By Erin Hoisington, Mercy Weight Loss & Nutrition Center
Summer is here, and grilling weather is upon us! July is National Grilling Month, but we love to celebrate grilling all summer long! Using the grill is a perfect way to keep the heat out of the kitchen as temperatures rise. Grilling can also be a healthy way to cook up some light meals on a hot summer night. Though grills are traditionally used for cooking meat, don’t limit their capabilities. It is easy to create a complete, balanced meal with your favorite charcoal or gas outdoor cooking appliance.
Meats and Marinades
Meat is often the focus when it comes to grilling, and choosing lean meats can help keep your meal healthy and flavorful. Lean protein can be helpful to feel satisfied longer, maintain lean body mass, and even lose weight when used in a balanced diet. Keep your protein source low in fat by using lean beef, pork, or skinless chicken or turkey. A great tip for choosing lean cuts is to look for the word “loin” such as a sirloin steak or a tenderloin. Trimming visible fat will also help limit extra calories. By marinating meats in non-oil-based marinades or treating with low-sodium dry rubs, you can add flavor and tenderness without excessive calories. Marinades can be purchased at the store or created at home to control flavors for the perfect main dish. Vinegars, olive oil, and different herbs and spices are easy to through together for endless combinations!
If burgers are on the menu, chose 90% lean beef to save in the calorie department. Adding finely chopped onion or mushrooms and forming into patties before grilling can help result in a juicy burger without the extra fat. It will boost both juiciness and flavor. Try to avoid pressing the burger patty with your spatula to maintain as much moisture as possible. The sizzle may sound satisfying but is not helpful in creating a flavorful and juicy burger!
Even with the best intentions of choosing lean cuts and using low-calorie flavoring methods, excessive portions mean excessive calories. Too much of a good thing is still too much! Control portion sizes by adhering to 4 oz. raw meat, which translates to approximately 3 oz. after the meat is cooked or about the size of a deck of cards. Don’t forget to fill up on vegetables to add volume to your meal to keep you satisfied!
Cooking to the Right Temperature
The last piece of the puzzle is ensuring food safety by bringing meat to the proper cooking temperature. Utilize a kitchen thermometer and test the internal temperature of the item in the thickest portion. Poultry (chicken and turkey) should reach 165° F, other ground meats should reach 160° F and fresh, whole cuts of beef and pork should reach 145° F at minimum. Check out the Iowa Food & Family Project Grilling Guide for more details.
Show-Stopping Side Dishes
Now to add some variety to your grilling routine! Create a show-stopping side dish by grilling vegetables! This will give add some unique flavor to your veggies, without adding high-calorie oils, dressings or dips. Try threading pieces of onion, bell pepper and mushrooms on kabobs before placing on the grill. You can also use a grill basket to keep them from falling through the grill grates. To keep heartier vegetables tender and evenly cooked, start with uniform-sized pieces, season with your favorite spices, and place in a heavy-duty foil pack with an ice cube or two. Spray your foil first and wrap the pack tightly to help keep veggies tender and make clean up a breeze! Grilled salads are another way to add a unique twist to your meal. Simply slice a head of romaine lettuce lengthwise, drizzle with olive oil and grill over low to medium heat until wilted. Remove from heat, cool slightly, chop and toss with other favorite grilled vegetables and a light vinaigrette dressing. You’ll be amazed at how hearty a salad can be!
Don’t forget to round out your meal with fiber from fruit or whole grains. Grilling fruit brings out the natural sugars, making it a great sweet finish to the meal. Virtually any fruit can be grilled, from peaches and pears to pineapple and watermelon slices. Get creative! Brushing fruit lightly with honey can boost the sweetness. Lock in the flavor of fruit by using a lightly oiled, high-heat grill until tender. Serve alone or with a scoop of vanilla frozen yogurt.
No matter your preference from chicken to beef, asparagus to peppers, or nectarines to berries, the grill is the perfect cooking method for summer. The best part is the easy cleanup! At the end of the day, you can feel great knowing you are serving a well-balanced, delicious meal without a messy kitchen! Fire up your creative juices and get grilling this summer!