Sylvia Meo, R.D.
How to Build a Healthy and "Foodful" Burger
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
For my first barbecue get together of the season my husband suggested we make burgers. When he saw my facial reaction, he tried to tug at my emotions by saying it had been a while he had been craving a good burger. To be honest, I think he offered that as an idea because he knows how I like to take our get togethers to another level and give myself (and him) quite a bit of work to prepare for them. Odds are he thought receiving with burgers should be pretty easy and simple to prepare, you grill some patties, buns and take out the traditional condiments. As my facial reaction expressed so well, I didn’t really like his idea, I found it too plain and simple, especially since I was receiving our dear friends that are so incredibly amazing and invite us over pretty regularly throughout the year, and here I was finally receiving them for a change and I would “just” be serving burgers? Surely I could figure out a better menu idea on my own, but somehow Alain’s burger proposal just kept creeping back up in my head and my wheels slowly started spinning. Ideas on how I could receive our friends for burgers “differently” started popping up and I quickly realized that I could actually turn this into a delicious, gourmet, Foodful and healthy meal, while still satisfying my husband's craving. And I can definitely say it was a great success! I still hear from our friends how those were some of the best burgers they have ever had. With a little planning and my tips and tricks you too can turn your next burger barbecue into one your guests won’t soon forget!
Tip #1: Picking a Burger Patty
For my burger party I chose to serve a classic beef patty, but as I always do I used lean, organic, ground beef for a better-for-you burger and great flavor. Much to my husband’s dismay, I kept the beef pure and didn’t do anything special to it besides shaping it into 4 ounce patties, seasoning both sides of the patty with salt and pepper and keeping them in the refrigerator at least 30 minutes prior to grilling them. That’s it! Trust me you won’t be disappointed especially if you are using a good quality meat. And please refrain from adding eggs or breadcrumbs to the ground beef; we are making burgers not meatballs or meatloaf.
If you want to change things up and derail from the conventional beef burger, another great patty meat option, especially for the pork or sausage lovers out there, is a 50/50 mixture of extra lean, ground pork and the meat of your favorite pork sausages. Again refrain from adding anything extra, the seasonings from the sausage will perfectly flavor these patties.
Often times we suggest a turkey or chicken burger as a leaner option, but they are surprisingly not always the healthy choice we think they are. If it is a leaner option that you are striving for, when shopping for ground chicken or turkey meat make sure to look for those made with white/breast meat only. Often times it is a mixture of both white and dark meat with skin added in or a mixture of only dark meat and skin. Consequently your "healthy" chicken or turkey burger has more saturated fats and calories than a classic beef burger!
A new favorite addition to my burger cookouts is a plant-based veggie burger by MorningStar Farms. A plant-based patty option is not only for those following a vegetarian lifestyle. I personally love them because not only are they ideal for those days I just want to reduce my meat intake or simply eat more plant-based foods, but because even my husband who is quite the skeptic when it comes to meat-free burgers finds them tasty and satisfying! They grill and cook perfectly from frozen and come in three unique flavors: Harvest Veggie Burgers, Spicy Black Bean Burgers which I absolutely love, and Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers.
As a busy mom I also think they are a convenient and healthy option for those nights you just don’t have the time or the energy to cook, but still want to put a wholesome, healthy meal on the table. As a registered dietitian this is the type of plant-based burger patty I can support because it is made with real food and ingredients that I can see and recognize, like chickpeas, black beans and red peppers, contains no artificial colors and flavors, offers 9 to 11 grams of plant-protein, 110 to 130 calories per patty and is a source of fiber!
When cooking with leaner cuts of meat, outdoor grilling is the best way to sear in the juicy flavor, just make sure to cook the patties 4 to 5 minutes per side, flipping them only once and resisting the urge to press down on them while cooking.
Before grilling place a thumbprint halfway through the center of your patties to ensure they stay nice and flat while cooking and don't shrink up into a ball.
Tip #2: The Burger Buns
Instead of buying the usual plain commercial buns, why not go for a bun that will meet up to the quality of your patty and help jazz up and bring your burger together perfectly? Lots of local bakeries bake up their own artisanal burger buns and they don't disappoint! There are many possibilities out there: classic sesame topped buns, brioche-type buns, pretzel buns, soft and moist potato buns, and you can also find buns made with dough that contains olives or onions inside! The Canada Food Guide does recommend that half our grain products should be whole, so why not also choose whole grain buns? I love the idea of offering guests a variety of burger buns, or switching it up by also offering different types of breads they can use to wrap their patties with, like tortilla, naan, pita, Panini, focaccia, etc., and then leaving it uo to them to customize their burgers as they wish!
I love to grill my buns directly on the grill while I’m grilling my patties and then letting them rest on the top rack, away from the heat until my patties are ready so that they can stay warm and soak up extra smoky flavor.
