Use these simple tips to lighten up your favorite grilled dishes

Some of summer’s sweetest pleasures are the simplest ones — sunshine, warm breezes and family barbecues. The joys of summertime bring us together and entice us to head to the backyard for dinner. We’re all familiar with barbecue classics like hot dogs, cheeseburgers and potato salad, but what most of us don’t realize is how much fat and sodium these favorite dishes contain. With just a few simple tips and some easy grilled swaps, you can enjoy a healthier summertime soiree.

THINK MARINADES AND HERBS OVER HEAVY SAUCES

Avoid sugar-laden sauces like traditional barbecue sauces. Most ketchup-based barbecue sauces have more than 16 grams of sugar and over 300 mg of sodium per serving. At your next barbecue, opt for oil and vinegar marinades and creamy yogurt based sauces. Think simple, fresh ingredients like citrus or spicy chilies. Herb-packed recipes like chimichurri and pesto also offer delicious, savory flavor without all the extra fat and sugar.

SPICE IT UP

Swap out the salt in your favorite grilled recipes for bold spices instead. Try flavorful ones like cumin, cayenne, smoked paprika, garlic powder and black pepper. Let the smoky flavor of the grill do the work when it comes to seasoning. If you aren’t sure a complete salt swap is for you, try cutting the amount of salt in your recipe in half and substituting in a spice for the other half.

SERVE LEAN PROTEINS

Serve your guests something fresh and made from scratch at your next backyard bash. There’s more to grilling than just pre-packed hotdogs and hamburgers; barbecue something unexpected and feel good fueling your body. Instead of heavy meats like steaks, ribs or sausages, prepare grilled cedar-plank salmon with fresh citrus or grilled eggplant pizzas. Offer a variety of lean protein like chicken breast, turkey burgers or fresh seafood.

GRILL YOUR SIDES

Nothing is easier than a simple grilled vegetable skewer. And by choosing fresh, seasonal vegetables you’ll never miss out on flavor. Chop up your favorite vegetables into bite-size pieces, lightly toss them in olive oil, season with your favorite spices and grill. Ditch the heavy potato salad at your next get-together and instead serve grilled potato salad with fresh herbs and feta cheese. Skip the buns, too. Swap hamburger buns for grilled portabella mushroom caps or thick-cut sweet potato slices.

EVEN GRILL YOUR DESSERTS

There’s no need to turn your oven on and heat up the house to satisfy your sweet tooth this summer. Toss dessert on the grill. Fresh fruit develops a sweet, smoky flavor thanks to the heat that brings out its natural sugars and caramelizes them. Try fruits like pineapple, watermelon, peaches or citrus. Their high sugar content and juicy interiors hold up well on the grill. Serve them as is or dollop with lightly sweetened whipped cream.