The first Labor Day celebration was September 5, 1882 in New York City. On that Tuesday, 10,000 citizens marched for labor rights down the streets of Manhattan. During this time the average American worked 12 hours a day, six days a week. It wasn’t until the Adamson Act passed on September 3, 1916 that our modern eight-hour workday was established. Since that time Labor Day has traditionally become symbolic of the end of Summer as Americans across the country celebrate the occasion outdoors with cookouts and picnics. As we fire up the grill this coming Labor Day, what can we do to make sure we keep our feasting healthy without compromising fun or flavor?
Be Keen on Lean Protein
A single hot dog contains 25% of the recommended daily sodium allowance and over 14 grams of fat. Meanwhile, most hamburgers contain additives and are high in saturated fat. Then there is the traditional accompanying white bread bun that usually has very little to commend it in terms of nutritional value. The better choice is lean protein such as chicken, turkey burgers, steak, pork tenderloin, shrimp or tuna. Not only does lean protein provide for clean cooking but it also limits fat drip flare-ups that can char the meat and allegedly give rise to carcinogenic chemicals.
Use a Cheat Sheet for Red Meat
In general, red meat (beef, pork and lamb) has more saturated fat than chicken, fish or vegetable proteins (beans). Saturated and trans fats can raise blood cholesterol and potentially cause heart disease whereas unsaturated fats in fish have health benefits. However, on the plus side, red meat is rich in vitamins and minerals and there are easy ways to help you choose lean cuts for your Labor Day cookout. Sirloin and tenderloin, round roast and round steak are all lean as well as flank steak and brisket ‘flat half’. When it comes to ground beef to make patties, opt for 95% lean on the packaging.
Serenade the Marinade
When grilling lean protein, marinades are your best friend. Why? Because they allow you to maximize flavor while at the same time tenderizing the meat and preventing dryness. A general rule of thumb is half a cup of marinade per pound of protein. Tips for marinating include:
- Choose small amounts of healthy oils, such as olive or canola
- Balance the healthy oil with a tenderizing enzyme such as lemon or lime juice, apple juice, wine, yogurt, buttermilk or vinegar
- Refrigerate marinated food to prevent the formation of bacteria
- Set aside a small amount of separate marinade for basting while grilling
- Marinate meat for at least 1-2 hours; fish and vegetables for only 30-60 minutes
- Enhance the liquid flavoring with a herbs, spices and aromatics such as thyme, oregano, mint, sage, garlic, onion, ginger and rosemary.
Optimize your Portion Size
The USDA recommends 5.5 ounces of lean meat per day and only 3 ounces at a time. An easy way to estimate portion size is by hand. A rough guide for high-protein foods such as meat, fish and beans is a palm-sized serving for women and two palm-sized portions for men. Make sure what you put on your plate at your Labor Day cookout conforms to these size guidelines.
Colorize your Veggie Sides
Ensuring that vegetables are a big part of your Labor Day cookout is one of the best decisions you can make. Not only are they devoid of saturated fat but they are filled with many vitamins and minerals that are good for your health. These include for example vitamins A (beta-carotene), C and E, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous and folic acid. In addition, vegetables beautify the presentation of your food, adding a wide spectrum of color and nutritional content. Slices of eggplant or whole portabella mushrooms can replace burger buns while sliced bell peppers and asparagus spears make great sides. Smaller vegetables work well skewered as kebabs. Grilled vegetables also produce no carcinogens, require minimal cooking fat, retain their nutrition and reduce bloating due to their fiber content. It is hard to find a reason why vegetables shouldn’t be central to your Labor Day grill fest.
Skewer the Odds in your Favor
Skewers are a great enabler. With their help you can combine small amounts of marinated lean protein and vegetables in perfect proportion, in a portable format. All you have to remember, if you’re using wooden skewers, is to soak them in cold water for 20 minutes before threading them with food. This will ensure they don’t catch fire while placed on a lit grill.
Healthy Gourmet may not be at your Labor Day cookout this year but when the party is over, and you go back inside, please invite us to your table! Let us share with you our world of global flavors and surprise you with our nutritious, imaginative prepared meals. From our table to yours, Happy Labor Day!