Skip to main content

Once the sun starts shining and the days become longer, it can only mean one thing: it’s time to party! 

Summer is practically synonymous with backyard hangs, picnics in the park, and, of course, lots and lots of grilling. But with all of those indulgent summer eats on the table, you might be wondering whether you can have fun in the sun and stay on track with your health goals. 

Luckily, you don’t need to compromise on your healthy lifestyle to enjoy grilling and partying with your favorite people. Read on for healthy BBQ ideas to add to your menu this summer. 

Healthy eats to serve up at your next BBQ

Grilled fish

Grilled fish and vegetables are arranged attractively on a plate.

Grilled meats are a quintessential staple at most summer hangouts. But if the idea of serving up the same old hot dogs doesn’t appeal to you, try grilling fish instead! 

Fish is generally leaner than red meats, which is ideal if you’re trying to minimize your intake of saturated fats, which can negatively impact your heart health.

Even better, many kinds of fish are actually chock-full of healthy fats instead, so you can still enjoy the succulent indulgence of grilled protein!

To maximize the nutritional benefits of your meal, choose a fish like mackerel, salmon, or tuna, which are loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that support your heart and brain health.  

You can grill your fish whole or cut them into individual filets. Cook them with lemon and herbs for a delicious main dish that’ll leave everyone in your party hungry for more. 

Turkey burgers 

A turkey burger is served alongside condiments and a beer.

Even though beef patties are a favorite during BBQ season, poultry-based alternatives like turkey burgers can be a better choice if you’re looking for ways to eat healthier. 

Like fish, turkey tends to have less saturated fat than red meat, which makes it a smart choice for your heart health and any body composition goals you might have.

In fact, a meta-analysis of several studies found that red meat consumption was associated with an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, while poultry consumption was associated with a lower risk

You can jazz up turkey burgers with exciting toppings, like sriracha mayo, pickled onions, or sliced avocado.

Chicken skewers

A close-up of chicken-and-vegetable skewers being grilled.

When loaded with a mix of lean proteins and vegetables, skewers are a great way to get a balanced meal — all on one stick! 

Skewers are also a great way to increase the amount and the variation of the vegetables you eat, which has a ton of benefits, ranging from reduced risks of numerous cancers to improvements in happiness and well-being

Chicken, bell pepper, tomato, and onion skewers are a lean, heart-healthy classic. For delicious flavor in every bite, marinate your chicken pieces in a mixture of your favorite herbs and spices before throwing them on the grill. 

Keep in mind, skewers are highly customizable to your personal taste, so feel free to experiment with using other lean proteins for them if you aren’t a fan of chicken, such as shrimp or turkey.

Pro tip: to get the most nutritional variety out of your meal, try loading up your skewer with fruits and vegetables of many different colors

Pasta salad 

Close-up of a bowl of pasta salad with feta, greens, and peppers.

Pasta salads are a summertime favorite for a reason! They provide you with carbohydrates, making them more satisfying than salads made with vegetables alone. Plus, many pasta salads can be made ahead of time, to make prepping dinner easy once it’s time to party. 

You can flavor your pasta salad with all of your favorite summer vegetables, like tomatoes, cucumbers, basil, and peppers. Give it zest with lemon juice and a healthy dose of fat from a moderate amount of cheese, such as feta. Olives taste great in pasta salads as well!

To make your pasta salad even more nutrient-packed, consider substituting a whole grain for the pasta, such as quinoa, bulgur, wheat berries, or farro.

Corn “ribs” 

People roast ears of corn on a grill, achieving a nice char on them.

Another great option for lowering your calorie count during BBQ season is to swap your usual grilled meats with plant-based alternatives! For example, if you love chowing down on ribs, try replicating that handheld goodness with corn instead of meat. 

This process involves cutting ears of corn into lengthwise strips and throwing them into the oven or onto the grill, where they’ll start to curl and take the shape of ribs.

Season your “ribs” with your favorite dry rub to really amp up the sweet and salty flavor. You can’t go wrong with a mixture of brown sugar, herbs, garlic powder, cayenne, and smoked paprika. 

Grilled fruit salad

People grill melon slices at a BBQ.

It might sound a little unusual, but grilled fruit is guaranteed to be one of your new favorites come July! When they’re thrown on the grill, the sugars on your favorite fruits start to caramelize, adding a deliciously succulent depth of flavor to an already fantastic treat. 

To make grilled fruit, simply place large slices of your favorite fruits on the grill. (Smaller pieces can be cooked on skewers). Firm fruits like pineapples, watermelon, cantaloupes, mangoes, and peaches are great options but feel free to experiment with any of your other favorites! 

