Summer barbies don’t have to be unhealthy meat fests. HFG dietitian Melissa Meier’s three simple steps gives your next grill a nutritious spin!
Barbecuing doesn’t have to be pile upon pile of fatty, blackened snags, greasy slabs of T-bone steaks or burnt and shrivelled bacon. In fact, we’ll show you how to cook the healthiest cuts so you can enjoy fantastic flavour without harming your health. You can also check out delicious ways to season your meat, and how to create healthy, show-stopping sides the whole family will love. Don your apron, Australia — it’s time to get serious about sizzling!
Pick your cut
Red meat is a great source of energising iron and zinc, but it can also be high in unhealthy saturated fat. It’s important to choose a lean cut like rump or eye fillet — rather than fatty steaks, chops, and processed meats like sausages. Choose meat with the least visible fat and marbling, and trim away the thick white strip of fat along the sides.
Portion size is important. One serve of red meat is only 100g (raw) — that’s roughly the size of the palm of your hand (nothing like the jumbo-sized slabs you often see). Ask your butcher to cut steaks into 100g portions to make it easy to cook for a crowd.
While beef remains an essential barbecue ingredient, try mixing it up with other protein choices. Salmon, prawns and calamari are all super nutritious and will work well on the barbecue.
Dietitian-approved prime picks
Sirloin (porterhouse, or New York steak)
Sirloin is lean yet rich in flavour because it’s taken from the area along the spine, where the muscles don't have to do as much work.
If you’re looking for a healthy choice that’s also budget-friendly, full-flavoured rump is your best bet. Cook it quickly to medium rare for the most tender results.
This premium fillet is extremely lean — with little or no connective tissue or fat — yet it's tender and juicy. That’s why it costs a little bit more than other varieties.
Considering it’s an inexpensive cut, blade is underappreciated by barbecue aficionados. All you need is a tasty marinade to transform the steak into a tender, succulent crowd-pleaser.
Beef mince is ultra-versatile, well priced and has only 5 per cent fat, making it the ideal choice for healthy burger patties, meatballs and koftas. Bring it on this summer!
Snags can stay on the menu! Keep an eye out for healthier choices from Peppercorn Food Company and Perfectly Balanced.
Meat-free barbecue ideas
Chickpea or lentil patties
Seafood such as fish or prawns
The way you prepare and cook food can make a big difference when creating a healthy barbie. Surprisingly, barbecuing can be one of the healthiest cooking methods, because high heat and fast cooking time maximise flavour while retaining nutrients.
However, avoid cooking meat over an open flame, and try not to overcook it. Blackened, charred meat can produce potentially harmful chemicals that have been linked to increased risk of cancer. The smoke flare-ups from dripping fat can also be unsafe.
Instead of charring your snags over a very hot flame, turn the heat down a little and use the hotplate. Cooking food in foil parcels or using a marinade is another effective way to reduce exposure to harmful compounds.
Create salt-free flavour
There are so many delicious ways to flavour food without the added sugar and salt of tomato sauce.
Fresh or dried herbs and spices are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants — and full of flavour!
Aromatics, such as fresh garlic, ginger and chilli, bring any barbecue scorecard from zero to hero.
Lemon juice adds zesty flavour and also tenderises meat when used in a marinade.
Extra-virgin olive oil provides mild flavour plus a dose of heart-healthy fats.
Try these delicious flavour combos at your next barbecue!
Add healthy sides
There’s nothing quite like a sausage sanger, but unfortunately a bit of meat in a slice of white bread isn’t exactly a balanced meal. While the barbie usually takes care of the protein side of things, you need to add a couple of sides to create a healthy meal. Here are a few to get you started:
1 Smart carbs
Carbohydrates provide the fuel to power you through your day — or at least a friendly game of backyard cricket. Look for those carbohydrates that have a low-Glycaemic Index — they'll provide slow-burning energy and leave you feeling more satisfied. To avoid falling into a carb-induced coma, fill just one-quarter of your plate with carbs. Some barbecue-friendly smart carbs are:
Homemade sweet potato wedges
Grilled corn on the cob
Chickpea or lentil patties
Wholegrain bread rolls
Quinoa or brown rice salads
2 Colourful veg
A barbecue is no excuse to skimp on veg. They’re great for their gut-friendly fibre, disease-fighting antioxidants and a wide variety of vitamins and minerals. Vegies are also low in energy, so you can fill up on them without feeling sluggish afterwards. Aim to fill half your plate with a variety of different-coloured veg.
Vegies are a treat when barbecued — and they add a beautiful pop of colour too! Try these easy ideas:
Cut cos lettuce into quarters, grill and toss through a salad
Thread zucchini and capsicum onto skewers with the meat of your choice
Brush flat mushrooms with olive oil and herbs, and grill until they're golden
Slice onions and grill until sweet and caramelised
Grill small vine-ripened tomatoes and drizzle with balsamic vinegar
What to limit
Processed meat, like sausages and bacon
Fatty cuts of beef
Heavily charred foods
Creamy salad dressings
Lashings of sugary sauces
A serve of raw red meat is 100g — that's about the size of your palm
Melissa is an Accredited Practising Dietitian with a love of healthy, delicious food. She is passionate about helping others to lead healthier lives and teaching people to use nutrition to better their health.