It’s been a long spring this year in the northeast and Memorial Day weekend is finally here.  Now is a great time to enjoy the outsides and fabulous warm evenings.  It’s the perfect occasion for the summer cookout.

I love this time of year because if the grill is on it usually means less dishes to clean up afterward.  It’s all about relaxing which is the embodiment of what summer is in New England.  The barbecue is also a great way for laid back summer entertaining.

Just because you are watching your nutrition doesn’t mean you need sacrifice quality and taste when it come to the barbecue.  Mayonnaise laden salads, fatty meats and gorgeous desserts can make it challenging.  But it’s not impossible!  And for years there has been controversy over whether grilled red meat and chicken could cause cancer.  Here are some ideas to overcome these potential challenges because no one wants to throw cold water on one of the hallmarks of quintessential summer.

Top Ten Tips to a Healthy Barbecue

  1.  Current research tells us that well done or charred meat poses the highest risk because they form chemicals that are carcinogenic and linked to cancer.  Grilling occasionally appears to be fine.  Just lower the temperature even if it means cooking longer.  The goal is to avoid charring the meat.
  1. On a gas grill, try raising the grill rack away from the heat.  If you are using a charcoal grill, allow the flames to subside before cooking.  Remember moderation is the key.  There is only an increased risk for cancer when excessive amounts cooked at high temperatures are consumed.
  1. Watch your portion. Using skewers is a great way to decrease the amount of meat you are consuming.  Small pieces of meat along with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables is delicious and better for you.
  1. You can also use an herb based marinade to lower your cancer risk. A recent research study in the Journal of Food Science found that a marinade containing rosemary reduced potentially cancer causing chemicals in grilled foods by 88%.
  1. Eat the veggies first—Find the crudité platter and fill up on raw vegetables because they will fill your belly and you will have less room for fattier dishes. Choose undressed salads and cover at least half of your plate with veggies.  Dress it yourself so you have more control.
  1. When it comes to the main course, fill your burger with lots of veggies such as lettuce, tomatoes, sautéed onions and mushrooms.  The more room you take up with veggies the less saturated fat you will be eating.
  1. Use more fish and chicken as an alternative to red meat. Grilled salmon au natural is delicious or marinate in a mix of olive oil, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, rosemary and lime juice to jazz up the flavor.  A less expensive choice is salmon burger made from wild canned salmon.
  1. Nix the potato salad and go for the coleslaw. Potatoes are much higher in calories than cabbage and if the salad is made with full fat mayo will cost you about 360 calories and 20 or so grams of fat per cup.  Cabbage is low in calories and more importantly loaded with phytochemicals that can stimulate enzymes in the body that detoxify carcinogens before they damage cells.
  1. Skip the barbecue sauce and watch the condiments. Ketchup and barbecue sauce can be a major source of hidden sugar with almost a teaspoon of sugar in every tablespoon.  Mayo packs about 50 calories and 5 grams of fat in every tablespoon. Mustard is the best choice.
  1. Grilled fruit is a delicious alternative to high calorie desserts. Once the fire has died down, place the fruit on the grill and watch it caramelize.  Great fruits for this include peaches, nectarines, pineapple, bananas and pears

When you think of it, there are precious few glorious evenings in the summer.  Let’s fire up the grill, kick back and enjoy ourselves.