Monday Medical: Healthy tips just in time for the grilling season

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Grilled vegetable kebabs

6 small onions

12 cherry tomatoes

12 button mushrooms

2 small zucchini

1 red bell pepper

1/2 cup olive oil

2 tbsp. lemon juice

1 small red chili, finely chopped

2 tsp. fresh thyme, chopped

■ Peel the onions and cut them into thin slices. You can blanch the onions, but this is optional. Cut the mushrooms, zucchini and pepper into small bite-size pieces.

Place the prepared vegetables onto each skewer, alternating vegetables.

■ To make the marinade, combine olive oil, lemon juice, red chili and thyme. Mix very well and pour the marinade over the vegetable skewers. Allow to marinate at least one hour to develop the flavors, turning occasionally.

■ Cook the kebabs on a preheated grill for 8 to 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Turn the skewers at least once and baste with the remaining marinade.

— We eagerly await higher temperatures after long winters, which inevitably bring thoughts of expanding our dining rooms to include outdoor spaces.

Whether that expanded space is a deck, a backyard or a campground fire, we can create healthy meals when we grill.

Often, we think about grilling and barbecuing as meals filled with calorie-laden potato salads, mayonnaise-filled slaws and fatty meats. That does not have to be the case. Grilling can be one of the healthiest ways to create a delicious summer meal. A healthy, rounded meal should consist of three main components: protein, carbohydrate and fat. Be conscious that your proteins are from a variety of sources such as plants and animals. Think outside of the box when you grill; use fish and lean meats such as elk and bison. Serve with side dishes of beans and lentils.

Carbohydrates should make up a portion of your meal, but not too much, and should come in the form of healthy whole grains, fruits and vegetables.

Many vegetables like asparagus, corn, eggplant and squash are delicious when grilled using a vegetable grill basket. This helps to keep pieces from falling through the grates. Toss those grilled vegetables with whole grains such as brown rice, faro and quinoa to create a delicious side dish.

Another healthy choice is grilled portobello mushrooms for a satisfying and “meaty” alternative to a traditional burger.

Incorporate healthy fats into your meals by encrusting fish or chicken with crushed nuts and seeds such as pistachios and sesame seeds. Use olive, sesame and peanut oil for marinades and dressings. These same oils can be used to create tossed side dishes such as Asian slaw or lentil salad.

Here are a few tips to keep your grilled meal delicious, safe and healthy.

■ Coax flavor out of dishes with fresh citrus, spices and flavored vinegars.

■ Avoid charring meats because this can create dangerous compounds such as polycyclic aroma hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines, both of which have been linked to a higher cancer risk.

■ Help to prevent burning by choosing leaner cuts of meats or trim excess fat, marinate meats (which might prevent formation of some of these compounds), and add sauces toward the end of grilling. Also, clean your grill after each use and keep uncooked meats separate from fresh fruits and vegetables during preparation.

■ Use a meat thermometer to check doneness of meats. When cooking fish, use a fish basket or tin foil and add healthy oils, white wine, citrus and fresh herbs to create a delicious main course that will not stick to the grill.

■ Grill dessert. Grill pineapple and peach slices and serve parfait-style with fresh summer berries, Greek yogurt, crushed nuts and even a bit of shaved dark chocolate. The grill will bring out the natural sweetness in the fruit and start to caramelize the sugars inside.

You can get creative and make that next outdoor get-together a delicious and healthy one. From appetizers to dessert, grilling is a great way to enjoy a quality meal while taking advantage of our beautiful summer weather. With a bit of planning and some health-conscious choices, grilling can be delicious and safe.

Cara Marrs is a registered dietitian at Yampa Valley Medical Center and a nutritionist at Align Wellness in Steamboat Springs.

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