With the Fourth of July coming up this weekend, my editor, Nathan, had an idea. “What if we offered advice on how to make backyard barbecuing more healthful while still keeping it recognizable?” he suggested, adding, parenthetically, “I’ve been to barbecues with only veggie burgers; that wasn’t fun.”
That’s the whole idea behind Eat, Drink & Be Healthy, of course: figuring out ways to eat more healthfully while still having fun. And I agree about veggie burgers: They’re fine for once in a while, but on this major backyard-barbecue weekend, I want to sink my teeth into something more satisfying.
Food Network TV host and author Ellie Krieger, who is also a registered dietitian, is known for inventing better-for-you versions of favorite foods. Here are Krieger’s tips for making your Fourth of July cookout more healthful yet recognizable.
Go lean: Start with ground beef that’s at least 90 percent lean. “Eighty-five percent sounds like bragging, but that’s a fatty meat,” Krieger says. Though people think “all the flavor’s in the fat,” she says, “the umami flavor” — or the savoriness — is in the lean part of the meat. Playing up that flavor is the key to a delicious burger, Krieger says.
Stuff it: Krieger suggests boosting umami by sauteing onions (or mushrooms, or both) with a little Worcestershire sauce. Or grate a bit of cheddar or another aged cheese. Or choose sun-dried tomatoes, or spinach with feta or olives. Then, “take four ounces of ground beef, a sensible portion, and divide it into two separate patties,” Krieger says. Drop a dollop of your savory filling in the middle of one patty, top it with the other patty and pinch around the edges to seal shut. Grill them as you would any other burger and serve on a whole-grain roll or English muffin.
Fine-tune the fixings: Piling chili and cheese atop your dog will nearly double the calories and saturated fat, Krieger says. Instead, try crafting something fresh and flavorful: a Vietnamese-inspired sauce of diced cucumber, shredded carrot, lime and chili-garlic sauce, for instance. Or go with sauerkraut or cabbage slaw. Sauerkraut is fermented cabbage; the fermentation process adds healthful probiotics. But watch your portions because sauerkraut is full of sodium. Again, use store-bought whole-grain buns if you can find them. One last tip: Try to find nitrate-free hot dogs because nitrates have been linked to a higher risk of cancer.
Cut the mayo: When making dressing for cole slaw or potato salad (or whatever creamy side salad you plan), replace half the mayonnaise with nonfat plain yogurt. “That decreases the calories so much, but you still get that creamy body,” Krieger says. Plus, “it gives it a little tangy flavor, which you usually get by adding apple cider vinegar or mustard.” You may be surprised at her advice regarding the mayo itself: “I personally prefer to use full-fat mayonnaise,” because it tastes better, she says. She also prefers mayos made with canola oil, but only if you can find a brand that doesn’t have a lot of additives. Otherwise, you can try making your own.
Pick potato salad: Eating hot, cooked potatoes may cause abrupt spikes in insulin and blood sugar (leaving you feeling hungry soon after, Krieger says). Cooling cooked potatoes as you do for potato salad diminishes that insulin-spiking trait. In addition, potatoes are excellent sources of Vitamin C and potassium. Leave the skins on to retain most of those nutrients and fiber.
Embrace beans: Beans are extremely nutritious, packed with antioxidant vitamins, protein and fiber. So don’t skip them, Krieger says; just bake them better.
Go Canadian!Instead of a lot of fatback or bacon, Krieger suggests giving beans that smoky pork flavor by using Canadian bacon. “It comes from the loin, so there’s not the fat but lots of smoky meatiness,” she says.
Make mine molasses: Instead of sweetening with brown sugar (which is nothing but empty calories), try molasses, which Krieger says has “very intense flavor” and, with its mix of calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, copper, manganese, selenium and Vitamin B6, is “one of the most nutritious sweeteners.”
Get the blues: Krieger likes to puree blueberries, with just enough water to cover the berries, with a bit of honey, then strain the mixture through a sieve. You can serve the resulting liquid cold, either as a punch or, if you dilute it with water, as “a transparent flavored water.” Krieger also simmers fresh sage in water and adds the liquid to the berry water. Here’s another combination she likes: Puree watermelon with a bit of water and sugar or honey, strain it and add the liquid from basil leaves that you’ve simmered in water on the stove.
Watermelons win: “Watermelon wedges for dessert. What’s more fun than that?” Krieger says. “Cut it open in front of everyone, let the kids run around and have pit-spitting contests.”
Fancy fruit:You could grill skewers laced with cut-up fruit and serve with a yogurt sauce, Krieger says. Or cut stone fruits (such as peaches and plums) in half, remove the pits, then brush the cut sides lightly with canola oil. Grill them for three minutes and serve with a scoop of frozen yogurt placed where the pit had been. (“Portion control!” Krieger says.) Garnish with fresh mint and serve.
I plan to try these ideas this weekend. If you do, too, let me know how the food goes over with your guests.
More online: Share your healthful barbecue tips and recipes at firstname.lastname@example.org or in the comments on this column at washingtonpost.com/wellness. For more nutrition news, visit the Checkup blog at voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup .