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Good for you BBQ: Healthy grilling makeover

TODAY nutritionist and diet editor Joy Bauer explains how to enjoy a leaner, healthier cookout.
/ Source: TODAY contributor

If you plan on piling your plate with pasta salad, a cheeseburger and blueberry pie during your July 4th celebration, you may want to put down the fork. An average cookout plate can set you back more than 2000 calories — not very helpful during bikini season. TODAY nutritionist and diet editor Joy Bauer has your solution for building a healthier barbecue plate:

After speaking with lots of people about their barbecue fare, the following is reflective of a typical plate of food:

Traditional BBQ feast

  • Cheeseburger on white bun
  • 1 beef/pork sausage
  • Large scoop macaroni salad
  • Handful of barbecue chips
  • Glass of lemonade
  • Blueberry pie a la mode

This adds up to 2260 calories, 126 grams of fat, 48 grams sat. fat and 109 grams sugar. Yikes!

Although it’s fine to splurge on occasion, go out of your way to try some of these healthy alternatives at your next summer feast. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Really.

LOSE high-fat hamburgers
Instead choose:

  • Bison burgers
  • Garden burgers
  • Turkey burgers (make homemade with lean ground turkey, or buy Jenni-O and ShadyBrook Farm ready-made patties)

LOSE hot dogs, beef and pork sausage
Instead choose:

  • Lean poultry sausage (try Casual Gourmet, Hans, Shady Brook Farms and Applegate Farm)
  • Soy sausages (try Boca)

LOSE fatty steaks, ribs, and chicken wings
Instead choose:

  • Skinless chicken breasts
  • Chicken/fish-vegetable kabobs
  • Fish (wild salmon, halibut, shrimp)

LOSE calorie-laden side dishes (full-fat macaroni salad, potato salad, coleslaw, chips)Instead choose:

  • Grilled vegetables (anything goes: zucchini, red pepper, portabella mushrooms)
  • Sweet potatoes and white potatoes
  • Corn on the cob

And if you must have the chips, go for healthier varieties:

  • Baked BBQ Lays
  • Terra vegetable chips
  • Stacy’s pita chips
  • FlatEarth Fruit/Veggie crisps

With all of these swaps, check out the savings on calories, fat and sugar…..

Healthier BBQ feast

  • Turkey burger with reduced-fat cheese on whole-wheat bun
  • 1 turkey sausage
  • Grilled veggies (zucchini, portabella mushrooms, red peppers)
  • Baked sweet potato
  • Bottled water
  • Wedge of watermelon
  • Italian ice pop

Totaling 800 calories, 28 grams of fat, 5 grams sat. fat, 38 grams sugar. We trimmed 1460 calories, 98 grams fat and 71 grams sugar… Bon appetit!

Healthier grilling tipsThe grill's high temperature can trigger substances in the muscle proteins of meat, chicken and fish to produce cancer-linked chemicals known as HCAs (Hetero-Cyclic-Amines) — especially if the meat is charred or well done.

To lower the amount in your BBQ food, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep gas jets low or wait until the charcoal turns into glowing embers before you start cooking.
  • Trim all fat and marinate your meat.
  • Flip meat often.
  • Enjoy kabobs. Small pieces of chicken, fish and lean beef cook faster and spend less time on the grill (and therefore produce fewer HCAs than large breasts and steaks).
  • Scrape off and discard visible charred pieces.
  • Shorten grilling time by slightly precooking meat in the oven or microwave.

Joy Bauer is the author of "Joy Bauer’s Food Cures," a No. 1 New York Times best-selling book. For more information on healthy eating, visit TODAY nutrition expert Joy Bauer at