MealEnders Blog

Grilling Ideas for Keeping Your Summer BBQs Healthy

Plus Summer Recipe Ideas

By Brooke Marsal
July 31, 2018

grilling ideas

In the heat of summer the last thing that any of us want to do is is spend a lot of time hovering over the stove–so, naturally, we take our cooking outdoors instead. BBQs are a symbol that summer has officially arrived. With just a few healthy grilling ideas and summer recipes  in your back pocket, you can transform your BBQ into a healthy feast and a celebration of summer’s abundance. But before we dive into how to do this, let’s take a quick look at why it’s worth your time to give your summer BBQ a makeover.

Some of the more traditional BBQ foods (i.e. hot dogs, hamburgers, potato salad, coleslaw, baked beans, potato chips, coke, and beer) are heavily processed, high in simple carbohydrates, and/or loaded with saturated fat and salt. As we know, none of these things are good for our health.

To make matters worse, the grill itself tends to leave a carcinogenic char on our food. When we grill meat, the creatine in the muscle reacts with other amino acids to form heterocyclic amines (HCAs), some of which have been classified as carcinogenic. Furthermore, when the fat from the meat drips down onto the coals it creates a flame and produces polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) – another carcinogenic substance. These PAHs are then carried in the smoke and coat our food.

A diet high in HCAs and PAHs increases the risk of developing pancreatic, colon, and stomach cancer. Luckily though, not all foods are carcinogenic when grilled – just animal proteins. This means that you are still free to grill anything from the plant kingdom without any fear of consuming harmful substances.

So now that we understand some of the health concerns surrounding grilled meat, let’s take a look at some of the other foods commonly eaten at summer BBQs. Unfortunately, many sides are just as unhealthy as the processed meats you toss on the grill. Creamy potato salad, baked beans, coleslaw, macaroni salad, and potato chips may bring back fond childhood memories, but these aren’t foods you want to be eating all summer long–especially when your metabolism isn’t running at the same breakneck speed as it was when you were 12.

Potato salad, coleslaw, and macaroni salad are mayonnaise based, meaning they are high in calories and fat. Just 1 tablespoon of mayonnaise contains 94 calories and 10 grams of fat!! If you were to make Epicurious’ Classic Coleslaw you would be taking on 188 calories and 20 grams of fat per serving!! That’s a little less than ½ of your recommended daily fat intake in just one serving of coleslaw. To add insult to injury, in the case of potato and macaroni salad,  the high fat is paired with starch – a particularly unhealthy combination. Dr. Mark Hyman, the director for the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine, calls this combination “sweet fat.” Sweet fat can wreak havoc on your health – from causing weight gain to raising cholesterol levels.

Two other BBQ favorites, baked beans and potato chips, aren’t any better. Baked beans are usually made with molasses and pork, while potato chips are a combination of oil and starch. As you can see both of these are also forms of  “sweet fat.” Plus they contain tons of salt, making them a culprit for weight gain, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure.

Luckily, though, there are plenty of ways to transform your summer BBQ into a health-promoting, energizing feast. Let’s take a looks at some healthy grilling ideas as well as some lighter but equally delicious summer recipes.   


Veggies Burgers and Veggie Dogs

There are plenty of veggie burgers and veggie dogs on the market these days. Although these are processed they have the advantage of lacking carnitine and being lower in fat. This means carcinogenic substances won’t form when you toss them on the grill. Some of the most popular brands, which can be found at almost any local grocery store, are Dr. Praegers, Sweet Earth, and Gardenburger.

If you consider yourself a chef and want to try making your own burger, there are also plenty of recipes out there for you to follow. Homemade veggie burgers are the way to go if you are looking to create the healthiest meal possible. They are generally bean-based, meaning they are still packed with protein and are a great way to sneak some extra fiber into your diet. Need some inspiration to get you going? Check out this super easy black bean burger recipe from Minimalist Baker.


