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It's time to get fired up about healthy grilling

By Rachel Driscoll

July 31, 2020

With summer in full swing, it’s the ideal time to get out of the kitchen and fire up the barbecue. There is nothing quite like the smell and taste of a grilled meal on a nice summer night. And while grilling can be a healthful way to prepare a meal, it’s often the appetizers, sides, drinks and toppings that pile up to derail your diet. So what are the best ways to make your outdoor grilling experience both delicious and nutritious?

When you’re planning your menu, think beyond the traditional barbecue staples and consider some leaner options. Try wrapping marinated fish fillets in foil, constructing colorful chicken kebabs, or making turkey burgers with chopped portabello mushrooms and onions mixed into the patties. If you do choose meat or pork, get “loin” or “round” cuts, and consider “choice” or “select” grades of beef instead of “prime.” And when selecting ground beef, opt for one with the lowest percentage of fat.

But it isn’t just what you grill. Remember to also choose your toppings wisely. Don’t drown your grilled masterpiece in salty sauces or sugary condiments. Sometimes, a simple squeeze of lemon or lime is all your dish may need. Mustard is also a great go-to spread with only 10 calories per tablespoon and no added sugar or fat. Mayonnaise, in contrast has 94 calories and 10 grams of fat per tablespoon, while ketchup has 4 grams of sugar per tablespoon.

Sides matter, too. Consider swapping your traditional barbecue sides- like baked beans, coleslaw, macaroni salad and potato salad, which can have a lot of saturated fat, sodium and added sugars- for healthier homemade options. Trade mayonnaise-based salads for a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing or a fresh fruit salad made with seasonal berries or melon.

No matter what you decide to grill, you’ll want to always practice food safety, too. Before your cookout, make sure to clean your grill, especially the rack that comes in contact with the food product. Brush off any debris and scrub the grill parts with hot, soapy water. Once you’re ready to cook, allow the grill to heat up sufficiently to eliminate potential bacteria. Avoid potential cross contamination by packing extra plates and utensils, ensuring that you have one set for raw meat, poultry and seafood, and another for cooked and ready-to-eat foods.

Remember that relying on color alone does not ensure the doneness of meat, poultry or fish. A food thermometer is the only way to ensure food has been cooked to a safe internal temperature. You’ll want to aim for a finished product that is cooked, but not charred. Some studies have shown a correlation between eating well-done meats and an increased risk of developing colon, pancreatic and prostate cancer. Cancer- causing chemicals are only found in burned or charred parts, so remove any burnt parts before serving.

There’s no better time than now to fire up your grill and enjoy an outdoor meal. But it’s important to remain mindful of healthy eating habits and maintain a fit lifestyle while taking in the summer heat and cooking up your favorite grilled foods.

The Bristol Health Outpatient Nutrition Office offers nutrition counseling for patients with a variety of chronic illnesses or health concerns. Contact our office at 860-940-6741 for more information about how to make an appointment with our registered dietitian.