For those days that I choose a whole grain bun or bread, I always try to go for organic, sprouted whole grain breads.
Tip #3: Skip the Orange Processed Cheese
Cheese can definitely add that special touch to a burger, and who doesn’t love a perfectly melted coat of gooey cheese on a burger! But it doesn’t have to be the processed kind. Processed cheese is about 50% actual cheese and the other 50% belongs to other ingredients like food dyes, preservatives, emulsifiers, salt, and possibly many other artificial ingredients. Go for real cheese and use different cheeses to enhance your burger flavor profile! For instance you can create an Italian inspired burger by using sliced mozzarella di Buffalo cheese, then adding a few sundried or roasted tomatoes, some basil pesto and one or two grilled prosciutto slices and serving it all on a ciabatta bread!
There are so many great quality cheeses out there, Blue, Swiss, Gouda, Cheddar, Mozzarella, the possibilities are almost endless. When selecting cheese I usually look for those made with organic milk and I also find it important to support local, Quebec farms. One of my personal favorite brands, BioBio, meets all these criteria and offers a broad selection of high quality cheeses using Quebec certified organic milk. They contain no artificial colorings, flavorings, additives or chemical preservatives. Plus, they're also one of the few brands to offer organic imported cheeses like feta, Manchego and Parmigiano Reggiano. All of their cheeses, except for the Feta, are also lactose-free! It is the brand that Trinity absolutely loves and they will transform your burger into a memorable and delicious experience for your taste buds!
To get the most flavor out of cheese and the best melting power make sure to leave it at room temperature for at least 30 minutes prior to using.
You can add cheese in slices or grated (when using cheese that has been aged or has a lower moisture level) on top of your patty during the last minute of cooking on the grill. You can also mix some with your ground meat before shaping it into a patty in order to add an extra layer of flavor to your burger!
Tip #4: Think Outside the Box When It Comes to Condiments
Condiments like ketchup, mayonnaise, mustard are classic when serving up a burger, they do add some flavor, but they are also void of any nutrition and are mostly adding empty calories. Did you know that a tablespoon of ketchup has more sugar in it than a chocolate chip cookie!?
Piling on vegetables like lettuce, onions and tomatoes is a great way to add freshness (and fiber) to a burger, but we can do even better than that! Here are some of my favorite natural ways to take a burger to the next level while adding tons of flavor, taste, nutrition, moisture and texture to a burger. All you need to do is get inspired below and get a little creative!
Slice and caramelize your onions with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
I love to grill a variety of vegetables and pile them up in my burger or just eat them as a side dish. I always grill mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini and eggplant slices, and these are perfect for a Mediterranean inspired burger.
I love to use various sprouts in my salads but also as a fresh and healthy burger topping.
Grill pineapple slices or chunks, I promise these are amazing on any burger patty, and I especially love them with the MorningStar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burgers, but they would also work well with the sausage and ground pork patty. You can even venture out and try grilling other fruits, such as stone fruits.
You can whip up a quick guacamole by mashing a fresh avocado with a fork, adding in a bit of chopped onions, cilantro (or parsley) and a good squeeze of lime, and using this as a creamy topping to replace mayonnaise.
Fermented foods need no preparation, are chockful of flavor, nutrients and gut-friendly probiotics! You can buy fermented pickles, salsas, sauces, sauerkraut, kimchi, beets, carrots, mustards, and all of these will enhance any burger or meal for that matter! My whole family loves fermented foods and my daughter is a sauerkraut lover, so I always love having a variety of differently flavored sauerkraut on hand. Les Produits Tapp is another great company from right here in Quebec, Gaspésie more specifically, that not only grows organic cabbages but also specializes in organic lacto-fermented foods, their specialty being sauerkraut. They produce five different flavors of sauerkraut: bay leaf, cumin, carrot and ginger, beetroot and ginger and their famous kimchi and offer them in 2 formats, 375ml and 750ml. I add these to various meals and dishes (salads, grill cheese, burgers, grain bowls) to not only add a quick boost of different vegetables to the mix, but also health stimulating probiotics which if included regularly in our diet can help strengthen our immune system, fight off inflammation, enhance our digestion and so much more!
Growing up Italian we always have some homemade and also store-bought jarred something in the house and it goes well beyond tomato sauce. You are sure to find a jar or two of sundried tomatoes, grilled eggplants, giardiniera (an Italian-style vegetable pickled relish), pesto or tapenade in the refrigerator of an Italian home! All of these are a fun and delicious ways of adding more veggies, nutrients and flavor to your burger and you surely won’t be missing the classic condiments.
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*This post is in collaboration with MorningStar Farms, BioBio and Les Produits Tapp Inc. All opinions, tips and information are my own.