How to Not Blow Your Diet During Grilling Season

By John Thomas |

This piece originally appeared on

Grilling for a cookout usually makes you think of big meals that aren’t very healthy, like ribs, sausages, hot dogs, and huge steaks. But grilling for a cookout can actually be a great opportunity to make a nice, light, healthy meal. Using a few easy techniques, like using a grilling plank and cooking veggies in a foil packet, you can make some fantastic light meals that won’t make you regret that weekend cookout.

Related: Guide to Grass-Fed Beef

Healthy Grilling Alternatives

Planked Lemon Pepper Tilapia and Foil-packet Carrots

One of the easiest ways to grill light is to grill fish. Grilling fish doesn’t have to be hard. It’s actually quite easy when you use a wood plank. Most hardware stores sell grilling planks. If you can’t find one at your local store, many online vendors sell them. There are many benefits to planking fish. First, you don’t have to worry about fish sticking to the metal grate on the grill. Second, the plank infuses the fish with flavor, depending on the type of wood you buy. Third, it makes clean up and serving easy because the fish is completely cooked on the small plank, leaving no mess on the grill. You can also serve the fish right on the plank wood.

An easy way to make a healthy grilled side dish is to use a foil pouch. Those in the camping community commonly use this method to make some amazing side dishes over a campfire. The same concept works on the grill. Place a little bit of butter or oil, some chopped veggies, and some spices in the packet and then tightly seal it and place it on the grill. The packet steams the vegetables, allowing foolproof grilling.

Select a cedar (or any wood type you prefer) grilling plank and a few fresh filets of a whitefish, such as tilapia. About an hour before its time to cook the fish, soak your plank in water. This will help reduce flare-ups. Prepare the fish filet by brushing it with olive oil, squeezing some fresh lemon juice on top, and topping it with fresh black pepper and freshly minced garlic. Set the filets on the cedar plank. For the foil-packet carrots, clean and cut 4 fresh carrots into small slices (about 2 cups). Cut a large piece of heavy-duty aluminum foil about 15–20 inches long. Fold it in half like a book and put 2 tablespoons of butter inside. Place the sliced carrots on top of the butter, and sprinkle 1 tablespoon of minced garlic on top of the carrots. Close the “book” by bringing the top of the foil over the bottom and tightly folding over the edges to create a seal.

Light the grill for medium heat and place the foil packet of carrots and the plank with the tilapia directly on the grate over direct heat. Close the dome. After about 5 minutes, flip the foil pack over and close the lid. If the heat is too hot, move the foil pouch to a spot on the grate with lower heat. Cook the fish for 10–15 minutes; it is ready when it easily flakes apart when tested with a fork. Cook the foiled carrots for about 15 minutes, depending on how high the heat is. Serve the tilapia with the carrots on the side.

Grilling Tools For Lighter Meals

Portobello Mushroom Burgers with Pesto and Grilled Corn on the Cob

Big beefy burgers taste great, but they’re not so great for your waistline. You can still get a flavorful burger experience on the grill by swapping out beef with large fresh Portobello mushrooms. Clean the Portobello mushrooms under running water. Then remove the stems with a small knife and remove the gills with a spoon. Mix up a quick marinade by adding 1/4 cup of oil, 1/4 cup of balsamic vinegar, and 2 tablespoons of fresh minced garlic. Mix in 1 tablespoon of chopped dried oregano. Mix this marinade well and spoon it into the insides of the Portobello mushrooms. While the mushrooms are marinating, prepare the pesto by mixing 2 cups of fresh basil, 2 tablespoons of pine nuts, and 4 tablespoons of fresh garlic together in a food processor. Process until mixed well. Slowly add 1/2 cup of olive oil while the processor is running. The mixture should be very smooth after a minute or so. Add 1/4 cup of freshly grated parmesan cheese and pulse for another 20 seconds. Store the pesto in the refrigerator until ready to use. Prepare the corn by removing the husks from the cobs and lightly brushing the cobs with olive oil.

Related: Buying In to Buying Local

Prepare the grill for medium heat. Place the mushrooms and the corn cobs directly on the grill grates over the heat. Close the dome. After three minutes, flip the Portobello mushrooms and rotate the corn cobs. The corn should start to char, and some of the kernels should turn dark. Check the mushrooms after another 3 minutes and place sliced mozzarella cheese on top. Close the dome to melt the cheese. The mushrooms will be finished once they are very tender, and the corn cobs will done once they’re nicely colored all over (about 10–15 minutes). Grill some fresh rolls for about 30 seconds directly over the heat. Assemble the Portobello mushroom burgers by placing a mushroom on a grilled roll, adding a few tablespoons of fresh pesto, and then topping it with lettuce, tomato, and fresh sliced avocado. Brush the corn cobs with butter and add salt and pepper.

Low-Sugar Barbecue Sauce Recipe

Salmon Burgers and Foil-packet Parmesan Broccoli

One of my favorite ways to eat salmon is in salmon burgers. They’re fresh, tasty, and really heart healthy. To make these burgers, get 1 pound of fresh Alaskan salmon filets and cut the meat away from the skin. Dice the salmon into very small pieces. Place the chopped salmon, 1/4 cup of mayonnaise, 1/2 cup of bread crumbs, 1/4 cup of diced red onion, 3 tablespoons of chopped fresh cilantro leaves, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and 1/4 teaspoon of pepper in a bowl. Mix the ingredients well and lightly form them into patties. Let the salmon burgers sit in the refrigerator for about 30 minutes prior to grilling.

Prepare a foil packet as described in the above recipe for carrots. Add 2 tablespoons of butter, 2 cups of fresh broccoli heads, and 2 tablespoons of chopped garlic to the center of the packet. Seal the foil packet tightly so steam cannot escape.

Light the grill for medium heat. Place the filled foil packet and the salmon burgers directly over the heat on the grate. Close the grill lid. After about 5 minutes, flip the burgers and flip and rotate the packet. The burgers will be done after about 10 minutes, and the broccoli will be done when the heads are soft and tender. After about 10 minutes, carefully open the foil packet and add 3 tablespoons of freshly shredded parmesan cheese. Serve the salmon burgers on fresh rolls with lettuce, tomato, and tartar sauce if desired.

If you enjoy firing up the grill on a daily basis during the warmer months, you have nothing to fear! These light grilling recipes provide a delicious, nutrient-rich alternative to the typical barbecue menu.