14 Nutritionist-Approved Healthy Grill Recipes
Avoid the minefield of high-calorie foods at your next backyard BBQ with these healthy grill recipes, from zucchini to peaches.
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Backyard BBQ healthy grill recipes
Who says barbecue has to be synonymous with red meat? Whether you’re having a backyard BBQ for the unofficial start of summer (Memorial Day) or end (Labor Day), or if you grill year-round, there are healthy grill recipes for your favorite BBQ foods that don’t sacrifice flavor. Not convinced? We tapped several nutrition experts for suggestions of BBQ foods that are actually good for you. Give one—or all—a try with these healthy grill recipes for your next cookout.
Available year-round, zucchini is best during the summer, 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 only 19 calories per cup. Simply seasoned with olive oil, garlic, salt, and pepper, zucchini is delicious on the grill, says Rachael Hartley, RD, in Columbia, South Carolina. “I like to make extra and use leftovers for pasta, salads, and sandwiches during the week.”
Corn on the cob is a good source of fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B6. It’s also rich in lutein and zeaxanthin, compounds that are linked to a reduced risk for macular degeneration, according to a review of studies published in 2015 in Journal of Ophthalmology. “There’s nothing better than sweet summer corn,” says Natalie Rizzo, RD, in New York City and founder of Nutrition à la Natalie, about one of her healthy grill recipes. “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.”
“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 small 2017 study published in Nutrients, including 48 healthy men and women who don’t smoke, suggests that an avocado a day may lead to an improvement in brain function in older adults over a six-month timespan.
Hamburger lovers, listen up: A meatless burger can be just as tasty as a beef burger. Just ask Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based RDN, recipe developer, and founder of Grateful Grazer. She recommends using chickpeas, which boast 6 grams of fiber and 7 grams of protein per half-cup. Her Moroccan-Spiced Chickpea Burgers are “made with lots of herbs and spices and a hearty mix of chickpeas and whole grains,” she says. “Even meat-lovers will want to give this one a try!”
These days, ancient grains appear more often at get-togethers 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 may help lower the risk of diabetes. “A swoon-worthy salad makes it easy to add a few fruits and veggies to your barbecue plate,” says McKercher. “I like to serve up farro with seasonal produce and creamy tahini dressing. It’s a crowd-pleasing summer favorite.”
Deli-style and supermarket coleslaws come with added sugar and mayonnaise. But homemade versions (that skip the mayo in favor of Greek yogurt) can be downright healthy. That’s because cabbage—the key ingredient—is rich in vitamins C and K. It also contains a compound called sulforaphane. Check out this zesty coleslaw recipe.
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. One way: ditch the mayo and use Greek yogurt or a vinegar-based dressing instead, suggests Jessica Levinson, RDN, in Westchester, New York and author of 52-Week Meal Planner: The Complete Guide to Planning Menus, Groceries, Recipes, and More. Another option: use vitamin A-rich sweet potatoes instead of white potatoes. Or check out this tangy potato salad with radishes.
Levinson suggests changing things up by grilling fish instead of burgers and hot dogs. Grilled salmon or salmon burgers are a delicious source of healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3s, particularly docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), have been linked to improved brain function and a reduced risk for depression, inflammation, and heart disease. Need a salmon burger recipe?
Toby Amidor, RD and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners, says one of her favorite healthy grill recipes is to “toss on the grill is a lean cut of steak.” And that’s not because she sees it as a guilty splurge. Steak is rich in protein, iron, zinc, and B6. Opt for lean cuts of meat that deliver less than 10 grams of total fat, and 4.5 grams or less of saturated fat.
Grilled chicken kabob
You can’t beat a grilled kabob. Featuring chunks of low-fat chicken breast with vegetables like peppers, onions, and mushrooms, this versatile BBQ pick packs protein, vitamins C and A, and iron, zinc, and potassium in a tidy package of goodness. (In a time crunch? Try these 20-minute healthy meal ideas.)
What may seem like a nutritional no-no can be a healthy side dish (despite the added sugar). That’s because beans are nutritional powerhouses. Navy beans—a.k.a. haricot, white pea, and Boston beans—are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They also have a generous amount of calcium, potassium, phosphorous, and iron. Check out this baked bean recipe.
One of the main staples in healthy grill recipes is shrimp. An excellent BBQ option, grilled shrimp has about 100 calories and 20 grams of protein per 3 ounces. Shrimp also provides a nice mix of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, and magnesium. These are all of which are important nutrients for the prevention and treatment of high blood pressure.
Plums and apricots
Healthy grill recipes are not just for appetizers or the main course. Use your grill for dessert by grilling stone fruits such as plums, peaches, and apricots, suggests Levinson. They’re especially juicy when grilled for just a few minutes and drizzled with honey. This delectable dessert will boost your day’s intake of vitamin C and A, as well as potassium.
“Grilled peaches are one of my favorite desserts at a BBQ,” says Amy Gorin, RDN and founder of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York City. “I like to drizzle grilled peaches with balsamic glaze for an extra bit of low-calorie flavor.” Peaches also contain flavonoids that may help protect against cancer. Peach skins, in particular, are rich in antioxidants, according to a study published in 2015 in the International Journal of Molecular Science.
- Rachael Hartley, RD in Columbia, South Carolina
- Journal of Ophthalmology: "Lutein, Zeaxanthin, and meso-Zeaxanthin in the Clinical Management of Eye Disease"
- Natalie Rizzo, RD in New York City and founder of Nutrition à la Natalie
- Nutrients: "Avocado Consumption Increases Macular Pigment Density in Older Adults: A Randomized, Controlled Trial"
- Stephanie McKercher, Colorado-based RDN, recipe developer, and founder of Grateful Grazer
- Jessica Levinson, RDN in Westchester, New York and author of 52-Week Meal Planner: The Complete Guide to Planning Menus, Groceries, Recipes, and More
- Toby Amidor, RD and author of Smart Meal Prep for Beginners
- Amy Gorin, RDN and founder of Amy Gorin Nutrition in the New York City area
- International Journal of Molecular Science: "Phenolic Composition and Antioxidant Properties of Different Peach [Prunus persica (L.) Batsch] Cultivars in China"