In the summer months, your backyard doubles as your kitchen as you forgo your oven for the grill. It's freeing. It's fun. But face it, it can get a little unimaginative. You slap on some burgers, hot dogs, sausages, and corn—but even these summer staples start to feel a bit dull.
To breathe new life into your cookouts, we asked Holley Grainger, MS, RD, for some unexpected, but extra nutritious, foods to add to your grilling repertoire this summer. From protein staples (like turkey and tofu), to side dishes (hello, grilled artichokes), and desserts (ever grilled a banana?), you'll have tons of possibilities and more reasons to fire up the grill this season.
"If you love grilled food and you love leafy greens, then you must try grilling Romaine lettuce for a fun and nutritious twist on a traditional salad," Grainger says. Preheat your grill to medium heat and brush some olive oil over the grates so nothing sticks. Use another brush to top split Romaine hearts with olive oil and season to taste with salt, pepper, steak seasoning (and basically any other oil/seasoning combo—get creative!). Cook for a couple minutes each side. "Romaine lettuce holds up well on the grill allowing the heart to soften while the edges get charred," Grainger adds. Plus, 1 cup of romaine comes in under 50 calories, is loaded with vitamin C, and is heart-healthy.
"Sweet, juicy and boasting just 45 calories per serving (8 medium), strawberries grilled over medium-low heat for 3 to 5 minutes are bursting with flavor and are a delicious guilt-free summertime dessert," Grainger says. Skewer strawberries on bamboo kebabs. This will make cooking, flipping, and removing the fruit an absolute breeze. Grill the strawberry kebabs until grill marks appear, turning once with tongs. It also doesn't hurt that berries have been praised for their ability to turn excess bad white fat into calorie-burning beige fat.
Asparagus is the perfect vegetable to add to your summer meals. Read the One Simple Trick for Grilling Asparagus for the foolproof grilling technique (hint: skewers) and the healthy recipe to test it on. High in fiber, folate, and vitamins A, C, and E, asparagus is super-nutritious and pairs really well with olive oil or lemon juice—so you won't feel weighed down after eating.
Preheat your grill to medium-high heat. While the lobster is still alive, cut it in half, lengthwise, from tail to tip. Rub the meat with olive oil, salt and pepper. Grill cut-side down. Cook for 6-8 minutes until meat is almost cooked through. Turn and grill shell-side down until the lobster is bright red and slightly charred and the meat is opaque. It’s also rich in selenium, vitamin B12, and omega-3 fatty acids.
"Whether you’re catering to a vegetarian/vegan audience or just looking for another protein option, firm or extra-firm tofu is an excellent choice because it's low in fat, high in protein, and really absorbs the flavor of a marinade," Grainger says. (One half-cup serving has just 94 calories, 5 grams of fat and 10 grams of protein.) Cut your tofu into small, but hearty potions, about 1/3-inch thick. Lay them on top of paper towels and place another sheet on top, pressing lightly to absorb most of the water to get the tofu nice and crispy on the grill. You can use a marinade—any you cover chicken, fish, or pork with, like one of these—to give some extra flavor, or just season with salt and pepper. "Because of its low fat content, tofu often sticks to the grill so make sure to grill on clean grates brushed with oil before cooking," Grainger adds.
Green beans are another summer vegetable that are often tossed into salads, cold; but you can just as easily grill them for a healthy, flavorful side dish. All you need is a grill pan. Toss the green beans together with olive oil, garlic, and salt in a bowl. Preheat the grill to medium heat and arrange the beans on the grill pan. Place the pan on the preheated grill and cook, flipping the beans so they evenly char—for about 10 minutes. Eat your fill: Fresh green beans only have about 30 calories per 100g of bean pods) and don't have any saturated fat.
"While you may not chow down on a sprig of grilled rosemary, adding fresh herbs to the coals imparts a smoky and herby flavor that helps give the food you’re cooking a little something extra while not adding to the fat, sodium, or calorie content," Grainger says. "Herbs burn fast, so consider soaking them before grilling or making a foil packet," she recommends.
