Memorial Day is one of the first holidays of the warmer months, which means many people are dusting off the grill and firing it up for the first time.
Making this the perfect time to think about what should be ending up on those grates.
Probably all of us, me included, have enjoyed a grilled burger or hot dog (or two or more) along the way. And the point of this blog is not to make you feel guilty about doing that. What I hope you gain from reading this week’s installment is a sense of how to maneuver grilling season without going backwards with your health.
Which brings us back to that sage advice: eat real food, not too much, mostly plants. Turns out this mantra can apply to BBQ as well!
Here are three easy ways to make this work for Memorial Day (or any time you’re grilling):
Pick a better protein.
If you’re going to eat beef, eat the best cut you can. Yes, tenderloin is more expensive than hamburger, but the point is to not to have a lot – but have the healthiest version of what you’re eating. And if you’re open to going outside of the red meat box, think about chicken breast, turkey, firm-fleshed fish or even shrimp. Try marinating the proteins and adding vegetables to make kabobs – that will make whatever protein you pick go farther. Try to avoid processed meats like hot dogs and brats – they’re the farthest from “real” and most likely to be overflowing with sodium and unhealthy fats. That’s not to say you can never have one again – just make sure you are reasonable with your portions and surround these less healthy options with much better sides.
Choose whole grains.
Variety is the spice of life - and we have plenty of options when it comes to bread. So skip the traditional buns that are made with enriched white flour and go with the grainiest buns/breads you can find. They’re more likely to be packed with fiber, which is great for your heart and cholesterol levels – and they’re more flavorful too! Or, if you’re more adventurous, skip the bread altogether and go with grainy side dishes like farro, barley or quinoa. By adding a little olive oil, lemon juice and herbs, you can turn these cooked whole grains into the most delicious part of the meal. And where is the rule that a burger MUST go on a bun?
Focus on the side dishes.
Side dishes can help you or hurt you. Mayonnaise rich potato salad and coleslaw typically contain unhealthy levels of saturated fat, sodium and even sugar. I suggest skipping these or eating a smaller portion than you typically would. And if you make your own versions, forget the mayo and go with oil and vinegar dressings. Make sure you’re adding a variety of vegetables to your meal, incorporating as many as you can into your grill sessions. Grilled corn, asparagus, zucchini, and peppers go great with most grilled foods, add in lots of interesting micronutrients and help keep the calorie count low. When it doubt, bring on the veggies!
At Step One, we’re all about small sustainable changes – because they add up to such huge health impacts over time. Switching your mindset from having meat with vegetables to having vegetables with meat requires no new cooking skills or shopping trips – just a small realignment of what ends up on your plate. Do this, 365 times a year, and the health effect can be astounding.
Your BBQ meal does not have to be perfect. It just has to be better.