A backyard cookout isn’t complete without a grill. Unfortunately, grilled foods aren’t always healthy. Red and processed meats make up the majority of our go-to grill staples. But with so many healthier options out there, there’s no excuse to stick with tradition. You just have to get a little creative.
These healthy alternatives to your go-to cookout foods taste just as good, if not better than, a hamburger or hot dog. Don’t judge it till you grill it.
1. Stuffed grilled peppers instead of a hamburger
Bell peppers offer a unique sweetness burgers just don’t have. | iStock.com/HandmadePictures
While you can pile plenty of vegetables onto a hamburger, the veggie-to-meat ratio isn’t all that helpful. A bun and condiments can also add more sugar to your burger. Instead of packing a few servings of meat between two pieces of bread, why not try stuffing some ground beef into a pepper? According to Livestrong.com, bell peppers are low in calories, filled with vitamins and minerals, plus they’re naturally sweet. When you fill a bell pepper with ground beef and grill it, the meat absorbs the pepper’s flavor — no ketchup, mayo, or mustard required.
Next: Seafood might fit better into a hot dog bun than an actual hot dog.
2. Seafood dogs instead of hot dogs
Replace processed meat with something your body will thank you for. | iStock.com/Fudio
A hot dog is a grill’s best friend, but it’s definitely not yours. Like other junk foods, processed meats are extremely high in sodium. You can eat hot dogs all summer long, but your heart’s going to suffer. The American Journal of Medicine advises reducing your intake to prevent or reduce your risk of heart problems. Consider filling your hot dog bun with grilled fish instead of meat. Fish is a light and heart-healthy alternative that’s perfect for an outdoor meal.
Next: It’s chicken, but shaped like a sausage.
3. Chicken sausages instead of bratwurst
Replacing red meat with a slightly healthier option could be good for your heart. | iStock.com/Geshas
A bratwurst isn’t much healthier than a hot dog, but chicken sausage could easily take its place. Chicken sausage is leaner than the pork alternative, and is lower in both calories and fat. According to Organic Facts, chicken is an excellent source of protein and vitamins. With a few toppings, a chicken sausage instead of a bratwurst or hot dog might not even taste all that different. Just try not to go overboard on the condiments.
Next: Choose your meats wisely.
4. Sirloin or extra-lean ground beef
Various cuts of the same meat have different fat percentages. | iStock.com/Magone
Some people really like red meat — and there’s nothing sinful about having it every once in awhile. If you’re going to have it, though, choosing a leaner cut will work out in your favor. Preparing a burger made from lean steak isn’t much different from making a hamburger, either. A little ground sirloin, onions, and garlic powder can go a long way. Whether you choose steak or ground beef, choose the leanest cuts possible to get the tastiest benefits with fewer health risks.
Next: Make a burger out of a plant.
5. Chickpea burgers instead of hamburgers
Also in the legume family: beans, green peas, and peanuts. | iStock.com/margouillatphotos
Instead of sourcing your burgers from an animal, why not try making them from a plant? According to the journal Nutrients, chickpeas are a healthy source of multiple vitamins and minerals. They also contain compounds that could reduce your risk of heart disease and related problems. Hamburger or steak patties contain large amounts of saturated fat, which is unhealthy in large amounts. However, grilling a burger made from chickpeas provides unsaturated fats — the healthy kind. You’ll also still get plenty of protein — just not from meat.
Next: Replace a hamburger with something much leaner.
6. Grilled chicken sandwiches
Chicken is lower in cholesterol and saturated fat than beef. | iStock.com/loooby
For something even leaner, you can skip red meat altogether and grill a few chicken breasts instead. A grilled chicken sandwich contains less saturated fat than a hamburger. It’s also a much lighter option if you want to leave room for a few healthy side dishes (or dessert). Top your chicken breast with fresh spinach, tomatoes, and mozzarella for a high-protein lunch you’ll absolutely love.
Next: Black beans make great burgers, too.
7. Black bean burgers
Black beans are sometimes called turtle beans. | iStock.com/nata_vkusidey
Veggie burgers look and taste a lot more appealing than they sound — really. Burgers made with black beans instead of beef don’t dump quite as much saturated fat or cholesterol into your bloodstream. They’re also a rich source of fiber, a nutrient that can reduce your risk of disease, lower your blood pressure, and keep your blood sugar stable. A black bean burger topped with onions, cheese, and lettuce might not even taste any different than a typical burger.
Next: If you don’t like raw veggies, you might love this.
