Low-calorie grilling is achievable!
Grilling in America is just about synonymous with calorie-laden barbecue sauces, fatty ribs and burgers, and preservative-filled hot dogs. But an outdoor feast doesn’t have to be bad for your health and can be low-calorie goodness.
Those unhealthy barbecue standbys can easily be replaced withlow-calorie grilling alternatives that still taste great. Learn how to prepare your seasonal bounty with homemade low-fat marinades, spice rubs, and other additions that do an excellent job of bringing out food’s natural flavor when it’s cooked over an open flame.
What to Grill
When it comes to low-calorie summer grilling, what you grill is just as important as what you put on it. “I love grilling skinless chicken breast, lean turkey and veggie burgers, and vegetables like summer squash, zucchini, peppers, and carrots,” says New York City-based registered dietitian Jessica Fishman Levinson, MS, RD, CDN. Other healthy options include such popular seafood as tuna, salmon, halibut, sea bass, striped bass, scallops, and shrimp, as well as other lean proteins, like turkey breast, flank steak, and tofu.
And don’t forget the vegetables. For delicious side dishes or skewers, grill vegetables like mushrooms, corn on the cob, asparagus, artichokes, eggplant, onions, scallions, and cherry tomatoes. Or go vegetarian for a night — grill several vegetables and serve them with a side of brown rice or whole-grain bread for a nutritious and fresh summer meal.
Levinson encourages cooks to make their own marinades as a strategy to avoid the sugar and additives found in packaged marinades. She suggests combining olive oil with fresh or dried herbs and spices. To minimize the calorie count, brush the marinade onto your food near the end of cooking rather than letting it soak into the food beforehand. “That way, you don’t end up using more than you need,” says Levinson. Even though olive oil contains monounsaturated fat — the good kind of fat — it’s high in calories, so you don’t want to overuse it.
If you want a more complex low-calorie grilling marinade, experiment with other flavorful ingredients, such as mustard, lemon juice, fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice, citrus peel zest, soy sauce or tamari, and vinegars like balsamic, tarragon, or rice.
If you have a taste for bolder flavors, consider flavoring grilled foods with low-calorie rubs instead of marinades. All you need to make a rub is a tasty mixture of spices, seasonings, and dried herbs; you can also use such ingredients as flaxseed or sesame seeds, dried and unsweetened coconut, ground nuts, and dried chili peppers. Select your rub ingredients and blend them to taste. Usually one to a few tablespoons of each ingredient will do the trick.
Some recipes for rubs suggest using sugar because it helps create a bit of a crust, but for the healthiest low-calorie option, be sparing with any sugar or skip it altogether. And keep in mind that sugar burns easily, so you’ll have to pay close attention when grilling anything rubbed with it. Lightly brush your fish, poultry, or other meat or vegetables with olive oil, rub on the blended mixture, and then start grilling.
Another healthy way to prepare fish is to grill it Mediterranean style. Simply chop some fresh parsley — you can also add fresh rosemary, basil, or dill — mince some garlic, and combine with fresh-squeezed lemon juice, salt, and black pepper to taste. Some Mediterranean recipes also call for capers, minced olives, and sliced lemons or cherry tomatoes.
Stuff the mixture inside a whole fish, wrap in aluminum foil, and grill. Or spread the mixture onto a fillet drizzled with olive oil, and grill the fish herb-side down on a single piece of foil.
Dessert Can Be Grilled, Too
When planning your summer barbecues, don’t forget about dessert. Grilling fruit causes its natural sugar to caramelize, intensifying the flavor. Use cut peaches, apples, or banana halves or whole fruit, such as strawberries, and brush lightly with olive oil or spray with a cooking spray.
“Summer fruits like pineapple, peaches, nectarines, and plums are delicious when grilled,” says Levinson. “They can be served with a scoop of low-fat frozen yogurt or Greek-style yogurt drizzled with a little honey for a healthy and refreshing end to a great grilled meal.”