We're at the halfway point of summer, and you're just getting your grilling groove on. Now it's time to spice it up a little bit—just when your friends are starting to think they know what to expect at your barbecue.
Health and taste are not mutually exclusive, and I never settle for just one or the other: When I cook, I need both. And for a creative summer cookout, you really can have it all—food that's delicious but still waistline-friendly.
Create a signature drink
You don't have to be an experienced bartender to whip up a classy cocktail; just a few added touches will really refresh and impress your guests. It can be something as easy as crushing raspberries in your favorite lemonade, serving it over ice, and garnishing with mint. In alcoholic beverages, cut down on liquor by focusing on fresh ingredients like berries and pomegranates instead (see Low-Cal Cocktail recipes from Health magazine).
Dress up your burger
I'm not saying that you shouldn't serve the classic burger, but do make sure the one you make is perfect. When forming patties, make sure the burger is relatively flat with even ends. This ensures even cooking throughout, prevents dry patches, and keeps your burger from shrinking up into a round, soft ball.
Next, forgo the neon-orange cheese slices and replace them with a more interesting, lower-fat alternative—shaved Parmesan, reduced-fat Swiss, or just a sprinkling of feta, for example. And for a higher fiber option, replace your white-flour bun with a toasted whole-grain English muffin.
For a red meat–free alternative, throw some herbed turkey burgers on the grill too. My favorite recipe combines turkey meat (I use 7% fat) with chopped red and yellow peppers, cumin, chili powder, Tabasco and Worcestershire sauces, and salt and pepper. Offer up assorted mustards in miniature serving dishes for interesting flavor.
Ditch the dogs
In my opinion, hot dogs are nothing special—and as for their healthier alternatives, I haven't met a veggie or turkey dog that I love either. Instead, I buy hearty chicken sausage blended with fruit, vegetables, and spices; brands such as Applegate Farms are available at most large supermarkets and at larger health-food stores. Split them down the middle, grill them with sauteed onions, and serve on a whole-wheat hot dog bun.
Serve seasonal side dishes
When guests are coming and going, its important to provide side dishes that won't wilt in the sun. I like to layer raw vegetables like carrots; celery; and red, green, and yellow peppers in rows like the color of the rainbow. For a refreshing treat, I layer pieces of fruit on skewers and display them on a bed of blueberries.
For a fresh, delicious salad, go with in-season ingredients. To make one of my favorite quick-and-easy dishes, chop one-inch pieces of pear tomatoes and hearts of palm, and toss with shredded carrots, raw corn kernels, sugar snap peas, and shredded red cabbage. Season with salt and pepper, sprinkle with shredded basil, and top with a mixture of low-fat ranch and low-fat vinaigrette.
Make decadent desserts
After the burgers and sausages are served, I like to bring out frozen lemon cups: Cut lemons in half, cut off the ends, scoop out the pulp, and fill with lemon sorbet or sherbet. Wrap them in plastic, place in egg cartons, and refreeze until serving time. Enjoy—and have fun entertaining!