Summertime looks a little different this year. Vacations have been cut in favor of local fun, and restaurants are taking a back seat to home dining due to the pandemic. There’s no better season for healthy, quick and delicious dinners thanks to that trusty tool, the grill.
Why splurge on takeout or crank up your oven? Outdoor cooking provides the perfect way to feed the family quickly and affordably. So hop aboard the flavor train as we explore nutritious choices for grilling with tips on how to get it done right!
From chicken to pork, steak to seafood, burgers to brisket, there’s no shortage of savory grill choices. Barbeque smoke and charring from the grates—whatever type grill you’re using—really bring out the flavor of meat in an authentic and simple way. Translation: You don’t have to do too much prep work after a hard day at the office (or the pool) to make dinner tasty.
For flavoring, season your main course with a dry rub, or soak it in low-sodium marinade for a delicious, moist texture, advises Robin Rood, RD, LD, M.Ed., M.A., Teladoc dietitian. She also notes that personal portion control is especially important when cooking on a large grill: 3 to 4 ounces of meat—about the size of a deck of cards—is the recommended amount. Prep the desired portions that morning or overnight in the fridge so the meat is cleaned, seasoned and ready to barbeque at dinnertime. Always wash your hands after handling raw meat, and when manning the grill, “Use a meat thermometer to make sure you’re cooking these dishes to a safe temperature to kill bacteria, viruses or parasites,” Rood says.
The healthiest meat choices are white (vs. red) in color, so consider subbing in ground turkey or chicken for beef burgers. If you’re eating low carb, use red leaf lettuce or tomato ends to sandwich your patty instead of a roll. Seafood is also a delicious, healthy alternative to traditional meats: Tuna and salmon steaks couldn’t be simpler to grill. And don’t forget the simplicity of shrimp shish kebabs, which only require two to three minutes of cooking on each side!
Don’t let main courses have all the fun. Sides like grilled vegetables are some of summer’s greatest unexpected delights! Veggies are so nutrient rich you want to make sure they’re not only included in your grilled feast, but that they’re a big part. “Grill equal amounts of vegetables/fruits and protein to maintain a healthy diet,” Rood recommends.
There’s no limit to the types of vegetables you can grill, says Rood, who recommends including low-starch varieties like broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts to the menu. While certain veggies like corn on the cob, asparagus and sliced zucchini can be tossed right on the grates, others are better chopped ahead and cooked in a grill basket or aluminum foil packet. For those that require longer cooking times, like mini potatoes or squash, microwave them for a few minutes prior to grilling to quicken softening.
Use mixed veggies like onions, bell peppers, mushrooms and eggplant for a colorful side dish in the basket or on a kebab. Toss them with some staples like olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, salt, pepper and herbs to bring out their natural, fresh flavor. These easily pair with cupboard-friendly foods like rice, beans or pasta to complete a meal.
Finally, fruit isn’t just for breakfast; the food group has earned its rightful place on the grill. Grill pineapple to pair with teriyaki glazed chicken or serve it with vanilla ice cream for dessert. Thread strawberries through a skewer and brush with butter, honey, lemon zest and salt for an out-of-this-world salad topper. Or, wow your guests by adding a chocolate drizzle to them for the final course! Use medium heat and an olive oil coating to grill firm peaches to accompany pork tenderloin, or top with a small serving of yogurt and toasted pecans.
Once you’ve done your shopping, prepping and grilling, there’s nothing left to do but enjoy the dinner, right? Wrong! One night’s effort at the grill can support many dishes in the days ahead. Grilled meats, fish and sides are incredibly tasty and versatile as leftovers. When you’re too tired and hot to think about starting a meal from scratch, return to the weekend’s grilled fare. (Hint, make extra!)
Remember those chicken thighs? Mix with celery, onion, non-fat Greek yogurt and seasonings to create an easy chicken salad. Add a stack of fresh veggies and dollop of Dijon and assemble the chicken between two slices of fresh sourdough bread for a dinner picnic. With extra grilled flank steak, mix vinaigrette with red onions and ripe tomatoes for a light salad. Or place on top of a whole-wheat tortilla wrap with reduced-fat Monterey Jack cheese, bell peppers and salsa for quesadillas.
Grilled-ahead veggies are also perfect for inventive, homemade pizzas or flatbreads and stir fries that cook in just minutes. Toss them into an egg scramble on the grill or skillet, adding hot sauce to taste. For a quick, healthy dinner, also mix your grilled vegetable medley with chickpeas and whole-wheat penne for a simple and filling summer pasta salad. Add grilled favorites to toasted or grilled pitas with tzatziki sauce or hummus to add a depth of flavor for an unforgettable lunch.
If grilling healthy meals still seems a bit daunting, one of our registered dietitians can help. Our network of 150-plus expert registered dietitians will customize a nutrition plan based on your unique needs and help you meet your personal health goals. Choose the right expert for you by logging on or signing up for your Teladoc account, where you can make an appointment for any day of the week by phone or video from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. There’s still plenty of summer to enjoy with a better eating plan and a healthier way of life. Get started today.
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