14 BBQ Foods That Are Actually Good for You
BBQs are a staple of summer but can be a minefield of high-calorie foods. There are healthier and smarter choices—you just need to know what they are. These are easy go-to's for your next party.
Available year-round, zucchini is at its best during the summer season, especially if freshly plucked from your own garden. A delicious source of potassium, vitamin C, vitamin A, folate, and fiber, it packs a nutritious punch for a mere 27 calories per cup cooked. Registered dietitian Rachael Hartley says summer vegetables like zucchini, simply seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, are delicious on the grill. “I like to make extra and use leftovers for pasta, salads, and sandwiches during the week,” says Hartley.
New York City-based nutritionist Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD says, “there’s nothing better than sweet summer corn. I like to throw it on an indoor grill in the husks. It gives a nice smoky charred flavor. To make it a little special, top with cotija cheese and a squeeze of lime.” A medium ear of corn offers about 3 grams of fiber, some protein, and potassium. Corn also contains the compounds lutein and zeaxanthin, which have been linked to reduced risk for macular degeneration according to a 2015 article in the Journal of Ophthalmology.
“Many people don’t realize that you can grill avocado,” says Rizzo. “Just cut it in half, remove the pit and throw it face-down on the grill. It will get these beautiful grill marks and become warm and creamy.” Avocado is a source of heart-healthy monounsaturated fat, fiber, vitamin K, and folate. A recent study from Tufts University also found that an avocado a day improved brain function in older adults. Find out 15 other foods you didn’t know you could grill.
Stephanie McKercher, RD, a Colorado-based recipe developer at The Grateful Grazer, recommends a meatless option made from chickpeas— like her Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Burgers. “They’re made with lots of herbs and spices and a hearty mix of chickpeas and whole grains. Even meat-lovers will want to give this one a try!” says McKercher. Chickpeas boast 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per half cup, are rich in folate, and have some calcium and iron. Don’t miss our fool-proof guide to grilling burgers, chicken, and everything in between.
Ancient grains appear more often at get-togethers these days than the standard pasta salad. A member of the wheat family, farro qualifies as an ancient grain. It has more fiber and protein than brown rice and contains magnesium which, according to Tufts University, may help lower the risk of diabetes. McKercher says “a swoon-worthy salad makes it easy to add a few fruits and veggies to your barbecue plate. I like to serve up farro with seasonal produce and creamy tahini dressing. It’s a crowd-pleasing summer favorite.”
With a mix of carrots, green, and sometimes red cabbage, coleslaw is typical BBQ fare. Cabbage is rich in vitamin C and K, and also has some folate, calcium, potassium, and magnesium. Cabbage contains sulforaphane which has been linked with a healthier brain and improvement in neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression, according to a study in the Journal of Molecular Neuropsychiatry. Deli-style and supermarket slaws come with added sugar and regular mayonnaise; you can try to drain off some of the liquid or bring your own version made with nonfat Greek yogurt.
Potato Salad (hold the mayo)
Potato salad is a staple of summer picnics and BBQs but there are smarter ways to enjoy this vitamin C-rich tuber that also gives you a healthy dose of potassium and B vitamins. For a good-for-you twist on potato salad, don’t rule out vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes for a summer salad. Culinary nutrition expert Jessica Levinson, MS, RDN, CDN recommends ditching the mayo and using Greek yogurt or a vinegar-based dressing instead, such as in her Roasted Sweet Potato Salad with Honey-Lime Vinaigrette. Find out the worst foods you can eat at a BBQ.
Levinson suggests changing things up by grilling fish instead of burgers and hot dogs. Salmon burgers are a delicious source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega 3 fatty acids, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been linked to a host of health benefits such as improved brain functioning and reduced risk for depression, inflammation, and heart disease, according to the National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements.
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, the bestselling author of The Easy 5-Ingredient Healthy Cookbook, says “one of my favorite things to toss on the grill is a lean cut of steak.” (You’ll want to try this Grilled Steak with Herb Sauce from her cookbook!) Steak cuts such as loin or round are relatively lean with around 3 grams fat and 1 gram saturated fat in a 3.5 oz serving. Steak is rich in protein, iron, and zinc with a healthy source of potassium and B 12. Make sure you’re not making these 9 BBQ and grilling mistakes, though.
Grilled chicken kabob
You can’t beat a grilled kabob. Featuring chunks of low-fat grilled chicken breast with vegetables such as peppers, onions, and mushrooms threaded on a skewer, this versatile BBQ pick packs protein, vitamins such as C and A, and minerals iron, zinc, and potassium in a tidy package of goodness. And men, eat your mushrooms! A cancer study in which men with prostate cancer took mushroom powder helped lower their PSA levels.
Navy beans, sugar in the form of molasses, maple syrup, or brown sugar, and salt pork make up this standard BBQ dish. Despite the added sugar, the nutrition in beans makes this a much healthier choice for a side dish than macaroni and cheese. Navy beans, a nutritional powerhouse, are an excellent source of protein and fiber, with a generous amount of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron. They’re also a decent source of B vitamins. Check out these 31 delicious grill ideas for the best summer BBQ.
An excellent BBQ option, grilled shrimp has about 100 calories and 20 grams of protein per 3 ounces. A waist conscious smart choice, shrimp provide a nice mix of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and magnesium, all of which are important nutrients for the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure, according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Hypertension. Shrimp are a decent source of folate, and vitamins B, A, and E.
Plums and Apricots
Use your grill for dessert by grilling stone fruits such as plums and apricots, suggests Levinson. They’re especially juicy when grilled for just a few minutes and paired with a dollop of honey lemon yogurt sauce. This delectable dessert will boost your day’s intake of vitamin C and A as well as deliver smaller amounts of vitamin K, potassium, magnesium, phosphorous, and fiber. Stone fruits, especially the skin, contain flavonoids which research suggests may have a protective effect against cancer and viruses.
“Grilled peaches are one of my favorite desserts at a BBQ,” says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, founder of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area. She says they’re simple to make and grilling brings out the fruit’s natural sugars. “I like to drizzle the peaches with balsamic glaze for an extra bit of low-calorie flavor,” says Gorin. Peaches also contain flavonoids which may be protective against cancer. In fact, a report in Breast Cancer Research and Treatment revealed that older women who ate more peaches had a lower risk of estrogen receptor-negative breast cancer. Be sure to find out the best BBQ recipes for a healthy grilling season all summer long.