When temperatures rise, the BBQ calls!

Chicken, steaks, fresh sausages, ribs with a side of chips, or even delicious sardines. Cue the barbecue sauce, be it with hot chillies or zesty lemon, and let’s not forget the bread, from buns to pittas. These are some ingredients that are staples of summer barbecues.

However, some of these options may be rich in salt and fats, which is not ideal for a healthy diet. Good news is we have some helpful tips for healthy barbecues to enjoy all summer long.

Healthier alternatives to the traditional barbecue

If for you, summer is synonymous with barbecue, but you want to maintain a balanced diet, worry not: by making small changes to your shopping list, it’s easy to make your barbecue habits healthier, colourful, and tastier – and catering to different needs and tastes. Get inspired.

Grilled chicken breast, sliced, over a wooden board.
  • White and lean meats

One principle of the Mediterranean diet is to consume meat in moderation. Instead, prefer white and lean meats. Remember that red meats – especially processed meats like sausages – have higher saturated fat content.

For your healthy barbecue, choose white meats such as chicken or turkey, ideally without skin. If you can’t give up beef, go for lean cuts like sirloin, rump, chuck, topside and silverside. When possible, choose antibiotic-free meat, such as Pingo Doce’s Angus beef, 100% nationally produced, and the only one in Portugal that is doubly certified in animal welfare and antibiotic-free production.

Sea bream in the grill.
  • Fish barbecue? Yes, Portuguese-style!

The extensive Portuguese coast is the reason fish barbecues are an integral part of Portuguese culture. If you’ve ever visited Portugal, you know fresh fish is always in season, and most coastal restaurants have a catch-of-the-day option – straight from the sea to your plate. Not every fish can be barbecued, but sardines (the queen of Popular Saints festivities), flounder and sea bream certainly can.

There are other fish barbecue-friendly fish that go well with grilling and whose nutritional profiles contribute to your health. Tuna, rich in Vitamins A and B12 and a source of Zinc, and salmon, rich in Vitamins E and B12, but also a source of Omega-3 fatty acids and Phosphorus. Vitamin B12, present in both, contributes to the normal functioning of the immune system. Other examples are sea bass and swordfish, sources of Vitamins B3 and B6 and equally rich in Vitamin B12. Squids and cuttlefish (yes, try it!) will also bring variety and flavour to your barbecue menu, and are low in saturated fat. Remember to go easy on the salt, and use herbs, lemon, and a drizzle of olive oil instead. As you can see, a healthy barbecue doesn’t have to be boring.

The most important thing to keep in mind when buying fish is to make sustainable choices – see how. Try to buy only what you will consume, understand which nutritional profiles suit you best and try to choose fish from stocks managed in a more sustainable way, i.e., respecting the natural regeneration cycle of the species. In addition, you can diversify the species of fish you buy, as a way of reducing pressure on the ones that are most consumed (and as a way of varying the menu!).

Grilled tofu with beetroot and parsley in a ceramic bowl.
  • Flavourful tofu

A balanced and diversified diet is essential for a healthy life and for a healthy planet. As an alternative to animal protein, consider using tofu. Tofu is a plant-based protein made from soya beans that has a very mild, slightly nutty taste. These features make tofu a perfect candidate for delicious marinades and plenty of seasoning. Plain tofu will absorb any flavours you season it with.

To include tofu in your healthy barbecue, start off with a marinade, and leave your tofu block or slices to absorb it for at least a couple of hours. Use paprika, thyme, oregano, bay leaf, or peri-peri sauce, as well as lemon juice or soy sauce, as seasoning.

Tomato, cucumber and onion salad in a dish.
  • Colour-filled salads

To balance a heavy barbecue, try a fresh, crispy salad as a side dish instead of, or in addition to, chips. Salads with plenty of textures, with both cooked and uncooked ingredients, are a wonderful way to add a “crispy” feel to the meal and with fewer calories.

