The summer season means the smell of bar-b-que and charcoal from Memorial Day to Father’s Day through to Labor Day. While grilling can be a great departure from the heat of the stove, making sure your summer meals are still low in calories, healthy and tasty is most important. These next tips will awaken the grill-guru in you while providing a framework for keeping your meals healthy.

1. Cut down the char

Chargrilled meat is a wonderfully tasty way to spice up your meal time in the summer. Unfortunately, too much “char” can produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs), a carcinogen that is linked to various types of serious forms of cancer. Reduce your exposure to the HCA compound by flipping meat on the grill often and covering the grill with foil to shield meat from open flames. Pre-cooking meat is another great way to cut down the time you will spend grilling and lessen the exposure to harmful HCA compounds.

2. Trim the fat

Choosing cuts of meat is easy once you know what to look for. Fat is easy to spot in meat. It’s safe to say that anything not red (or pink the the case of chicken and pork) on meat is fat. The white, swishy substance on meat is considered fat. Before you load up the grill with steaks and hamburger, be sure to trim the visible fat to ensure your meal isn’t unnecessarily loaded with saturated fats. And, hold the skin as well. By trimming the skin, you can save around 50 calories per piece of meat.

3. Just say no to Frank

Or Oscar Meyer for that matter. While hot dogs and hamburgers seem like the quintessential foods for summer grilling, beware! Processed meats come loaded with many types of health risks. To start, studies show that consuming about 50 grams of processed red meat per day (and a single hot dog is 45 grams) increases one’s risk for heart disease by 42% and diabetes by 19%. Regardless of reason, the risk do not outweigh the reward. A better option is a turkey hot dog. Overall, this is a food that you may want to re-consider putting on your summer grill menu.

4. Marinade heaven

Personally, I love marinades. There are the fun, cheap and surprisingly easy way to spice up any grilled dish. Instead of swaddling your meats in oil-heavy marinades, try using combinations of lemon juice, a tablespoon of olive oil and some seasonings to spice up your meats and veggies. Reducing the oil in marinades will reduce the chance for creating meats and veggies full of HCA’s.

5. Go meatless

Veggies on the grill are a great alternative to consuming meat. Vegetable skewers and portabella mushrooms offer some creative flare to the usual meat options for the summer menu. Veggie and turkey burgers contain less fat than traditional hamburgers and provide some source of fiber, while hamburgers do not. Definitely an option worth exploring!

6. The buns matter

No, not those buns! If you’re going to make a burger, make the bun it’s served on higher in nutrition. By now, we all know the perils of white breads. By using whole wheat buns, you will add whole grains, iron and vitamin B…and all for the same amount of calories as white bread.

7. Vegetable skewers

Mentioned above, change up your summer grill menu by using vegetable skewers. There are many different combinations of vegetables that taste great on the grill. Be sure to use a marinade to make spice up your vegetable medley and experiment to taste!

8. Toppings beware

Just as salads loaded with the wrong toppings can take it from healthy to unhealthy, so is the case for toppings on grilled burgers. Instead of adding regular lettuce, mayo and even bacon to your burger, try switching things up with salsa and deep leafy greens like spinach. Cheeses are similar in calories but only Swiss cheese contains a generous portion of vitamin B12.

9. Make leftovers count

Pulling out the grill for a single meal is time consuming and not to mention a lot of effort. Be sure to leverage your leftovers by grilling foods you can turn into meals for lunch or dinner the next day. Grilled chicken makes an excellent beginning to a chicken salad the next day. There are plenty of ways to maximize the foods you grill so you can enjoy them beyond one meal.

10. Dessert, please!

Ice cream and pies are traditional ways to end the meal at a summer get-together. Unfortunately, it’s a high calorie path to undo all your hard work in the gym. Instead of eating pie and ice cream, use the grill to make some sweet treats. Just as many vegetables are great on the grill, so are fruits. You can even marinade fruits in the same manner as meat or veggies (just be sure to marinade them separately as not to contaminate the fruit).
Overall, summer is a great time of transition when it comes to cooking. Grilling is a wonderful way to expand your menu. Just be sure to keep it healthy…and as always, enjoy!