Summer is just around the corner, and that means grilling season. Sometimes the foods we eat at barbecues are not the healthiest, but that does not have to be the case. Read below for some great ideas on how to throw the perfect healthy grill-out.

Go Lean

Most everyone is familiar with the go-to of grilling: the hamburger patty. But if made from standard ground beef, hamburgers are high in saturated fat – sometimes as high as 30 percent of their calories. Saturated fat intake should be limited because high consumption is linked to cardiovascular disease and obesity.

It is easy to cut out the saturated fat content of your meat. Ground beef is sold by the fat percentage. By choosing “lean” or “extra lean” ground meats, you can decrease the amount of saturated fat in your burgers and provide a healthier option for your family and friends.

Rethink the meat

Other types of meat naturally have lower saturated fat values than beef and are easily incorporated into grilling fare. Hotdogs and burger patties can be made from turkey varieties, and bratwurst has a less traditional turkey and chicken variety. Be sure to read the nutrition label to make sure these items are still lean choices that contain an acceptable amount of calories and less than five grams of saturated fat.

Get fishy

If you really want to pump up the nutritional value of your grilled meal, think about switching your meat to fish or seafood. These items are often lower in calories and saturated fat and high in protein and essential vitamins and minerals like vitamin D, iodine and zinc.

In addition, some fish like salmon, trout and albacore tuna are very high in omega-3 fatty acids, which studies show reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

No buns about it

When it comes to buying buns for your barbeque, always choose a whole grain option. These grains are higher in fiber, vitamins and minerals and make for an easy, nutritious addition to a grilled meal. Or, consider really savoring the flavor of the meat and go bun-less.

Do the salad right

Mayonnaise-based salads have been a long-lived staple at American grill-outs and picnics, but these dishes too are high in fat and can be a breeding ground for bacteria if not kept cold.

So before you grab the recipe for grandma’s special mayonnaise dressing, think about incorporating a healthier option like oil-based vinaigrettes or low-fat yogurt-based dressings. Choosing these items instead of mayonnaise can help increase the nutrient density of your dish in addition to lowering the overall calorie content.

Cut out the calories in dessert

When you’re ready for dessert, there’s an easy way to keep the calories low and boost the nutrient content.

Grilled fruit is a fun way to incorporate a nutritious and delicious dessert into any party. Fruits like pineapple, melon and strawberries can easily be grilled on a skewer and enjoyed by everyone. Try marinating them in balsamic vinegar, drizzling with honey or sprinkling with cinnamon for an added blast of flavor.

Be safe!

The incidence of foodborne illness spikes during the summer months because of the number of cases linked to undercooked meats. Check out usda.gov for more information on grill safety, like how to grill meat to the proper internal temperature.

Now, the next time you throw a barbeque, you will be ready to offer a healthy and delicious spread for your family and friends.

Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Email the column at [email protected]

This week’s recipe is my favorite grilling marinade. I usually divide it between two re-sealable bags, one for chicken and one for vegetables, and let the food marinate in the fridge.

Grilling Marinade
Yield: 3 cups (kabobs for 6)

1 cup vegetable oil 

3/4 cup low sodium soy sauce 

1/2 cup lemon juice 

1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce 

1/4 cup mustard 

1 1/2 teaspoon black pepper 

2 cloves garlic, minced

In a large bowl, combine all ingredients. Mix well and divide between two re-sealable bags. To one bag, add your favorite chopped meat (chicken, pork, lamb or beef all work well). To the other bag, add your favorite vegetables (chopped red onions, bell peppers and cherry tomatoes work well).

Seal bags and let meat and vegetables marinate in the refrigerator for 4-24 hours. Once desired marinate time has been reached, arrange the meat and vegetables on skewers and grill to proper internal temperature.