When you hear the word barbecue, you imagine hot dogs, macaroni and cheese, potato salad, chips, ice cream and soda. But barbecues can be yummy — and healthy.
You can change a typical barbecue menu to offer more nutritious options. Instead of chips, serve fresh grapes. Substitute grilled sweet potatoes for potato salad. Try a delicious cheese dip served with fresh apple slices rather than a sweet dessert.
Grilling can be the perfect time to try items that you may not consider traditional barbecue foods, such as grilled pineapples and peaches. Grilled vegetables are also very easy to make and add color and nutrition to your menu. Choose your favorite seasonal veggies, clean, toss with a little olive oil and grill until tender.
Rules for Grilling
Grill safety is essential for a fun, safe barbecue experience.
Never leave your younger children unattended near a grill, even one that is cooling down. Teach your kids to maintain a three-foot safety zone around a grill while adults are cooking. Even older kids need this reminder as they are racing around the yard and may lose perspective of the grill’s location. Once you’ve finished grilling, be sure the coals are cold before you dispose of them. This is especially important when you’re pouring them onto the ground, as hot coals could start a fire.
The Department of Agriculture has important guidelines for keeping your grilled foods safe. Do not marinate foods at room temperature or outside. Always keep marinating foods in the refrigerator. Do not use the same plate that held the raw marinating meat to hold the cooked meat because bacteria from the raw meat could spread to the cooked food. Always have a clean plate ready for cooked food. Wash your hands and any utensils or dishes with warm water and antibacterial soap if you think they may have come in contact with meat or meat juices, to prevent spreading bacteria and germs.
Take general precautions to make your barbecue a success. The Food and Drug Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggest basic precautions when preparing foods.
First: Clean. Wash your hands before and after preparing food. Children can wash their hands with you while singing their ABCs to wash for the recommended minimum 10 to 20 seconds. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables under cold running water, even if you plan to peel the outer skin.
Next: Separate. Bacteria and viruses are easily transferred from our bodies to our food. You may be tempted to taste the salad you are preparing, and then put the fork back into the salad without washing the fork. This is a bad idea because bacteria and viruses can be transferred from your mouth to the food.
Germs can also be transferred from one food to another. If you are cutting raw meat to grill, wash your hands, the knife and the cutting board before peeling fruits such as apples or slicing watermelon. These are all healthy food options — just be sure to wash your knife with hot, soapy water before reusing it to prepare fruit. Keep raw and cooked foods separate from one another.
The third step is: Cook. Eggs and meats should be cooked thoroughly. Use a meat thermometer to ensure that your food is fully cooked per the label or recipe instructions. Be sure to cook chicken, beef and pork thoroughly to avoid salmonella. Hamburgers should not have any pinkness when they are done. A cooked egg base rather than raw eggs in your crowd-pleasing homemade ice cream is safer to guard against possible salmonella infections.
Finally: Chill. Bacteria can rapidly multiply in food that is kept at room temperature. After your barbecue is over, refrigerate leftover foods immediately. Do not leave food out at room temperature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that foodborne illnesses increase in the summertime due to warmer temperatures. Food can actually become contaminated in less than one hour if not refrigerated properly. Listeria can be found in chicken, beef and also processed meat such as hot dogs. Keep hot dogs and other processed foods stored at cool enough temperatures for the appropriate length of time.
Storing foods at the wrong temperature is the most common cause of foodborne illness. This is certainly preventable. The CDC estimates that one in six Americans get sick from contaminated foods or beverages. Children younger than 5 years old, pregnant women, adults older than 65 and people with weakened immune systems are more likely to get sick from contaminated foods. By thoroughly cooking grilled meats and washing fruits and vegetables, you can help prevent illness from E. coli.
In general, the symptoms of foodborne illness are usually vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain. If you experience these symptoms, seek medical attention, and your healthcare provider will determine the cause. You may be asked if you have eaten raw or poorly cooked foods, especially eggs and meats. Foodborne illness is often minor and is not life-threatening. By taking the necessary precautionary measures to ensure the cleanliness and safety of your foods, you can usually prevent foodborne illness. Remember: Clean, separate, cook and chill.
Follow these tips for healthy menu options and grill-and-food-handling safety to enjoy your barbecue.
Ann Lambert, MSN, CPNP-BC, is an Assistant Clinical Professor at Auburn University School of Nursing and works as a Primary Care PNP with Pediatric Associates in Alexander City, AL.