We know summer’s finally arrived when we can dust off the grill, hit the supermarket for an array of tasty food, and fire up the barbecue...
Eating outdoors is one of the great joys of summer and one of our most-loved rituals, weather permitting.
However, a lot of barbecue food can be unhealthy – the sausages and burgers sizzling away on the grill may be high in fat, and the pasta salads littering the tablecloth can be full of carbs and drenched in mayonnaise.
Skip to our healthy barbecue recipes and start planning your spread.
If you have diabetes, it can be difficult to manage these types of events, especially if you are carb counting. One solution is to cook some of your own dishes and our recipe finder is here to help – it’s full of ideas and inspiration to get you started.
Controlling your blood glucose and remaining aware of diabetes management at barbecues isn't about limiting yourself - it's making better choices and keeping a close eye on portion sizes and number of helpings. By making everything yourself, you can regulate how much fat, salt, sugar and carbs your dishes contain.
Salmon, monkfish, scallops, large prawns, chicken pieces and tofu are ideal for skewers or kebabs as they stay intact. They cook quickly and are a healthier barbecue choice. Intersperse with chunks of vegetables for different texture and taste.
- TIP: To stop your bamboo skewers burning, soak them in water for an hour before threading with food.
Any seafood with delicate flesh, eg white fish, such as cod or haddock, may fall apart on a barbecue so make foil parcels and add veggies or beans for a complete meal. Whole sardines or mackerel are great barbecued or try mackerel fillets.
Whether you’re vegetarian or not, add lots of vegetables to your barbecue for that wonderful smoky taste and boost your five a day.
Vegetables that need pre-cooking
- Butternut squash, carrots, beetroot, and cauliflower and broccoli florettes.
- TIP: Boil or blanch until almost cooked, then plunge into cold water, drain and reserve. They’ll take just a couple of minutes to heat and get that lovely charred, smoky flavour.
Vegetables that can go straight on the barbecue
- Aubergine and courgette slices, red onion wedges, fennel slices, asparagus spears, celery sticks, quarters of red, yellow or green peppers, baby corn, radicchio, mushrooms… will all cook in under 10 minutes.
- Once cooked, toss in either:chopped herbs and balsamic vinegar; low-fat yogurt mixed with spices and coriandor lemon juice, oregano and a little olive oil.
- Corn on the cob is great, too. Either peeled or cooked in the husk, the outside leaves char but the inside kernel steams in its own juices.
These include potatoes, sweet potatoes, yams and plantain. Pre-cook potatoes and sweet potatoes before barbecuing. Plantain and yams can be sliced and put straight on the barbecue.
- Black eyed bean, feta and herb burgers
- Tomato and red pepper risotto
- Portobello mushroom burger
- Vegetable ragu
For a barbecue or picnic you’ll need some side salads. Try offering some of our tasty low-fat salads as a side dish to the grilled meats and veggie options. Of course, you can always make them into larger, main meals if this is required.
Dips, dressings and marinades
Try these lower-fat dips as alternatives to fat-laden, shop-bought versions. Here are some healthier dressings drizzled over your favourite salads that you could whip up. A good marinade is essential to tenderise and add flavour to meats. Shop-bought versions can be salty, but it’s really easy to make your own that’s tasty and healthier. You just need something acidic like yogurt, lemon juice or vinegar, to combine with your favourite spices or herbs.
- TIP: Marinate in plastic food bags in the fridge for an hour, or overnight if you have time.
Try making these simple marinades and dressings:
- Mix 2 tbsp low-fat natural yogurt with 2 heaped tsp curry powder (hot or mild). Great for chicken or lamb
- Mix together a dash of lime juice, a little chilli, some crushed garlic and grated fresh ginger. This works with any meats, fish or tofu.
- Lemon mint vinaigrette: mix the juice of a lemon with 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil and 1 tbsp freshly chopped mint leaves.
- Light Caesar dressing: mix 2 heaped tbsp low-fat natural yogurt with 1 tsp Dijon mustard, a dash of lemon juice and 1 tbsp finely grated Parmesan\
- TIP: Remember, if you’re packing them for a picnic, take the dressing in a separate container and drizzle over just before serving.
For desserts, bananas cooked in their skins and slices of pineapple are perfect for barbecues and can be popped straight on, to cook in a few minutes. Try experimenting with various combinations of fruit. If you are marinating fruit or wish to cook it in a sauce or with spices, simply wrap in tin foil. We've also included summer desserts for inspiration.
In hot weather, you are at risk of dehydration so drink plenty of water, no-added sugar squashes, or diet drinks. If you are drinking alcohol keep to safe drinking guidelines, alternate with non-alcoholic drinks, and use sugar-free mixers.
7 top barbecuing tips
- Avoid fatty meats. Not only is the fat unhealthy it drips onto the coals, flaring up and burning the food.
- Coals should glow red with a powdery grey surface before you start cooking – this means they're hot enough.
- Have an indoor plant water spray handy. This is useful to regulate heat and prevent food from burning if you get flare-ups.
- Turn food regularly to ensure even cooking. If your tongs touch raw meat, they must be washed before picking up cooked food, or held over the coals to burn off any bacteria.
- Keep cooked meats, other foods, side dishes, plates and condiments on another table away from the barbecue.
- If it’s getting dark, use a torch, so you can check food is cooked properly.
- Disposable barbecues don’t cook food as quickly as traditional barbecues. They don’t retain the heat as long, so aren’t good for cooking thick pieces of meat, or chicken on the bone. However, they’re ideal for small kebabs. Be aware that you're likely to run out of heat if you try to cook more than one or two batches of food.• Try ourYakatori chicken, which cooks well on a disposable barbecue.
Top tips for a safe barbecue
Barbecues are fun, but it’s wise to be aware of the potential risks.
This is often caused by undercooked food, so follow this advice:
- Always ensure your meat and poultry are cooked through.
- You can serve steaks or joints that are pink in the middle as long as the outside is evenly cooked. The exception is if it’s been minced, so burgers, sausages or meatballs must always be cooked through.
- Never put cooked food on a plate or surface that has had raw meat on it.
- Make sure frozen meat is properly thawed before you cook it.
- Always cut into the thickest part of meat or poultry to make sure it’s cooked through.
This happens when raw meats come into contact with cooked meats or foods, such as salads. Always store raw meats separately, and use different utensils and chopping boards and wash your hands regularly. Don’t baste cooked food with a marinade that has come into contact with raw meat.
Salads, dairy foods, cooked meats, such as ham, and rice-based salads, in particular, should be kept cool until needed. Be careful you don't leave them in the sun.
Ensure you never leave the barbecue unattended and make sure children are kept away.