Pamela Malo, MHS, RD, Arivale Coach
As the summer heat hits, it seems like no one wants to turn on the oven. That often means dinners cooked on the barbecue and old favorites with questionable health benefits – hamburgers, hot dogs, and steaks – ruling the meal. After all, have you ever seen a barbecue competition won by vegetarian kebabs? Me neither.
But, cooking on the barbecue doesn’t have to mean forgoing healthy options. Vegetables prepared on or alongside the grill can be delicious, as well as nutritious. In fact, if depriving yourself of that steak or burger feels like too much of a bummer, switch your mindset to what healthy foods you can add, namely half a plate of vegetables per meal.
Not convinced? Here’s a little more on the why and how of adding veggies to your summer grilling plans.
Finish Your Peas Before You Leave the Table
While guilting kids into cleaning their plates because of starving children elsewhere in the world doesn’t create the healthiest relationship with food1, there’s another reason we were always told to finish our veggies.
Aiming for half a plate of non-starchy vegetables like those in the below chart has benefits for weight management, prevention of diabetes and heart disease, and protection against cognitive decline2-6. And, vegetables tend to be the lowest-calorie portion of a plate, so when you fill up on those you can end up eating less overall2.
Vegetables are high in fiber, which can bind cholesterol in the digestive tract, aiding in its elimination so it can’t stick around to clog up your arteries3. Fiber helps with blood sugar balance, as well, by slowing down digestion of your meal4. If you weren’t already convinced about fiber, consider high-fiber diets have been associated with better weight management5.
Finally, epidemiological studies – studies of large groups of people –have shown an association between higher vegetable intake and reduced cognitive decline in older adults6.
Vegetables just may be the closest thing to a magic pill nutrition will ever have.
Enjoy a Veggie-Filled Summer
The idea that vegetables are good for you likely isn’t new; the rub is often a lack of ideas for how to live a veggie-filled lifestyle. But, incorporating vegetables into your summer grilling adventures can be easy.
The most obvious way to get in half a plate of vegetables is with a side salad. Leafy greens like spinach, romaine lettuce, kale, and arugula can be a great choice. And, eating six or more servings of leafy greens weekly as part of an overall brain-healthy dietary pattern has been associated with decreased risk of Alzheimer’s7. Remember: Just because rabbits eat leafy greens, doesn’t mean they can’t be delicious. Try jazzing up your salad by with some Arivale-approved recipes from our Pinterest board.
Now, since you’ve already got the grill fired up, why not throw on a few vegetables, as well!
Most veggies can be placed directly on your grill over medium heat without any seasoning. The trick to determine timing is the thickness and size of the piece. Try to cut all vegetables in large, similarly sized pieces and leave them on for a few minutes a side. For instance, chop a bell pepper into thirds, removing the core. You can leave mushrooms whole and chop onions into thick slabs. Other great vegetables to grill include summer squash, eggplant, broccolini, and asparagus. You can even chop a romaine heart into halves or thirds length-wise and place that on the grill to make for an interesting salad.
A note on corn: While grilled corn is traditionally a staple of American summers, it doesn’t count toward your half a plate of vegetables due to its starch content. However, a half or whole ear can count as the complex carbohydrate portion of your meal. (Another great complex carb to add to your meals is grilled fruit. Grilling tends to bring out the natural sugars, creating a delicious dessert or side. Try adding grilled pineapple to your burgers. You can also grill bananas, stone fruits like nectarines and peaches, and melons. Yum!)
A Few Recipes to Get You Started
Easy Grilled Vegetable Salad:
- Choose 3-4 of the following vegetables, chopped in large pieces: bell pepper, mushroom (leave whole), summer squash, eggplant, broccolini, asparagus, onion.
- Grill for a few minutes on each side, until the veggies are easily pierceable with a fork but still hold their shape.
- Remove from the grill and chop into uniform pieces.
- Drizzle olive oil, salt and pepper over the vegetables. Add your favorite chopped fresh summer herb like basil, cilantro, or parsley. For an added kick add red pepper flakes or chopped jalapeno.
Grilled Veggie Foil Packs:
These are a family favorite to bring on camping trips and roast over the fire!
- Choose 3-4 of the following vegetables, chopped in 1-inch pieces: bell pepper, mushroom (leave whole), summer squash, eggplant, broccolini, asparagus, onion.
- Cut up corn cobs into 2 inch pieces.
- Optional: Add a few diced pieces of chicken sausage or rinsed and drained canned large white beans.
- Place vegetables and optional ingredients in a bowl. Drizzle olive oil and stir. Add a few tablespoons of your favorite seasoning blend, such as Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute.
- Create 2 aluminum foil boxes, divide vegetable mixture evenly between the foil packets, cover with foil lid and crimp closed.
- Place over a grill or campfire and cook for about 5 minutes on each side.
- Scaglioni S, Salvioni M, Galimberti C. Influence of parental attitudes in the development of children eating behaviour. Br J Nutr. 2008;99 Suppl 1:S22-5.
- Annesi JJ. Effects of Treatment-Associated Increases in Fruit and Vegetable Intake on the Consumption of Other Food Groups and Weight Through Self-Regulatory Processes. Perm J. 2018;22
- Threapleton DE, Greenwood DC, Evans CE, et al. Dietary fibre intake and risk of cardiovascular disease: systematic review and meta-analysis. BMJ. 2013;347:f6879.
- Aller R, De luis DA, Izaola O, et al. Effect of soluble fiber intake in lipid and glucose levels in healthy subjects: a randomized clinical trial. Diabetes Res Clin Pract. 2004;65(1):7-11.
- Howarth NC, Saltzman E, Roberts SB. Dietary fiber and weight regulation. Nutr Rev. 2001;59(5):129-39.
- Morris MC, Evans DA, Tangney CC, Bienias JL, Wilson RS. Associations of vegetable and fruit consumption with age-related cognitive change. Neurology. 2006;67(8):1370-6.
- Morris MC, Tangney CC, Wang Y, et al. MIND diet slows cognitive decline with aging. Alzheimers Dement. 2015;11(9):1015-22.