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Home/Blog/10 Summer BBQ Swaps for More Nutrition and Flavor

10 Summer BBQ Swaps for More Nutrition and Flavor

By Ethan Boldt

June 27, 2024

Summer BBQ swaps

We’re headed into summer BBQ season. Who doesn’t get excited about an outdoor BBQ? But while it’s often a great chance to reconnect with family and friends, there can be many nutritional landmines on that picnic table.

So let’s game out a bunch of healthy swaps for a barbecue meal, starting with healthier grilling swaps but also considering the sides, toppings, drinks and more.

1. Make your own marinade or BBQ sauce

Using store-bought marinades and BBQ sauce can do a double-whammy. First, sugar or, even worse, high-fructose corn syrup are the main ingredients. If you want to avoid added sugars, then this is off the list.

Second, these sweeteners make charing much more likely, which can make grilling dangerous. These black streaks and charred meats can put our health at risk.

Instead, make your own marinade, such as a Greek yogurt chicken marinade.

2. Swap our processed meats for unprocessed meats

While ultra-processed foods should be avoided, the same goes for highly processed meats. These include meats that have been cured, salted, fermented, smoked or somehow transformed in order to enhance flavor and improve preservation. Examples include sausages and hot dogs.

Instead, make your own hamburger or cook up a sirloin steak. Ideally it’s grass-fed. Also make up pasture-raised chicken or turkey burgers.

3. Ditch the empty calorie buns for whole grain ones

Instead of using those heavily processed buns with white flour, sugar and preservatives, go with a whole grain variety. You can even go with a sourdough bread or no-flour whole wheat bread instead as a healthy cheat.

This way you’ll get more fiber, nutrients, texture and flavor with each bite.

4. Go fishing at your BBQ

Just because you’re land doesn’t mean you should ignore the healthy foods in the sea. Wild-caught salmon, tuna steaks, cod filets and more do very well on the grill.

Consider making it a Caribbean feast and use some Jerk seasoning along with a homemade mango salsa. You can even do fish skewers with chunks of fish, bell peppers, red onions and zucchini. It’ll be a hit.

5. Rather than settle for bland flavors, go with a cuisine

Potato salad, macaroni salad, chips and hot dogs are not very good for you. They’re also bland as can be. Instead, choose a cuisine to theme up your barbecue and enjoy a more flavorful gathering.

For example, Mexican, Greek or Pakistani cuisines work so well on the grill as well as for the sides.

  • Mexican: Grill some taco-spiced chicken breast for chicken fajitas. Accompany with grilled zucchini, corn and even toss some corn tortillas on the grill for a couple of minutes. Make up some fresh guacamole and pico de gallo.

  • Greek: Make chicken kebabs with homemade tzatziki sauce, hummus, fresh pita and a big Greek salad.

  • Pakistani: Rather than a boring burger, make up chapli kebabs — thin burgers made with red onion, tomato, fresh cilantro and mint, ginger and garlic paste, coriander seeds, salt and cumin. So good. Make up a yogurt sauce (raita) to accompany. Serve with fresh pita.

6. Grill veggies, too

Don’t let meat hog the grill. Thick-cut cauliflower steaks, zucchini, tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus and eggplant all deserve spots on the flame. Just don’t let them burn.

If you want to serve skewers, marinate some fermented tofu and use with some cut up veggies.

Organic meats also work well on skewers. If you’ve got vegetarian or vegan guests attending, try marinated tofu and vegetable skewers.

To grill vegetables without them getting soggy or burned, lightly oil and season them beforehand. Avocado oil works very well as a high-heat oil. Watch carefully so they don’t burn and consider using a grill basket.

7. Substitute green and other salads for high glycemic index BBQ sides

Baked beans, cole slaw, macaroni salad and potato salad show up at every summer picnic like clockwork. High in sodium, sugar and saturated fat, they should be disinvited.

Instead, let color be your guide. Make up a fruit salad, a colorful bean salad, one full of leafy greens and other fresh veggies, or a quinoa salad.

These don’t have to be extra fancy. For example, cook up some quinoa or couscous and add some chopped up cucumber, tomato, leafy greens and red onion along with some olive oil, lemon juice and sea salt. Yum.

8. Upgrade the condiments

At some barbecues, it’s a parade of packaged condiments that ugly up that picnic table and neutralize that potentially healthy food. Mayo, ketchup, ranch dressing, yellow mustard.

Instead, make up your own vinaigrette, fresh pesto, hummus and buy a Paleo ketchup.

9. Ditch the sodas for summer mocktails

Nothing can downgrade a barbecue faster than soda. Empty calories and empty of personality, soda should be a nonstarter. Instead, check out our list of the best summer mocktails.

These mocktails offer a refreshing, delicious taste and are full of color and flavor. Each feature a few healthy ingredients. For example, you can’t go wrong with our frozen watermelon margarita or cucumber limeade.

Otherwise, or in addition, make up a big pitcher of infused water. Add fresh fruits like lemon, raspberry and orange along with cucumber and mint.

10. Instead of ultra-processed ice cream, make your own

Most BBQs finish with ice cream. But instead of bringing out a big carton of bad nutrition, create a showstopper like cinnamon ice cream, tropical ice cream or strawberry ice cream.

Each of these flavors are easy to make at home without eggs or dairy — or even an ice cream maker. They’re deliciously divine and good for you!

Also check out our other summer dessert recipes.

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