Barbecue Season: Nutritious and Tasty Foods for a Healthy Summer

Recipes and top tips to make your barbecue healthy, colourful and nutritious

Barbecue Season: Nutritious and Tasty Foods for a Healthy Summer photo

A hot sunny day in the height of summer is a perfect time for a barbecue. Eating delicious food out in the garden or backyard with family or friends, with a nice cold drink in hand, what could be better?


Traditional barbecue food and drink typically conjures up images of slightly burnt or charred meats; plant-based or meat burgers in bread buns, sausages, corn on the cob, potato salads, kebabs and beer.


Whilst these foods provide protein and carbohydrates, the way in which the food is cooked and its ingredients can make a big difference to whether your barbecue helps your health or hinders it. For example, store-bought burgers and coleslaw will vary in nutritional value and additives compared to home-made versions. Summer is a time of plentiful seasonal produce, fresh air and sunshine, yet our barbecues can easily end up being a buffet of beige and ultra-processed foods, lacking in colour, nutrients, freshness and fibre.


This article will suggest some simple tweaks and healthy swaps to transform your barbecue into a tasty, nutrient-dense feast.


7 Ways To Make Your Barbecue Healthier:


1. Make your own

Processed, store-bought burgers, including meat and plant-based burgers, tend to contain artificial flavourings, preservatives and extra salt, and are sometimes made with poor-quality ingredients. Try making your own burgers:

Easy-Peasy Real Beef Burgers

Ingredients:

  • 500g lean beef mince
  • 1 white onion (finely chopped)
  • 1 egg (whisked)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Optional: beef marinade – see recipe below

Method:

  1. Mix the beef mince in a bowl with the onion, egg, salt and pepper.
  2. Split the mix into separate burger-sized portions, and gently flatten with your hands. If you have children to entertain, get them to do this part!
  3. Cover each side of the burger with the beef marinade recipe found further on in this article, before grilling on the barbecue.

If you don’t have time to make your own burgers, a good general rule to follow when purchasing pre-made burgers is to check the ingredients list and to choose products with minimal and naturally-derived, good-quality ingredients where possible.

A good-quality beef burger helps to keep you feeling full and provides a source of complete protein, important for a range of biological functions from the production of brain chemicals (neurotransmitters) to supporting a healthy immune system and muscle repair.

Zingy Vegetable and Tofu Vegan Kebabs

As a meat alternative, these delicious vegan kebabs also contain a complete set of proteins and an array of vegetables which provide nutrients such as vitamin C and antioxidants for healthy summer skin.

Ingredients:

For the kebabs

  • Vegetables: for example: ½ pack of cherry tomatoes, 1 courgette, 1 red onion, ½ pack of baby button mushrooms, 1 bell pepper (any colour)
  • 300g pack extra-firm tofu or 200g tempeh

For the marinade

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon tamari sauce
  • 1 teaspoon chilli flakes
  • Juice of ½ lemon
  • 1 inch ginger (finely grated)
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)

Method:

  1. Cut the vegetables into small chunks and the tofu or tempeh into small cubes.
  2. Make the marinade using the olive oil, tamari sauce, garlic, chilli flakes, lemon juice and ginger.
  3. Add the vegetables and tofu or tempeh to the marinade. Allow to marinate for at least an hour.
  4. Slide the vegetables and tofu or tempeh onto skewers ready for barbecuing (if using wooden skewers be sure to soak them in water prior to barbecuing to ensure they are not a fire risk).
  5. Oil the barbecue grates to prevent the tofu from sticking to them whilst grilling.

Try different combinations of vegetables. Garlic and ginger are particularly potent sources of antioxidants and phytonutrients that have anti-inflammatory properties to keep cells healthy.


2. Protect your meat:

Barbecuing meats at very high temperatures over an open flame creates harmful carcinogenic chemicals, including heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) (1).

Humans have survived for millennia cooking foods over open fires, but it’s wise to avoid excessive consumption of charred food. There are several ways you can reduce the amount of chemicals produced by your barbecue:

Choose lean meats

PAHs are formed when fats are heated to very high temperatures and when the melted fat drips onto the charcoal coals. These harmful compounds can rise up in smoke and be absorbed into the meat Therefore, choosing leaner cuts of meat such as lean beef mince and skinless chicken can help to reduce PAH formation.

