10 ways to enjoy a healthier BBQ


May is National BBQ Month and the weather is (finally!) warming up, which means grilling season is here. Oh, the joy of spending time outdoors with friends and family and throwing together a simple and tasty meal on the grill! Unfortunately, some of our go-to favorites may not be as healthy as you think. Thankfully, it is possible to enjoy those foods and make some simple substitutions to bump up the nutritional profile. 

Here are 10 tips to make your next BBQ a bit healthier. 

1. Choose lean proteins. 

Instead of the traditional burger, hot dog or ribeye steak, try selecting leaner cuts such as sirloin, filet mignon, fish, chicken, pork tenderloin or a turkey burger. If you cannot get on the turkey burger bandwagon, try a 93/7 ground chuck instead of 80/20. 

2. Speaking of hot dogs, not all are created equal. 

If hot dogs are a must-have at your BBQ or that is all your picky kid will eat, try some of these healthier alternatives

3. What about the summertime staple corn on the cob? 

Corn often gets a bad reputation, however, it is often what we add to it (butter!) or season it with (excess salt) that we should consume in moderation. Corn is an excellent source of fiber and a summertime staple, try seasoning it with olive oil and your favorite spices (cumin, Cajun seasoning, onion powder, garlic powder, paprika, etc.). Check out this seasoned corn-on-the-cob recipe.

4. Let’s not forget about the non-starchy vegetables. 

I love to grill zucchini, mushrooms, asparagus and other vegetables on the grill. Try tossing them in olive oil, fresh garlic or a hint of salt and pepper to taste. They take on a nice, smoky flavor that will have you going back for more. 

5. Sneak in some extra fiber.

Use 100% whole grain or whole-wheat buns for sandwiches and pasta for your pasta dishes. Fiber not only helps with digestion, but it also is beneficial for appetite control and weight management, cancer prevention, blood sugar and cholesterol management, and supporting good gut bacteria. 

6. Consider some of these other healthy swaps: 
  • Top your meats with sugar-free BBQ sauce and ketchup instead of regular. 
  • Try non-fat Greek yogurt instead of mayonnaise in your salads. 
  • Use oil-based dressings and salads instead of creamy, mayo-based alternatives. 
  • Check out this “Nice Cream” recipe instead of traditional ice cream for a sweet, refreshing treat. 
7. Be mindful of portion sizes. 

I get it — it has been almost an entire year since you have been able to grill out and you probably want to try one of everything! It can be tempting to indulge in a little bit of everything but remember, you have the whole summer to enjoy all of those foods that you have missed all winter long. 

8. Watch the sodium. 

Almost half of Americans have high blood pressure and many do not even know it. Try salt-free seasonings such as Mrs. Dash, garlic or onion powder, and herbs and spices. When selecting canned beans for that three-bean salad, look for “low sodium” on the label.

Try the following salt-free recipe for seasoning your meats: 

Spice Blend Recipe (Makes about 1/3 cup) 

  • 5 teaspoons onion powder 
  • 2 ½ teaspoons garlic powder 
  • 2 ½ teaspoons paprika 
  • 2 ½ teaspoons dried mustard 
  • 1 ½ teaspoons crushed thyme leaves 
  • ½ teaspoon white pepper 
  • ¼ teaspoon celery seed 
9. Stay well hydrated in those hot summer months. 

Be mindful of sugary, high-calorie beverages such as sweet tea, lemonade, sports drinks and others. Opt for low-calorie carbonated water or try adding some flavor to your water bottle with fresh fruit, mint or sugar-free flavorings. 

10. Try some of these healthy BBQ side dishes at your next get-together. 

With the rise in nutrition-related chronic diseases and obesity, don’t be afraid to revamp your traditional summer BBQ dishes to improve their nutritional profile. We can still enjoy our favorites while being mindful of portion sizes, making some healthy swaps and adding more vegetables to your typical summertime spread. 

Happy Barbecuing! 


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Featured Provider

Dashia Antunes, MS, RD, LD, CISSN, CSOWM picture

Dashia Antunes, MS, RD, LD, CISSN, CSOWM

Specialties: Nutrition

Dashia Antunes is a clinical registered dietitian with Northside Hospital.

In her role with Northside's outpatient nutrition services, Mrs. Antunes fulfills her passion of helping patients reach their health and wellness goals, prevent and manage nutrition-related chronic diseases, and improve their quality of life.

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