Traditionally, outdoor cooking has offered precious few choices for health-conscious diners. The sizzling sound of fatty meats on the grill doesn’t exactly represent the kind of heart-healthy regimen to which we all aspire. But, take heart, fat-laden hot dogs and hamburgers, or the chips, dips, and mayonnaise-based salads associated with barbecues, aren’t the only choices. You can still take advantage of sultry summer evenings by dining outdoors with more healthful, paperplate cradled foods.

In the barbecue, or outdoor grill, arena, there are countless creative (and healthier) alternatives to the burger-on-a-bun routine. If you do eat meat, antibiotic- and hormone-free chicken breasts are a better alternative to high-fat burgers. And burgers don’t have to be beef – chicken and turkey burgers are better for you in terms of fat content. The same goes for franks: chicken and turkey versions are usually lower in fat and cholesterol than their beef counterparts. (Taste?, you ask. These alternatives to beef are much improved in taste, and variety, from their predecessors of even a few years ago.)

You can grill hearty fish steaks instead of beef steaks; tuna, swordfish, and other meatier varieties of fish are good grilling choices, and they’re packed with heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Even staunch vegetarian diners have plenty of offerings to toss on the barbie. Grilling vegetables and other foods offers a low-fat, high-flavor alternative to stir-frying. Construct a tempting variety of veggies on a skewer, marinate them briefly, and grill them before the meat (if any) goes on. Marinate slices of tempeh in a blend of honey and tamari, and grill them with your veggies for a savory, meat-free alternative to burgers.

If you’re set on being “traditional,” try one of the many vegetarian variations (e.g., soy) of hot dogs and burgers – most of them are fairly low in fat and cholesterol. Or break the rules, altogether, and try a burrito warmed on the grill and stuffed with beans and grilled veggies for a high-protein, low-fat break from burgers.

Don’t “skewer up” your healthier rendition of a burger by piling on a lot of fatty adornments like mayonnaise and cheese. Just a few additions can turn a pretty virtuous chicken or tofu burger into a fatty mess. Here’s an example: a chicken or tofu burger, sans additions, weighs in at about 150 calories and 2 g of fat. Add a tablespoon of mayonnaise and a couple of slices of cheese, and that fairly healthful burger shoots up to 450 calories and 25 g of fat.

Which is not to say you have to eat them straight up. Low-fat, tofu-based dressings are a cholesterol-free alternative to mayo. Reduced-fat cheese, or soy cheese, cuts calories and fat at least in half. Relish and ketchup are in the clear – each has about 18 calories per tablespoon, with no fat (although, watch the “sugar” content in some ketchups; go for the varieties at your health-food store, to be your best bet). And learn to love mustard – a tablespoon has only 15 calories and no fat.

Mayonnaise is the unfortunate mainstay of all those salads that accompany foods on the grill. This is too bad because most of the ingredients in al fresco salads are inherently healthful – potatoes, pasta, vegetables. It’s just that they’re generally served up in a sea of mayo. One of the best ways to pare down fat calories in any outdoor meal is to avoid the standard mayonnaise-based salads, or create healthful renditions by using a light, olive oil vinaigrette instead of mayo.

So, let’s get cooking! Clean that grill, make a clean start, and get ready for a healthful outdoor cooking/eating adventure.

Here are a few recipes to get you well on your way:

Asparagus Pepper Toss

  • 2 cups asparagus tips
  • 2 medium red peppers
  • 2 medium yellow peppers
  • 1/2 cup sliced water chestnuts, rinsed well and drained
  • 1 small bunch scallions, thinly sliced

Dressing:

  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup fresh-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 1/4 tsp white pepper

Place asparagus tips in a vegetable steamer over boiling water. Cover and steam briefly, just until bright green. Remove from heat and immediately rinse with cold water.

Core red and yellow peppers and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Grill until peppers are just tender. Remove from grill and let cool.

While peppers are cooling, combine asparagus, water chestnuts, and scallions in a medium serving bowl.

To make dressing, combine olive oil, orange juice, sesame seeds, sea salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well.

Add peppers to asparagus mixture. Pour dressing over vegetables and toss gently. Serve at room temperature. Serves 4.

Rosemary Garlic Tuna

  • 4 small tuna steaks (2 to 4 ounces each)
  • 2 Tbsp tamari
  • 2 Tbsp lemon juice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped flesh rosemary (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)

Wash tuna steaks well. Pat dry and place on medium platter.

Combine tamari, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, and rosemary. Pour over tuna steaks, coating each well. Marinate for one to two hours in refrigerator.

Place tuna steaks on hot grill and cook for four to five minutes on each side, or until done in center.

Remove tuna steaks to serving platter and garnish with additional rosemary. Serve hot. Serves 4.

Southwestern Three-Bean Salad

  • 1 cup cooked garbanzo beans
  • 1 cup cooked black beans
  • 1 cup cooked pinto beans
  • 1 cup chopped plum tomatoes
  • 1/2 cup diced red onion
  • 1/2 cup raw corn kernels
  • 1/4 cup coarsely chopped cilantro (reserve a few sprigs for garnish)

Dressing:

  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Combine beans, tomatoes, onions, corn, and cilantro in a large serving bowl.

To make dressing, combine cumin, chili powder, black pepper, sea salt, garlic, lime juice, and olive oil in a small mixing bowl. Blend well.

Add dressing to bean mixture and stir well to coat. Chill or serve at room temperature, garnished with cilantro sprigs. Serves 4.

Roasted Parsnip with Basil and Sage

  • 4 medium parsnips (some call them “albino carrots”)
  • 1 medium zucchini
  • 1 small red onion
  • 1 cup small button mushrooms
  • 1 cup cherry tomatoes
  • 1 bunch fresh sage

Wash vegetables well. Slice parsnips on the diagonal. Cut zucchini in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/2-inch thick slices. Peel outside layer of onion, cut in hall and cut each half into eighths. Remove stems from sage.

To make marinade, combine olive oil, grapefruit juice, basil, sea salt, and pepper in a small bowl. Mix well.

Place cut vegetables in a large mixing bowl. Pour marinade over vegetables and toss well to coat. Let marinate for two to four hours in the refrigerator.

To cook, thread vegetables on skewers, alternating each. Thread one sage leaf in between each vegetable. Grill for about 10 minutes, or until tender. Serve hot. Serves 4.