Very unfortunately, tofu is sometimes labeled as “boring.” But all it takes is the right marinade to make delicious tofu steaks that are perfect for grilling (Check out this quick easy Grilled Tofu recipe). Tofu is low in calories, very low in fat, high in protein, low in carbs, and a rich source of iron, magnesium, calcium, potassium and isoflavones. It can help lower cholesterol levels, manage weight, and even help protect against cancer (the isoflavones in soy have been shown to reduce the risk of breast, lung, and prostate cancer).

Just make sure that, when buying tofu, you purchase organic tofu. A whopping 93% of all soy growth within the United States is GMO and sprayed with pesticides. If the goal is to avoid carcinogens, you definitely don’t want to be consuming pesticide-laden food.


Summer is the season for fruit! It is naturally hydrating and will keep you feeling light and energized from dawn until dusk. Fruit was also made for the grill. Grilled watermelon, peaches, and pineapple, for example, all make delicious sides or a nice desert! Not only is grilled fruit delicious, but it is also high in vitamin C and  potassium to help keep you hydrated and healthy during long summer days.


The world is your oyster when it comes to grilling veggies. You can throw any or all of your favorite veggies on the grill. Grilling veggies will also make them less likely to spoil when sitting out in the summer heat. Some summer veggies that stand out as particular stars on the grill include eggplant, tomatoes, zucchini, portobello mushrooms, and avocado. You can even grill Romaine lettuce and create a Grilled Caesar Salad.

Low-Fat Meats

If you are going to indulge in meat, choose a cut of meat that is lower in fat. This will decrease the likelihood of the fat dripping down onto the coals and creating carcinogenic smoke. Lean beef, chicken, and shrimp are 3 good choices. Also, marinating your meats in acids and herbs, prior to throwing them on the grill, will help to decrease carcinogen formation. Olive oil, vinegar, lemon, orange, garlic, thyme, sage, salt, and pepper all make great marinades and help protect the meat during cooking.


Healthier Potato Salad

Give the potato salad a makeover by removing the egg and the mayonnaise and instead put together this lighter Mediterranean Potato Salad.

Baked Bean Alternative

Instead of baked beans, take advantage of the produce available during summer and create this Black Bean Salad with Corn, Red Peppers, and Avocado.

Grain-Based Salads

Replace the mayonnaise-based macaroni salad with a lighter grain-based salad. This Farro Salad, for example, is a great way to get some whole grains into your diet while also celebrating the sweet tomatoes of summer.

Kale Salad or a Grilled Caesar

Kale is the perfect base for salads at a BBQ. Because kale is so hearty it won’t wilt or go bad when sitting out in the sun for hours. Try this Cherry Summer Kale Salad.

As mentioned earlier, a fun and easy way to make your BBQ feel like a chef-catered meal is to stick some romaine on the grill for a fancier version of Caesar salad. In order to make the dressing healthier and more resistant to summer heat, try making a vegan Caesar salad dressing that is based in cashews instead of eggs.

Crunchy Snacks

Replace the greasy, fried Ruffles chips with some Baked Lays or pita chips. Or better yet, go for toasted pita bread, veggies, and hummus! Grapes also make for a juicy satisfying snack with a little bit of crunch.


Despite what commercials suggest, neither soda nor beer are actually hydrating. They may be refreshing in the moment, but they aren’t going to help you beat the summer heat. Instead of soda, try fruit-infused sparkling water, cucumber-mint infused water, a healthier homemade lemonade, or maybe some iced green tea.

Big Takeaways

So what are the big takeaways from all this? Indulging in your favorite BBQ classics isn’t a problem every once and awhile. But, if you find yourself eating outdoors all summer long, you’ll want to lighten up the fare a bit and be more mindful about how you are cooking your food. By having some of these health grilling ideas and lighter, produce-centered recipes in your back pocket, you can keep summer BBQs both interesting and healthy.



Did you know that MealEnders can help you develop healthier eating habits no matter what diet you follow?

Even with healthier recipes on the table, it’s easy to eat too much while hanging around the grill or picnic table all day. MealEnders can be a great tool to keep you on track with your health goals during long lazy summer afternoons and evenings.

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