However, try to keep your salad healthy: use lemon or lime juice, zest, and herbs for seasoning. Include seasonal fruits and vegetables, like nectarines or figs.

Tip: if you’re making potato salad, try a healthy swap and replace mayo for low-fat Greek yoghurt.

Do you know what bela-luz thyme is? It’s a delicious substitute for salt that won’t make you miss it at all!

Ceramic bowl with vegetable chips.
  • Veggie chips & crisps

Crisps and chips, especially the processed ones, are usually a must-have in barbecues. However, being mostly high salt and fat snacks and often fried in saturated vegetable oils, they should be eaten in moderation. So how can you still have crisps on the menu and host a healthy barbecue?

Although you can make the same chips at home, controlling the salt and fat content, why not try vegetable chips? Due to the low carbohydrate content and controlling the amount of fat used, they can be healthier. In addition, they can be reused from other meals, thus avoiding food waste. To make crunchy snacks, you can prepare vegetable chips such as beetroot, carrot or aubergine.

To make veggie chips, cut your root veggies or aubergines in thin slices – a mandolin works best! – drizzle some olive oil, and add a pinch of salt and pepper. Place them in an oven tray lined with baking paper without overlapping chips, and bake for 20 to 30 minutes at 220 °C, or until dried and crispy.

Grilled vegetables in a wooden bowl: tomato, courgette, pepper and onion.
  • More vegetables on the grill

Is a barbecue really a barbecue without some corn on the cob? Nonetheless, corn isn’t the only vegetable that complements a barbecue. Next time you organise a healthy barbecue for your friends and neighbours, try some peppers (of any colour), broccoli, pumpkin, aubergine, courgette, Portobello mushrooms, green tomatoes, and asparagus.

If you’re feeling creative, try some cabbage “steaks”. Leave the stem in, cut the cabbage head (white, savoy, napa, Pak Choi, etc.) from top to bottom into 2 cm slices, and roast it slightly in the barbecue. Season your veg and your “steaks” with your favourite sauces, and there you have it!

Tip: garlic and lemon vinaigrettes will never disappoint.

Vegetable skewers in a grill.
  • Colourful skewers

Skewers or kebabs are a barbecue staple, usually made of chicken or pork with peppers or onions. Take your skewer game up a notch and include shrimps, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms, courgette, cubed tofu, pineapple, watermelon, sliced corn on the cob, or any of the veggies mentioned above.

Be sure to chop your vegetables into pieces, cubes, or slices of approximately the same size, to ensure they cook at the same time.

Colourful skewers are a terrific way to introduce children to healthy barbecues.

Grilled apples, pears, watermelon and peaches, in a metallic tray.
  • Barbecued… dessert?

Have you ever tried charcoal-grilled fruit? If you haven’t, you are about to become a fan.

The best fruits to cook (slightly) are pineapple slices, watermelon slices (with the rind on, for structure), and peach, nectarine, plum and pear halves.

Wash and cut up your fruit, remove the pits and lay them over the grill, flesh facing down. Let it cook until the grill marks appear. Once “marked”, serve immediately. The best about barbecued fruit is you don’t even need to season it, as the natural sweetness of fruit, combined with the smoky flavour and yummy texture of the grill, will do the trick.

Tip: you can make a simple yet delicious sauce with yoghurt and mint, or sprinkle the fruits with some cinnamon, for extra flavour.

Glasses and jar with orange infused water, on a wooden table.
  • Selection of sugar-free summer drinks

To complement your healthy barbecue, swap alcoholic beverages and sugary juices and fizzy drinks for healthier alternatives. Iced tea and herbal infusions are your best friends, as well as infused water and natural fruit juices.

Some ideas are green tea with melon balls and mint, cucumber-lemon-infused water, strawberry-thyme infused water, chamomile infusion with pineapple, lemon balm “tea” with nectarines and rosemary… do we need to say more? Be creative and experiment with herbs and fruits.

And with that, we wish you happy cookouts and a healthier barbecue season!