Wrap meat in foil when charcoal grilling on a barbecue.

Wrapping meat in aluminium foil can significantly reduce the food’s PAH content as it prevents the harmful compounds passing from the smoke into the meat (2).

Avoid overcooking

Don’t leave meat grilling at high temperatures longer than necessary, turn it whilst cooking, consider a more moderate heat until it is cooked on the inside and check the inner temperature with a meat thermometer. Remember that poultry, pork or seafood under-cooked on the inside can cause food poisoning.

Marinade with herbs and spices

Herbs and spices contain high levels of natural antioxidants that help to inhibit the formation of harmful compounds whilst cooking meat (3). Good options include rosemary, sage, turmeric, thyme, red pepper, garlic, oregano, basil, paprika and black pepper. Use these liberally to season your meats and vegetables or to make your own Mediterranean-inspired marinades.

Antioxidant-Boosting Meat Marinade
Marinade for beef burgers

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves (minced)
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper

Method:

  1. In a bowl, mix together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, dried herbs and pepper.
  2. Coat each burger with the marinade, cover and leave for one hour at room temperature before cooking.

Marinade for barbecue chicken

Ingredients:

  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons garlic granules
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme

Method:

  1. Mix the olive oil, apple cider vinegar, garlic granules, paprika, and dried thyme together in a bowl.
  2. Coat the chicken in the marinade, cover and leave for one hour at room temperature before cooking.
3. Wholesome hydration

With the sun shining and being in the company of friends or family, it can be easy to get carried away and overdo the alcohol, leaving you dehydrated and potentially a little worse for wear the next morning.

If you’re drinking alcohol, consider alternating it with water or a soft drink to stay hydrated and to reduce the total amount you drink. Be mindful that sweet fizzy drinks such as lemonade or cola can easily increase your sugar consumption exponentially on a hot day, leading to blood sugar highs and lows and hormonal imbalances that contribute to weight gain and mood swings.

Drinks containing artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, Acesulfame K, sucralose, and saccharin are sometimes seen as healthier options. However, these tend to contain added chemical preservatives and artificial flavourings, and some studies suggest artificial sweeteners may negatively disrupt the gut microbiome and affect hormones that control hunger and satiety (4).

Alternative soft drinks could include kombucha (which is good for your gut!), plain unsweetened fruit juice mixed with sparkling water and ice, alcohol-free beer, or our healthy lemonade recipe using a natural sweetener:

Summery Lemon and Lime Lemonade

Ingredients:

  • 3 lemons
  • 2 limes
  • 1 litre sparkling water
  • 2 teaspoons organic stevia powder
  • Ice cubes (optional)
  • Sprig of mint (optional)

Method:

  1. Cut the lemons and limes in half.
  2. Squeeze the juice of the lemons and limes into a small bowl, using a lemon squeezer device or your hands.
  3. Remove any pips from the juice.
  4. Pour the sparkling water into a large jug.
  5. Add in the freshly squeezed lemon and lime juice, and stevia powder.
  6. Stir all of the ingredients together.
  7. Add in a handful of ice cubes and a sprig of mint for an extra cold and refreshing drink, and enjoy!

4. Include a rainbow of colours

Say goodbye to a buffet of beige foods and bland salads (burgers, bread, crisps, pasta and potato salads), and include a rainbow of different coloured fruits and vegetables. These foods help to feed a wide range of beneficial gut bacteria, support healthy digestion and general wellbeing. They also provide a boost of vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and antioxidants to your meal.

Raw vegetables such as carrot, celery, bell peppers, broccoli, sugar snap peas, and cucumber are great with dips such as hummus and guacamole.

You could also try the following colourful coleslaw recipe containing rocket, which provides a slight bitterness to help stimulate digestion, and omega-3-rich hemp seed oil to support healthy vision, brain function and cardiovascular health.