Grilling just isn't the same without steak. Opt for a different cut than usual, Grainger recommends, and choose a flat iron steak for your next summer grill out. A 4oz flat iron steak comes in at just 150 calories, 6g of fat, and boasts 22g of protein. It’s incredibly versatile, takes to marinade really well, and it's cheaper than most other cuts. Grill with fresh rosemary (like we mentioned) for extra flavor!
Cook oysters—preferably larger varieties so they don't slip through the grates—in their shells by getting your grill nice and hot (medium-high heat). Scrub the shells and place them cupped-side down on the grates. Cover the grill and wait until the shells begin to open, about 2 minutes, and chuck any that don't. Let the oysters cool a bit or use heat-protected gloves to handle them while you pry the shells open using whatever's handy, an oyster knife if you have it or a screwdriver if you don't. Be careful—you want to keep as much of the oyster's liquid inside the shell as possible! Top with lemon wedges and hot sauce. And if you only have small oyster varieties available, you can still use your grill, just place them in a small pan or skillet, and then place that on top of the grill grates so you preserve all the oysters and their juice.
Turkey is one of the most underrated meats. Sure, you'll throw it on a sandwich and make it your holiday staple, but for summer? Yeah, you're overlooking the bird. Rub salt and pepper and olive oil (rosemary works really well here, too) all over your turkey breast. Cover and refrigerate overnight. You can grill an entire bird or you can grill turkey breasts, which are more manageable, time efficient, and use less gas. if you're grilling turkey breasts, oil your grates and preheat the grill at high heat; cook for 15-20 minutes depending on the thickness.
Stone fruits like peaches, nectarines, and plums are in-season during summer meaning they're at their peak nutrition-wise. Plus, they make an insanely delicious summer dessert, snack, or even breakfast at or under 100 calories (depending on how you prepare and top 'em). Grill the peaches on low or indirect heat (lid closed) until soft, about 2-4 minutes per side. Top with honey and Greek yogurt for a sweet and creamy finish.
Low in calories, high in folate and vitamin C, artichokes are a hearty little vegetable that can gain some major flavor from grilling. They do, however, take a bit more time and effort because they take a while to soften. Before you fire up the grill, bring a deep pot of water to a boil. Trim the artichoke stems and slice them in half lengthwise. Place the artichokes into the boiling water, then lower the temperature so they simmer for about 15 to 20 minutes, or until their leaves easily pull away when gently tugged. Drain the artichokes on a towel and, when cool enough not to burn your hands, remove the fuzzy bit around the heart and brush the cut side with olive oil. Once your grill is preheated (medium-high heat), place the artichokes cut-side down and cook for about 3 minutes so grill-marks form and the leaves absorbe the smoky flavor.
Zucchini holds up really well on a grill. Preheat yours on medium-low heat and lightly oil the grates. Add some more olive oil to your zucchini and sprinkle with any spice combination you like—salt and pepper, garlic powder, steak seasoning, and/or balsamic. Cook for 3-4 minutes per side. Low in calories and loaded with magnesium, folate, potassium, vitamin A, and B vitamins, zucchini is a powerhouse of a vegetable.
Grilled bananas are a satisfying dessert that won’t derail your fitness gains. Get your grill nice and hot (high heat). If you want super simple cleanup, line an oven tray with baking paper or foil and place that on your grill grates. Cut the ends of a banana(s) and cut again lengthways, in half. Place them cut-side-up on the oven tray and top with cinnamon and pure maple syrup. Close the lid and cook for about 10 minutes or until the bananas are bubbling and golden brown. You can even serve with a dollop of natural Greek yogurt and nuts to up the protein ante.
"For a heart-healthy grilled option, go for cholesterol-free and healthy-fat-rich avocados," Grainger says. "Cut the avocado in half, remove the pit, and brush lightly with oil and season," she says. Grill on medium heat for 2 minutes. "Since avocados are naturally a bowl, fill each grilled half with your favorite toppings or scoop and serve up a bowl of grilled guacamole," for a surprising side dish at your next BBQ. Avocado can help lower bad cholesterol, help you feel fuller longer, and research has even found avocado eaters more closely adhere to dietary guidelines, consume more vitamins and nutrients through food, have better "good" cholesterol, weigh about 7 pounds less, have a smaller waist circumference, and are 50 percent less likely to suffer from heart disease, diabetes, and stroke than non-eaters.