Healthier BBQ, Burgers and Hot Dogs

Ahh, summer! Season of sun, swimming, and, of course, the beloved BBQ. There's nothing quite like the sizzle of the grill and the aroma of delicious food. Unfortunately, some BBQ defaults are habitually made into very UNbalanced meals, especially when it comes to burgers and hotdogs. There are a TON of amazing ways to enjoy a healthier BBQ while staying on the path to wellness.

Three hot dogs ready to eat in the buns, is this a healthier BBQ
What up, dogs?

What makes them unbalanced?

The burger and hotdog default is a small-ish piece of varying quality protein encased in a double portion of very low-quality bread +/- a slice of cheese and some ketchup. All this is often accompanied by quick processed foods like chips, which are tasty but don't really add nutrient value to the meal.

So does that mean no more burgers and hot dogs?! Nah.

Let’s look at ways to have our ‘burgs AND a healthy balance in our summer meals.

Long loaf of bread, it makes you wonder, is bread bad
So. Much. Bread.

Upgrade your BBQ Grilling Recipes with Four Balanced Ideas

Strategy 1: How often should you have a healthy balanced meal?

News Flash: Not every meal needs to be balanced. The goal is overall balance, so let’s zoom out.

How often do you eat a meal like this?

How does the meal compare to the rest of your week’s meals?

Things you do occasionally have a pretty marginal effect on your overall nutrition and health. Some things you do more frequently have a more significant impact.

If you are eating an unbalanced hot dog feast once every couple of weeks, you’re better off focusing improvement efforts on your usual meals rather than the exceptional ones. If your meals this week were all pretty balanced with protein and lots of veggies and fruit, an unbalanced meal does not push you out of balance for the week.

Focus on the meals you eat daily, rather than the meal you occasionally eat to make the biggest impact on your eating habits.

If a hot dog or a burger is a frequent meal, you can put it on the menu less often.

Or apply one of the other strategies below!

Strategy 2: Change the ratios

A standard burger ratio:

  • 2 servings starchy carbs (bread) + 1 serving of protein + 1 serving fat (cheese)

For bigger eaters: double the patty to equal get 2 carbs: 2 protein.

For smaller eaters: ditch half of the bun or swap in a smaller bun option such as a flatbread or a slice of your usual bread cut in half to drop you down to 1-1.5 servings of carbohydrates.

Standard burger with 1 protein, 2 carbs and 1 fat, to make a healthier bbq burger add 1 more protein source.

Strategy 3: Change the quality of the food

This strategy involves looking for ways to upgrade the type and quality of ingredients.

Upgrade your beef burger by opting for 100% beef or making your own lean ground beef patties. You can also change up meat options if you like, such as bison or chicken.

For plant-based burgers, compare the nutrition labels. Which brands have relatively more protein and fibre? What comes first on each ingredient list? And if you have the time and energy, you can make your own.

Are hot dogs healthy?

Hot dogs and smokies may read the same on the front of the package, but they are not all equal, nutritionally speaking. Look for higher protein, lower fat, and fewer ingredients.

Keep in mind that there are plenty of sausage varieties out there beyond the classic hot dog and smokie, so that you may discover new, healthier options. As a rule, pork-based sausages tend towards high fat and lower protein, so look for mixtures, all beef, chicken, elk...whatever’s available in your area!

Bun or no bun?

The bun. Sticking with a bread bun, swapping in something with more whole grains is a safe bet. Or, as mentioned above, look for options that are a little less volume to let your protein shine rather than drowning it in bread.

If you don’t care about the bread, you could try a portobello mushroom, eggplant, or sweet potato “buns.”

Some people like to wrap their burger in lettuce. Keep in mind a lot of these options do require a plate and utensils to eat.

I prefer to skip the bun altogether and go for some roasted potato wedges or a cob of corn on the side!

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Strategy 4: Change the side dish for BBQ

Maybe you like your burger or dog exactly the way it is. No sweat, you still have the option to ADD to your burger to make the overall meal more balanced.

Adding veggies or fruit handily upgrades the meal. You could also add some bonus protein if you feel so inclined.

Keep it finger food:

  • Raw veggie platter
  • Fruit platter
  • Sliced melon
  • Fruit smoothies


Utensils required:

  • Salad
  • Roasted veggies
  • Grilled fruit (pineapple slices and peaches are great options)
  • Egg salad
  • Bean salad
Colorful salad as a side dish for bbq with greens, red and yellow tomatoes, orange carrots, purple cabbage.
If no one is laughing at it, is it even really a salad?

Photo by Nadine Primeau on Unsplash

Healthy grilling recipes

There are a wide range of options to balance out your unbalanced bbq meals. You can choose one or make a few minor adjustments from several categories. It all depends on your likes and preferences.

Regardless of what you choose, remember that small changes do add up in your overall health, so the most important thing is to find the shifts that are enjoyable to you and that work with your needs. Hopefully, you have at least one new idea to try for your next BBQ!

Happy grilling!

Health Ninja Jeanette Marcotte is a health coach and professional geologist, who is obsessed with helping fellow professional women reclaim their time and energy by weaving healthy choices into their daily lives.

When she is not coaching or looking at rocks, you can find her hanging out in her garden with her dog, collecting new hobbies, and/or reading far too many books at once.

Find other articles written by Jeanette on her coach profile. Hang around for mindset strategies and micro-habits that will transform your health & confidence so that you feel like a Health Ninja, too!

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