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Healthy grilling ideas: These foods will have you feeling great all summer long

The best healthy grilling ideas from appertizers to desserts

skewers on a grill
Pixabay / Pexels

The summer barbecue season is something of a trip. On one hand, there are messages — albeit toxic ones — about looking a certain way in a swimsuit (now would be a good time to remind everyone that every body is a swimsuit body). Conversely, summer soirees are often full of foods that don’t quite make the cut on the relatively loose Mediterranean diet. Finding healthy grilling ideas can be a challenge.

“Summer BBQs can be tricky if you’re trying to eat healthily,” said Beata Rydyger, BSc, RHN, a registered nutritionist and contributor to HPVHUB. “Often, the foods are high in calories and heavily processed, with lots of sugar in sauces and snacks, as well sodium and preservatives.”

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with having these foods if you want—whether you have them every once in a while or opt for them all summer. However, you may also have health and fitness goals and be looking for ways to enjoy yourself while maintaining what most dietitians and doctors would consider a “nutritious” diet. These healthy grilling ideas will satisfy your tastebuds and help you hit your personal goals.

Best healthy appetizers for a barbecue

a man with tattoos carrying meatballs on baking sheet
Clark Douglas / Unsplash

A veggie plate is a no-brainer, but the dish may not be your cup of tea. Experts went beyond that tried and true suggestion and even shared dip strategies.

Fruit skewers

Throw some fruit on the grill beside the chicken and shrimp for an app that fits the BBQ bill while remaining nutritious.

These provide a sweet, hydrating treat full of vitamins, antioxidants, and phytonutrients,” Rydyger said. “They’re a great way to satisfy a sweet tooth the healthy way and are visually appealing. Fruit skewers may include berries, pineapple, melon, kiwi, and banana.”

Mini quinoa salad bowls

Don’t let “mini” mislead you — Rydyger says mini quinoa salad bowls are packed with nutrients.

“Quinoa is a complete protein, providing all nine essential amino acids, and it’s gluten-free,” she said.

Rydyger loves to mix quinoa with some veggies and a light dressing, like lemon juice or extra-virgin olive oil, which boasts healthy fats. 


Yes, dips are on the table — literally (at a BBQ) and figuratively (for you, even if you’re trying to eat “healthy”).

“When it comes to dips commonly found at BBQs, such as ranch, salsa, and guacamole, I recommend gravitating towards salsa and guacamole,” said Sophia Deahl, MS, RD, a functional medicine dietitian. “Salsa contains tomatoes, onions, peppers, and herbs, which are rich in essential nutrients like vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. These nutrients support our overall health and well-being. Guacamole is a source of omega-3 fats, which are anti-inflammatory, and fiber, which help promote energy levels and satiety.”

Best nutritious BBQ-style sides

sweet potato fries and dips
Ella Olsson / Unsplash

We’ll get to the mains in a second. However, sometimes, the sides are tastier than the main event. Unfortunately, they can be high in fats and refined carbs. Nutrition experts recommended some delectable alternatives.

Sweet potato fries

Instead of standard fries or potato salad, consider sweet potatoes. Deahl loves that they are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

“Baking or air frying them with a sprinkle of herbs or spices can make for a tasty and nutritious side option, skipping the extra oil from frying,” she said.

Whole grain pasta salad

If pasta salad is a time-honored favorite, dig in. Rydyger said a simple swap — white pasta for whole grain— can significantly improve nutritional value (but not taste).

Toss whole grain…pasta with a variety of colorful vegetables, a sprinkle of feta cheese, and a light vinaigrette for a fiber-rich, satisfying, nutritious side,” she said.

Healthy grilling ideas for a main course

burgers on a grill

Have the burger. Or the hot dog. That’s it. That’s the advice. Wait, you’re here for more? Experts indulged us with some insights on making your favorite grilled protein more nutritious.

One of my favorite strategies for maintaining healthy eating habits is to make indulgent meals more nutritious,” Deahl said. “For main dishes, a way to make traditional BBQ options like burgers, hot dogs, or chicken more nutritious is by opting for lean protein sources and incorporating vegetables into the meal. For example, using lean ground turkey or chicken for burgers, adding tomato or lettuce, or opting for chicken sausages instead of traditional hot dogs.”

Best summer party desserts

a dessert board including a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries
Leonardo Luz /

Sweet news: You’ll want to save room for dessert.

Dark chocolate-covered strawberries

Naturally sweet strawberries take an indulgent turn when dipped in dark chocolate.

Fruit is naturally rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, making it a nutritious choice,” Deahl said. “Dark chocolate is rich in antioxidants and can satisfy your sweet tooth with less sugar than milk chocolate. Pairing it with strawberries adds vitamins, minerals, and fiber, making it a healthier dessert choice.”

Homemade fruit popsicles

Rydyger loves the DIY version of this quintessential summertime delight.

“Puree your choice of fruits with a little bit of honey and freeze in popsicle molds for a homemade treat,” Rydyger said. “This option allows you to control the sugar content and maximize the nutritional benefits of whole fruits, offering a hydrating, refreshing dessert that is rich in vitamins and antioxidants.”


a wide shot of skewers on a grill
Evan Wise / Unsplash

While eating healthy at a barbecue isn’t as easy as a summer breeze, you can find nutritious options that taste great. Using whole-grain carbs, like burger buns or pasta for salads, is one way to increase the nutritional content of your foods. Quinoa salads and sweet potato fries make great apps and sides, and dips like salsa and guacamole have healthy fats and veggies. While plant-based proteins are hallmarks of Mediterranean diets, lean cuts of chicken or swapping beef patties for turkey can also reduce fat intake. Fruit-based desserts like chocolate-covered strawberries and homemade popsicles are indulgent and rich in antioxidants. Sometimes, you may want to have your favorite cake or beef burger — that’s OK, too. What’s important is that you enjoy yourself and meet your goals. A doctor and dietitian can provide customized advice.

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