8. Grilled zucchini fries instead of potato wedges
Some varieties of zucchini are bright yellow instead of green. | iStock.com/beakatude
If you don’t enjoy eating vegetables raw, you might actually love how they taste grilled. Zucchini, a low-calorie veggie, is a healthy summertime treat perfect for grilling season. While potatoes aren’t necessarily unhealthy, swapping them out for lighter vegetables works in a variety of recipes and cooking methods. Ind though grilled zucchini doesn’t turn out as crunchy as it would with frying, that’s not really the point. Besides, fried veggies aren’t really better than fried potatoes.
Next: Choose a healthier potato.
9. Grilled sweet potatoes instead of regular potatoes
Sweet potatoes have more fiber than regular potatoes do. | iStock.com/zeleno
On its own, a potato cooked on the grill is fairly healthy. Once you add butter, cheese, and sour cream, though, you’ve basically turned your starchy side into a creamy dessert. Instead, try grilling a sweet potato. These potatoes are higher in vitamin A and fiber than their less sweet relatives. Sweet potatoes also have their own unique flavor, especially when grilled. So you’ll be much less tempted to pile cheese and sour cream on top than you would a regular, less flavorful spud.
Next: Skewer something besides meat for once.
10. Tofu kebobs instead of kebobs with beef or steak
In small amounts, tofu can be a great substitute for red meat. | iStock.com/Silberkorn
It’s time to put a spin on meat-loaded kebobs. Instead, fill yours with a variety of vegetables and a few pieces of tofu. Not only does it help mix up the textures and flavors, but it also adds potential benefits to your heart and to your body as a whole. Tofu is made from soybeans, which in small amounts can provide protein, fiber, and healthy fats. It doesn’t have much flavor on its own, but the goods you grill it with are sure to give it a boost.
Next: Does this taste fishy to you?
11. Salmon and grilled vegetables instead of pork
Eating more fish, and less red meat, lowers your heart disease risk. | iStock.com/gbh007
A full-size burger with a side of potato salad offers a lot of saturated fat and sodium — it tastes good, but it’s not the best choice you could make. Salmon, however, is loaded with healthy fats, protein, and plenty of flavor. Pair your grilled fish with a side of veggies, and you’re good to go. You can grill a wide variety of vegetables, too — everything from peppers to asparagus to zucchini.
Next: Give your favorite fish a smoky flavor.
12. Grilled shrimp instead of steak or ribs
Grilled shrimp can be part of a healthy vegetable and rice dish. | iStock.com/Fudio
Many seafood lovers who don’t like salmon don’t mind eating shrimp because it has less of a fishy taste, especially when dipped in sauce or marinated in herbs. Grilled shrimp is the perfect bite-sized substitute for a serving of steak or a few ribs coated in barbecue sauce. Adding a light, smoky flavor to your shrimp can give it more than enough flavor. Add a side of wild rice for even more of a protein and vitamin boost.
Next: Go on a quest to create the most irresistible avocado toast in the world.
13. Grilled avocado
Try a grilled avocado instead of a potato. | iStock.com/StephanieFrey
Grilling has a way of making foods’ natural flavors pop, and avocados are certainly no exception. If you’re not a huge fan of things that taste fishy, but want to add some healthy fat and fiber to your meal, try grilling an avocado. You can even fill the insides with mozzarella and tomatoes post-grill for a mixture of added textures and flavors. Save your leftovers for tomorrow morning’s omelette, or enjoy the best avocado toast you’ve ever had.
Next: Try using this instead of barbecue sauce.
14. Grilled chicken with spices and herbs instead of barbecue sauce
Herbs and spices bring all the flavor, without the consequences. | iStock.com/bhofack2
Chicken brushed with barbecue sauce isn’t as healthy as you’d like to believe. Grilled chicken is great by itself, but the sauce is basically just a sugar and salt mixture that happens to taste amazing. Some brands have up to six grams of sugar per tablespoon. You wouldn’t sprinkle that much table sugar on your chicken, would you? Fortunately, herbs and spices pack just as much flavor without the additives. Marinate your chicken in any desired combination of herbs and spices before grilling to make the flavor (literally) stick.
Next: This dessert might surprise you.
15. Grilled fruit instead of ice cream
Grilling can bring out a fruit’s natural sweetness. | iStock.com/DronG
Don’t let your craving for something sweet cancel out your healthy meal. When it’s time for dessert, keep the ice pops and ice cream in your freezer. Instead, consider tossing some fruit on the grill. Fruit contains natural sugars, which caramelize when heated. This might not taste exactly like ice cream, but it’s still soft and sweet — and you don’t even have to add any sugar to it. Plus, fruit is full of fiber and plenty of vitamins — especially if you leave the skin intact. Wouldn’t you enjoy your dessert so much more if you knew it was good for you?
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