For instance, grilled figs brushed with balsamic vinegar are a popular appetizer.

Homemade salsa 

A cutting board is covered in half-sliced betters, limes, and tomatoes, while several bowls of salsa of different colors sit nearby.

There are few things that say “summertime” quite like a fresh, zingy salsa — and the best part is, salsa is even more delicious when you make it with your own fresh ingredients! 

To make a simple salsa, simply dice tomatoes, onions, cilantro, and the peppers of your choice, then mix them with plenty of lime juice, salt, and pepper. 

If you like your salsa spicy, you can experiment with adding hot peppers to your salsa, like jalapenos and habaneros. Some people enjoy adding sweet elements to their salsa, such as mango and papaya.

And, of course, chunks of avocado can make a pico de gallo salsa even more flavorful and exciting — and also adds a healthy fat into the mix!

Portobello mushrooms 

Two portobello mushroom caps.

If you’re looking for a savory, satisfying vegetable option that holds up well on your barbecue, look no further than the portobello mushroom! Portobello mushrooms are a summer sensation because they’re firm, rich in umami flavor, and take on those signature smoky notes once they’re thrown on the grill. 

Even better, mushrooms are packed with nutrients like Vitamin B. Studies have found that higher mushroom consumption is associated with a lower risk of certain cancers

You can use grilled portobellos as a vegetarian alternative to burger patties, eat them on their own as a delicious grilled side, or throw them into salads!

Air-fried chips and dip 

A bowl of air-fried potato chips sits on a cutting board, next to some sweet potatoes.

Snack foods like the chips you buy at the store are convenient to munch on while waiting for the main course. 

Unfortunately, they’re often loaded with manufactured ingredients, many of which are not good for you in excess. Even a single snack item, such as a serving size of potato chips, has been found to contain an average of 6-15% of a child’s daily recommended calories, fat, sugar, and sodium for the day

As a result, the consumption of these so-called “ultra-processed foods” has been linked to an increased risk of several health conditions, including metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, obesity, heart disease, and Type 2 diabetes. 

If you want more control over the nutritional content of your snacks, making your own homemade versions of family favorites allows you to better control the ingredients that go into them. 

For example, you can make your own chips by baking or air-frying thinly sliced potatoes. Sprinkle them with a moderate amount of salt and/or other spices, such as pepper, garlic powder, cayenne, and paprika.

And here’s an air-frying bonus: you don’t have to make your chips out of potatoes! Try making them with vitamin-rich vegetables instead, such as sweet potatoes or kale.

For even more healthy goodness, swap the mayonnaise and sour cream in your dip recipes for plain Greek yogurt. Greek yogurt has a very similar flavor and texture to sour cream, but it’s packed with protein.

Greek yogurt is also a great source of probiotics, which support your gut health

Infused water 

Sliced oranges decorate a cutting board. One orange slice has been placed on the rim of a water glass.

If you’re hosting a party on a hot day, you can’t forget the cold, refreshing drinks! However, you might want to think twice about offering folks the usual canned drinks and alcohol.

Both alcohol and soft drinks like soda tend to contain “empty calories” — in other words, calories without any significant nutritional benefits. Soft drinks can also be dehydrating when consumed on their own, which can be dangerous when combined with soaring temperatures. 

Instead of going big on soda, try your hand at making your own refreshing beverages by infusing fruits, vegetables, and herbs into a jug of cold water. 

If you want something invigorating and refreshing, add citrus slices from lemons or limes to the water, plus your favorite soft herbs (basil and mint are great options here). 

On the other hand, if you’re in the mood for something sweet, your favorite summer fruits like watermelon or strawberries go great with water, especially when you serve them with mint-infused ice cubes!

Whole grain buns 

A burger with cheese, lettuce, and tomato sits inside a whole-grain bun.

If you’re serving the usual grilled meats and main dishes, you can take the nutritional value of your meal one step further by choosing whole grain buns instead of white flour ones!

Unlike baked goods made from refined white flour (in other words, the usual buns that you find at the store), whole grain buns naturally retain the fiber and nutrients that come with wheat

Their superior nutrition profile also means that they are digested more slowly than refined bread, which tends to be better for your blood sugar levels


Summer cookouts are all about spending time with your loved ones while chowing down on delectable foods. Try adding some of these healthy BBQ ideas to your next party spread. They’ll make you feel great without compromising your body composition goals! 

Close Menu