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Grill-worthy red meat replacements

Written By: Shelley Vanker | Updated: May 24, 2024
Assorted vegetables being cooked on a grill

Reducing red meat this summer doesn't have to be a sacrifice. Veggies and lean proteins offer savory entrée replacements.

The summer season unofficially ushers in the season of outdoor grilling.

“Everybody thinks of steak and all the juicy red meat items,” said Katherine Gerber, a registered dietitian (RD) with UT Physicians.

But before you light the grill, Gerber offers up some menu substitutions for healthier summer meals that still provide protein and satisfy meat cravings.

Katherine Gerber, RD, CDCES
Katherine Gerber, registered dietitian

Health risks of red meat

Foods like steak, hot dogs, burgers, and sausage are traditional grilling staples of the American diet, but these red meat products are high in saturated fat. Consuming too much beef and pork may contribute to cholesterol problems and increase the risk of heart disease.

“Eating less red meat decreases the risk for heart disease, stroke, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, and many cancers,” said Gerber.

She recommends limiting red meat consumption to three portions a week and eating little to no processed meat like bacon, hot dogs, and sausage. Choose foods such as chicken, fish, tofu, turkey, and vegetables as replacements.

Benefits of plant-based foods

Eating more vegetables or plant-based foods may help reduce inflammation and boost immunity. It also increases fiber which may help reduce the risk of cancer and other diseases.

“We tend to feel better after eating a predominantly plant-based meal with lean protein,” said Gerber. “Meats higher in fat are digested more slowly and can make you feel bloated.”

Red meat alternatives for the grill

  • Black bean burger
  • Chicken skewers
  • Fish
  • Lobster
  • Portobello mushroom
  • Shrimp
  • Tofu (add your favorite marinade)
  • Turkey burger

Vegetables for the grill

  • Artichokes
  • Asparagus
  • Bell peppers
  • Brussels sprouts (grilled in a basket or on skewers)
  • Carrots
  • Corn
  • Eggplant
  • Onions
  • Squash
  • Sweet potatoes

Fruits for the grill

  • Peaches (add a little cinnamon)
  • Pears
  • Pineapple
  • Tomatoes

Mix and match flavors

Changing your grilling routine does require a shift in mindset, especially for meat-loving Texans. But Gerber says trying fresh flavors and curating a new menu can be fun and exciting.

“Try mixing something you know you will enjoy, like chicken, with something new, like grilled artichoke,” said Gerber. “Make a combo plate.”

Another idea is to create skewers with different pairings using a red meat alternative and a vegetable. This can be something like tofu with tomatoes or chicken with pineapple.

New grilling routine for long-term health

“You don’t have to become a vegetarian,” said Gerber. “Enjoying meat is fine, but choosing lean cuts to reduce saturated fat is a healthier choice.”

The goal is to create healthy habits that last a lifetime, which means making your food changes attainable and not following a restrictive diet.

“If we’re mindful of our choices and watch frequency and quantity, we’ll be more successful with long-term healthy eating.”

As the clinical practice of McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston, UT Physicians has locations across the Greater Houston area to serve the community. To schedule an appointment, call 888-4UT-DOCS.