It’s time to fire up your grill and get ready to make everyone’s favorite cookout food: burgers. Although burgers have a bad reputation for being unhealthy and high in calories, it doesn’t have to be that way. Use these tips to help build better-for-you burgers all summer long!
Although beef is traditionally used for the burger patty, you can also use chicken, turkey, bison, venison, vegetables, legumes or mushrooms. But this doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be chomping on fewer calories: The portion of both the patty and the toppings matter (we’ll hit toppings in a bit). Aim for a 4-ounce patty, which tends to shrink to 3 ounces after cooking. If you’re using ground meat or poultry, bulk it up with fresh herbs like mint or parsley, or chopped fresh vegetables like peppers, mushrooms or olives.
If you choose beef, choose 90 percent lean or higher. Bison and venison are also leaner red meat choices. Poultry such as ground turkey or chicken can be higher in saturated fat and calories if dark meat and skin are used in the mix. If you choose to use ground chicken or turkey, look for breast only.
Add bulk to your burger by piling on vegetables like tomatoes, lettuce, chile peppers and onions. Vegetables are very low in calories and contain fiber to help keep you satisfied. Choose one higher-calorie ingredient and add in small amounts. For example, one slice (about 1 ounce) of cheese or one slice (1/5) an avocado.
Condiments like mustard, Sriracha, ketchup and steak sauce are relatively lower in calories. That doesn’t, however, give you free rein to use them. Many condiments add sodium (like mustard and hot sauce), while others add sugar (like ketchup and steak sauce). Use about 1 tablespoon of these condiments to add flavor without going overboard on sodium and sugar.
Higher-calorie condiments like mayo or aioli (a mayo and spice blend) are pretty high in calories and should be used in very small amounts (around 1 to 2 teaspoons).
The Dietary Guidelines recommend making half your grains whole. To do so, choose whole-wheat buns or pita. You can forgo the bread altogether and use lettuce leaves instead. Or get creative by slicing your burger and topping it over your green salad.
Burger Recipes to Try
Juicy Grilled Cheeseburgers (pictured at top)
Mini Venison Burgers
Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian and consultant who specializes in food safety and culinary nutrition. She is the author of The Greek Yogurt Kitchen: More Than 130 Delicious, Healthy Recipes for Every Meal of the Day.