Grilling Sides

We've entered peak grilling season. After our typically brutal Montana winters, most of us long for these warmer and longer days. One of the best aspects is experiencing cooking outside on a grill. Unfortunately, grilled food doesn't have the best reputation of being a healthy way to cook. Some grilled foods, especially proteins, can add significant amounts of salt and fat to your meal. Over time, this can lead to high blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Don't be discouraged; there are countless ways to make your meals not only healthier but an entirely new flavorful, and colorful experience.

First, let's talk protein – generally, the focus of the grilling experience. According to the American Heart Association, the best choice is to focus on healthy, lean proteins. Fish, chicken breast, and lean ground poultry are good go-to options. Keep those portions small. A healthy portion of any type of meat is about 3 ounces, or the size of a deck of cards, and definitely no more than 6 ounces.

Grilling can be more than meat, too! Consider looking beyond the protein to other options to complete your plate. There is a wide array of fruits and veggies that can be grilled in new and innovative ways to give them a delicious flavor that might win over even the most committed carnivore. Grilling intensifies the flavor of fruits and vegetables, just as it does for meat. Fruits and vegetables add color, texture, flavor, and nutrition without adding many extra calories. The smokiness and caramelized natural sugars enhance sweetness.

NDSU Extension Service offers these grilling tips:

• Rinse your produce and prepare them for grilling by removing the stems, seeds, and cores.

• When preparing whole fruits or vegetables, cut them into slices unless otherwise specified.

• When using skewers, choose vegetables and fruits of like thickness and water content. Cut them the same size to ensure even cooking.

ª Brush with a healthy oil to prevent sticking and keep them off the direct flame by using a grill basket or other similar tool.

• Use separate plates and utensils for raw meats and fruits or vegetables to prevent cross-contamination.

• Take your time and be patient. You may think you are burning something and remove it before it is done. Follow recipes, and remember, grilling can be trial and error.

Some favorite grilling sides include asparagus, avocado, bell peppers, corn, eggplant, mushrooms, onions, potatoes, squash, and zucchini. Kebabs that alternate meat with pieces of onion, pepper, or other produce is also a great way to increase vegetable and fruit intake. Or skip the meat completely, with a grilled eggplant cutlet with tomato or a portabella mushroom "steak" sandwich.

End the meal with some grilled fruits for dessert. The natural sugars caramelize in the high heat, giving them extra sweetness and flavor. Try sliced apple, pear, pineapple, halved bananas, figs, nectarines, peaches, or plums.

Now get outdoors, fire up that grill, and explore the full range of healthy grilled meals – from healthy protein options to satisfying sides and delicious desserts, you'll never have to cook inside again!

For more information on grilling or recipes, check out the Richland County Nutrition Coalition Facebook page at, and the Pinterest page at


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