Can do Kebab and other grilled goodies

Christine Hennebury
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Healthy summer meals a cinch on the barbecue

On a Sunday evening a few years ago, Tony Bishop, a professional cook, and his wife were preparing their supper when some unexpected guests dropped in. Thanks to his barbecue, he was able to make a quick and healthy meal, cutting up a pork chop and a steak, and a few ingredients from the fridge to make kebabs for everyone.

"I grabbed whatever veggies I had in the fridge, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a bottle of Paul Newman's Italian dressing (my favourite), put together about 15 kebabs. I fired up the grill, marinated

On a Sunday evening a few years ago, Tony Bishop, a professional cook, and his wife were preparing their supper when some unexpected guests dropped in. Thanks to his barbecue, he was able to make a quick and healthy meal, cutting up a pork chop and a steak, and a few ingredients from the fridge to make kebabs for everyone.

"I grabbed whatever veggies I had in the fridge, peppers, onions, mushrooms, and a bottle of Paul Newman's Italian dressing (my favourite), put together about 15 kebabs. I fired up the grill, marinated

the kebabs for about 10 minutes, grilled them for 10-15 minutes, put together a huge green salad ... (Then we) sat back and had a great meal. Good times had by all!"

A barbecue is the essence of summer cooking, whether for an ordinary family meal or for a gathering of friends. It can be surprisingly healthy, and choosing small portions of healthier food makes it even better for you, your family and your guests.

"Barbecuing is a healthy cooking method, allowing fat to drip away from food. It definitely is a healthier way of cooking than frying." says Jayme Saint, registered dietitian with Sobeys supermarket. She suggests that people get adventurous and try barbecuing a variety of foods.

For Bishop, barbecuing is definitely an adventure. "Well, the sky's the limit; I will try to grill anything: meat, poultry, pork, seafood, veggies, fruit." But he is careful with what he adds to his foods, "When grilling meats I try to cut back on the amount of sauce. Commercial sauces are high in sodium so I try to steer clear using just enough to complement the type of meat I'm preparing."

Sodium-heavy sauces and added fat are two of the biggest challenges to a healthy meal when barbecuing. And Saint also advises against high-fat meats, and large portion sizes, noting "Not too many people barbecue the proper portion ... of meats." That's about 2.5 oz. - the size of a deck of cards.

To counteract the high-sodium commercial sauces, she advises using lower-sodium and lower-fat marinades such as juice or a homemade marinade and cooking with herbs and spices (or Mrs. Dash) instead of salt.

Bishop suggests homemade sauces make for healthier barbecue. "That way, you control what goes in it. It may take you a few tries to get it right but it's well worth it in the end."

Aside from making the usual choices healthier, Saint and Bishop both recommend branching out and trying new, healthier foods even if it may seem odd at first. "People tend to shy away from grilling seafood and fruits and vegetables," Bishop says. "Why not wrap a nice piece of salmon in foil with some lemon and orange slices or try some fresh pineapple and shrimp skewers? A lot of the barbecue kits come with skewers now, so why not use them?"

Saint also advises looking in the produce section for barbecue foods. "Vegetables are delicious on the barbecue. It's something different instead of the most common ways of preparing them."

While it may be fairly easy to convince adults to try a variety of barbecued foods, it can be difficult to steer kids away from the old standards: hamburgers and hotdogs. When they insist on their old favourites, take Saint's suggestion and choose healthier versions.

"Whole-wheat buns and lower-fat hot dogs - they're still going to have a lot of sodium so you should watch how many of them you eat - and hamburgers would be more healthful."

Kids might also be tempted to try new barbecued foods if they are involved in selecting and preparing them.

Bishop suggests, "Let kids be creative, make skewers and kebabs with them, try grilling veggies, and fruit. I find if you let them be a part of the preparation process, they will try almost anything!"

Bishop also has some helpful advice for keeping barbecued food tasty. "When barbecuing, an important thing to keep in mind is to try not to handle the food on the grill too much. If it's a nice thick striploin or a hotdog, you don't need to turn it 20 times during cooking, just let your grill do its job. And also, don't forget to use the proper utensils when grilling. No need for a fork, it only dries out your meats."

Following Bishop's advice will also reduce the most common health risk concern while barbecuing. As Saint notes, piercing barbecued meat with a fork allows fat and juices to fall onto the coals and causes flame-ups that may form harmful chemicals. To keep these chemicals at a minimum she recommends that people "choose leaner cuts of meat and poultry and cut away the visible fat, avoid charring the meat and avoid eating any that has been burned and black." She also reminds backyard chefs not to mix raw and cooked food items in order to avoid cross-contamination.

By barbecuing vegetables, seafood or lean cuts of meat, and handling barbecued food properly, it is easy to produce a healthy meal for family and friends - even on the spur of the moment.

Organizations: Sobeys

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