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Summer presents perfect time to grill with family

One of the fun things about summer is all the cookouts and picnics you get invited to. There's always something on the grillhamburgers, pork chops, chicken, vegetables. Even the smell is delicious!

In my job I'm always preaching good nutrition, and grilling is a fun way to enjoy a variety of heathful foods. It is, as Martha Stewart says, "a good thing". Preparing foods on the grill enhances the flavors of garden-fresh produce and the savory taste of lean meat, poultry and fish. I have friends who use the grill as their primary cooking appliance. They grill enough chops and chicken breasts to last for several meals and refrigerate or freeze them.

Grilling is an easy way to trim the fat from meats. Lean meats stay lean since, unlike frying, grilling allows fat to drip away as meat cooks.

When you buy lean cuts of meat, look for the words "loin" or "round" in the name, such as pork tenderloin or beef eye of round. Skinless chicken breasts, lean cuts of beef and fish are good choices for the grill. Trimming or removing visible fat prior to grilling reduces the total fat per serving by nearly 50 percent. Portion control is just as important as buying and preparing lean. The Food Guide Pyramid recommends 5 to 7 ounces from the meat group each day, which can be eaten as two three-ounce servings or as one large portion. A cooked, trimmed three-ounce serving of meat, fish or poultry is about the size of a deck of cards.

Try experimenting with different rubs and marinades. Rubs are blends of dried herbs and spices that flavor the outside of the meat as it cooks. Marinades, made with herbs, spices and an acid-containing liquid (such as wine vinegar or lemon juice) add flavor to meats and also tenderize.

Chopped vegetables such as squash, bell peppers, eggplant with basil, onion and garlic are perfect for grilling. Wrap vegetables in foil coated with cooking spray and grill 10 to 15 minutes. Balance your grilled meal by serving low-fat frozen yogurt with grilled apple, peach or pear halves.

Patience pays when grilling. Place food on the grill when coals are ash-colored and glowing. For gas and electric grills, ignite and cover for 5 to 10 minutes before putting the food on.

One of the best things about grilling is that it is fast. That's important when you get home at six o'clock and have to get supper ready in a hurry. A one-pound pork tenderloin is done in about 20 minutes, when the internal temperature reaches about 155 degrees F. Let it stand 5 minutes before carving; the temperature will rise to about 160 degrees F. Instant-read food thermometers are easy to find now. They're inexpensive and let you know when safe temperatures have been reached. A food thermometer can also help keep you from overcooking meats. Check our local discount stores, in the kitchen utensils section.

Thick chops and larger cuts, such as loin roasts, should be grilled over indirect heat. By banking coals around the edge of the fire grate and centering a drip pan in the middle, you can create an indirect heat source. Place the meat on the grill over the pan, then cover and roast.

Don't overcook, or foods will be dry and tough. Burgers made with lean meat or turkey are done in about 10 minutes or when juices run clear. Pork chops, chicken breasts and fish steaks are ready in less than 15 minutes. Just remember, when meat and poultry juices run clear or when fish flakes easily with a fork, it's done.

If grilling outside sounds like too hot a job, you may want to check out one of the tabletop electric grills. My sister-in-law and several of my friends have them and use them constantly. The grills come in different sizes to fit your family. I think that's going to be my next purchase!