning into a high-calorie meal.

You could go farther afield while keeping it healthy. These are a few more ideas for toppings.

  • Shredded cabbage mixed with grated apple, caraway seeds, vinegar, and olive oil.
  • Cooked egg white.
  • A grilled slice of peach or ring of pineapple.
  • Baked kale chips.
  • Slice of baked sweet potato.
  • Slice of avocado.


Condiments can make your burger perfectly tasty, but they can also push it over the edge in terms of calories and fat. Slathering your bun with butter, mayo, or creamy dressing leads to eating empty calories that you probably do not need.

  • Dijon, brown, yellow, or deli mustard.
  • Store-bought or homemade salsa.
  • Kimchi.
  • Sauerkraut.

These are some high-fat, but nutrient-rich, choices.

  • Guacamole with avocado, garlic, and lime.
  • Pesto with pine nuts or other nuts, basil, parmesan cheese, and olive oil.

There are all kinds of healthy choices for burgers and other grilled entrees, so there is no need to skip out on cookouts when you are watching your weight. Still, even if you go all beef with mayo and cheese on a refined grain bun, there is still value in making a few healthy choices to round out your meal. Check out our article on healthy sides for your backyard barbecue!

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