Multi-Colour Coleslaw

Ingredients:

  • ½ a red cabbage
  • 1 large carrot
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 small red onion
  • 3 tablespoons live yoghurt *
  • 2 tablespoons cold-pressed hemp seed oil
  • 40g washed rocket leaves

*Use yoghurt that has no added sugar. Alternatively, you can use soya yoghurt or vegan mayonnaise if you do not eat dairy.

Method:

  1. In a food processor shred the red cabbage, carrot, red pepper and red onion.
  2. Add the yoghurt, hemp seed oil and rocket leaves.
  3. Stir all ingredients together until blended and enjoy!

5. Include some healthy omega-3 fats

Omega-3 fatty acids are essential fats that support a healthy cardiovascular system,

eye health, brain function and help the body to manage inflammation and keep cells healthy. However, their beneficial effects can be outweighed by consuming too many omega-6-containing foods such as foods fried in vegetable oils, fast food and crisps.

Omega-3 fats can be included in barbecue food in several ways. For example, salmon is rich in omega-3 fats and can be cooked on the barbecue as an alternative to meat, and plant-based sources of omega-3 such as chia seeds, flaxseeds, walnuts and hempseed oil can be added to salads.

6. Enjoy a healthy after-dinner sweet treat

If you have a sweet tooth and want to finish your barbecue with a light tasty dessert that’s also nutritious, try the following dark chocolate-covered strawberry recipe!

Strawberries contain vitamin C, which helps the absorption of iron found in plant foods, and supports glowing summer skin. They also contribute towards your daily fibre intake to support a healthy gut. Dark chocolate contains magnesium which is important for healthy nerve function, muscle contraction and energy production to keep you fuelled during all your summer adventures, and it also activates vitamin D which your skin creates following sun exposure.

Dark Chocolate Covered Strawberries

Ingredients:

  • 1 bar dark chocolate (70%+ cocoa)
  • 1 punnet Strawberries (leave the stalks on)

Method:

Put some hot water in a small pan, place a heat-proof mixing bowl into the pan so that the hot water surrounds the bottom of the bowl but doesn’t overflow.

  1. Break the chocolate into chunks and place in the bowl.
  2. The chocolate will start to melt but you can speed things up by putting the pan on the hob at medium heat. Stir a little.
  3. Once the chunks have melted into smooth velvety chocolate, take the pan off the hob and put to one side.
  4. Line a baking tray or plate with foil. Take each strawberry by the stalk and dip it in the chocolate so that it covers most of the fruit. Place on the tray/plate.
  5. Once cooled a little, put the coated strawberries in the fridge to harden up for that crunch, or enjoy slightly warm!

Summary

Summer is a great time to enjoy a barbecue with friends and family. However, overcooked and charred meat can contain chemical compounds that are detrimental to health, whilst fresh home-cooked food, fruit and vegetables can end up being overlooked in favour of processed burgers and bland stodgy salads containing unnecessary salt, sugar, additives and few nutrients. To turn your barbecue into a delicious delight full of health-promoting ingredients, make foods from scratch where possible, choose lean meats, use a marinade and barbecue your meat in foil. Aim to include a rainbow of different coloured fruit and vegetables, some healthy fats, and consider drinks such as kombucha, naturally-sweetened lemonade, pure fruit juice or alcohol-free beers.

1) Joshi AD, et al. Meat intake, cooking methods, dietary carcinogens, and colorectal cancer risk: findings from the Colorectal Cancer Family Registry. Cancer Med. 2012 Jan. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4472216/


2. Eldaly EA, et al. Effect of Heat Treatments on Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons Formation in Meat. Zagazig Veterinary Journal. 2016; 44(3): 263-272.


3) Smith JS, Ameri F, Gadgil P. Effect of marinades on the formation of heterocyclic amines in grilled beef steaks. J Food Sci. 2008 Aug. Available from: https://ift.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1750-3841.2008.00856.x


4) Christofides EA. POINT: Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity-Not the Solution and Potentially a Problem. Endocr Pract. 2021 Oct. Available from: https://www.endocrinepractice.org/article/S1530-891X(21)01157-5/fulltext