This or that? How to make healthy choices at a summer barbecue

Put down the hotdog! (Thinkstock)
Put down the hotdog! (Thinkstock)

Not sure what your healthiest options are when faced with an impressive spread at a summer barbeque?

We asked nutrition and wellness expert Rose Reisman to chime in on our best (and worst) options at backyard shindigs this summer.

Which is best: Hotdog, burger or veggie burger?

Burger-lovers, rejoice.

“A homemade hamburger made with lean beef and a few ingredients is a nutritious meal occasionally,” Reisman tells Yahoo Canada. “Four ounces of lean beef has only 220 calories, 8 grams of fat and 4 grams of saturated fat, compared to a higher fat beef that has over 300 calories, 10 grams of fat and 8 grams of saturated fat. A considerable difference. If buying pre-made frozen burgers, be sure to read the ingredient list and nutritional numbers. Watch primarily for high fat and sodium content.”

Even better than a beef burger is a homemade veggie one, using either tofu or bean, she says. (Processed veggie burgers can contain excess salt and preservatives.)

Stay clear of hotdogs, Reisman tells us, as even the all-beef ones are processed and packed with saturated salt, sodium and nitrates. Turkey and soy options are still processed and high in sodium, so they’re not a healthier option, either.

Top your burger like a pro.

Move over, mayo.

Keep your toppings healthy with these suggestions from Reisman:

“I like to have a theme,” she says. “For example, a Mediterranean burger can have diced feta, olives and mint. An Italian burger can have sliced tomatoes, mozzarella or bocconcini cheese and basil. And the all-Canadian burger is great with aged cheddar and even a sunny side up egg.”

“For a nutrient-boost, load up a homemade beef or veggie burger with sliced vegetables, grilled fruit, caramelized onions, Dijon mustard and small amounts of cheese.”

Toppings to avoid: cured meats with excess sodium, like bacon and prosciutto. Keep cheese at a minimum and avoid mayonnaise or aiolis, Reisman advises.

Which is best: potato salad, pasta salad, coleslaw or Caesar salad?

Reisman warns that mayonnaise-heavy salads are the ones to watch out for. If you’re making your own, swap out the full-fat mayo for a light mayonnaise, light sour cream mixed with Dijon mustard, lemon juice and herbs.

“Potato salad and coleslaw, if using a lighter dressing will have more nutrients than a pasta salad, since they both contain vegetables,” she says. “But if you use a whole grain pasta you’re boosting the fibre and vitamins and minerals. Caesar salad is a ‘no no’ in my books. The dressing is loaded with fat, calories and little nutrients. Add fried crispy croutons and you have a landmine of calories and fat!”

Which is best: guacamole, hummus, salsa or dip?

When it comes to these condiments, Reisman’s biggest recommendation is to make your own.

“Hummus is a great nutritious dip. To your favourite chickpea recipe, add a roasted red or yellow bell pepper, chopped olives, feta cheese, pesto and diced canned artichokes for a new twist on a hummus dip,” she tells Yahoo Canada. “Avoid the store-bought processed dips that are loaded with high fat mayonnaise or sour cream. Salsa is a great dip with virtually little calories, but watch the sodium.”

“Homemade guacamole is a heart-healthy dip, but some commercial brands contain only small amounts of avocado combined with oils and fat, including hydrogenated soybean and coconut oil, corn syrup and modified potato starch,” she warns. “Read the labels.”

Find Reisman’s recipe for a healthy guacamole here.

Which is best: beer, wine, sangria or other summer cocktails?

Reisman offers two pieces of advice when navigating drink options this summer: keep alcoholic beverages to a minimum — no more than one drink a day for women or two a day for men — and avoid mixed drinks with fruit juices, syrups or soda.

“Red wine specifically raises our good cholesterol and helps decrease blood clots, which can cause heart attacks and strokes,” she says. “Wine is healthier than beer in terms of heart health, but beer contains nearly all the B vitamins and is more affordable.”

What about dessert?

Keep it light and fresh.

“A fruit crisp served with vanilla frozen yogurt is a perfect way to end a summer meal,” Reisman tells us.

Find Reisman’s recipe for a pear crisp here.

Reisman shares a couple tasty waistline-friendly recipes for us to make for our backyard bashes this summer:

Recipe: California grilled chicken pesto burger

Rose Reisman's chicken pesto burger
Rose Reisman's chicken pesto burger

Makes 4 servings

Preparation Time: 15 minutes

Cooking Time: 16 minutes

  • 1 lb ground white and dark ground turkey or chicken

  • 1 egg

  • 1⁄3 cup seasoned dry breadcrumbs

  • 2 Tbsp pesto sauce

  • 2 tsp crushed garlic

  • 3 Tbsp minced green onions

  • pinch of salt and pepper

  • 4 thin slices Monterey Jack or aged cheddar cheese (about 1 oz)

  • ¼ cup diced avocado

  • 4 slices ripe tomatoes

  • 8 basil leaves (optional)

1. Combine the turkey, egg, breadcrumbs, pesto, garlic, green onions, and salt and pepper. Form into 4 burgers. Either grill or bake at 425°F (220°C) until no longer pink, about 8 minutes per side. Add the cheese and cook just until melted.

2. Garnish with avocado, tomatoes and basil leaves.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories 304

Carbohydrates 3.5 g

Fibre 0.6 g

Protein 23.7 g

Total fat 20.8 g

Saturated fat 7.6 g

Cholesterol 100 mg

Sodium 361 mg

Recipe: Salmon with mango, black bean and corn salsa

Rose Reisman's grilled salmon with black bean salsa
Rose Reisman's grilled salmon with black bean salsa

“In the summer a fresh corn and fruit salsa is perfect over fish. This salsa would also suit any variety of white fish, such as tilapia, sole or basa,” Reisman recommends.

Makes 4 servings

Preparation Time: About 10 minutes

Cooking Time: About 20 minutes


  • ½ cup corn

  • ½ cup diced mango

  • ½ cup canned black beans, drained and rinsed

  • ¼ cup diced red bell peppers

  • ¼ cup diced sweet onions

  • ¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro or parsley

  • 1 Tbsp fresh lime or lemon juice

  • 1 tsp liquid honey

  • 1 tsp minced garlic

  • ½ tsp hot pepper sauce


  • 1½ skin-on salmon fillets (about 6 oz each)

1. To make the salsa: In a nonstick skillet sprayed with cooking spray, cook the corn on medium-high heat for 8 minutes or just until the corn is dry and beginning to brown. Place it in a serving dish. Stir in the remaining salsa ingredients.

2. Either on a barbecue or in a nonstick grill pan sprayed with cooking spray, grill the salmon on medium-high heat for 5 minutes per side or just until medium done (10 minutes per inch/2.5 cm of fish thickness). Serve the salsa overtop of the fish.

Nutritional Information (per serving):

Calories 309

Carbohydrates 15.6 g

Fibre 11.3 g

Protein 36.2 g

Total fat 11.3 g

Saturated fat 1.8 g

Cholesterol 93 mg

Sodium 267 mg

What’s your favourite healthy option at a BBQ?