Tricks of the Trade for a Healthy BBQ

It’s BBQ season! But don’t fear, vegetarians: We’ve got you covered.

With summer just around the corner, it’s time to dig out the swimsuits, dust off the deck, and get to the grill. Barbecues are an American rite of passage in the warm months—but if you’re a vegetarian or particularly health-conscious, celebrations can be alienating. It’s no secret that backyard gatherings are famed for meaty main courses, flavor-filled sides, and savory aromas. But gone are the days of having to snack on raw peppers before they get thrown on the grill in steak juice; as healthier options increase in popularity, it’s becoming easier and easier for herbivores to participate in the celebration.

Throwing a veg-friendly BBQ that feels welcoming to meat-lovers simply means you’ll need to get a little creative with your offerings: It’s not just about the main attraction. Fill your menu with things like cauliflower buffalo “wings” or homemade spinach artichoke dip. Looking for a gluten-free dessert? Try a flourless torte, or a coconut-crusted key lime pie. Quinoa can sub for pasta in a zesty and veggie-filled side salad, and corn-on-the-cob is a simple yet iconic favorite. After everything’s been shucked, prepared, and set out, simply throw your favorite veggie burger on the grill, and start to savor the scents of plant-based BBQ.

Appetizers and Sides

Small bites, sides, and snacks are great ways to keep people from getting “hangry” while they mill around and meet new friends. Potato salad, pasta salad, macaroni and cheese, and baked beans are all traditional (veg-friendly!) BBQ appetizers and sides, but you can set the tone for your meal by whipping up fresh new takes on these classics. Healthy alternatives, such as this veggie taco pie, utilize a variety of colors, textures, and flavors to create a highly flavorful and nourishing side. Other favorites include roasted kale and artichoke dip, and sweet potato mac n’ cheese. Think outside the box! Choose dishes that bring back memories or that you’re excited to share (like Dad’s famous charcuterie plate) and revamp them to fit your style (like replacing cured meat with thinly-sliced beets). 

Veggie taco pie with sweet potato, beans, and kale
Veggie taco pie with sweet potato, beans, and kale

Main Dish

While everyone’s gushing over your homemade veggie muffins and grabbing refills of ginger lemonade, get the grill ready with some fresh and filling veggie burgers. Veggie burgers have come a long way in the last few years; rather than consisting of unpronounceable ingredients and faux-mystery meat, you can buy brands that are filled with green peas, broccoli, kale, quinoa, rice, and more.

You can also mix it up when it comes to the flavors. Rather than stick with the standard lettuce-and-tomato, try a Korean Bibimbap veggie burger with kimchi, cremini mushrooms, and tamari. For gluten-free guests, you can forego the bun completely and opt for these California veggie burger collard wraps or kale and potato lettuce wraps instead.

California veggie burger collard wraps
California veggie burger collard wraps


The grill’s off, tummies are (almost) full, and the sun is just beginning to melt into the sky: It’s time for dessert. No-bake cookies, almond-crusted cobblers, and vegan fruit pies are great things to consider, but you can also go the simple route and stick with a hefty fruit salad. And while a big bowl o’ berries is great on its own, you can also add some fresh herbs (mint is fabulous), a side of whipped coconut cream, or a maple glaze for variety.

These plant-filled recipes will keep your taste buds happy while simultaneously providing enough nourishment to keep you barbecuing all season long. Other health tips? Encourage outdoor games and activities, and have lots of water on hand. If your guests want to drink, consider a homemade cocktail using agave and fresh fruit, or a sustainable wine spritzers. Build an upbeat playlist to inspire dancing, and party until the stars come out. Here’s to a healthy, happy summer!