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Backyard grilling: Tips for staying safe and healthy this summer

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As the days lengthen and the weather gets warmer, many of us have a calendar full of backyard barbecues and holiday picnics. This weekend, as you fire up the grill for a Memorial Day celebration, follow these tips for staying safe and healthy.

Tip #1: Avoid the shade

When the sun is high, standing by the grill can add up to lots of sweat and discomfort. But as strong as the temptation may be, avoid setting up your grill too close to an awning or tree cover; floating embers could easily catch fire.

Position your grill at least 10 feet away from any doors, railings or other structures. Be sure to protect yourself as well by not standing too close to the grill. Now’s the time to make use of those long-handled tools especially made for barbecues.

Tip #2: Plan to cook in batches

Piling the grill too full is a common mistake—especially if you’re cooking for a crowd. Besides avoiding cross-contamination, if too much fat drips into the flames, you can have a flare-up on your hands. Plan your menu in advance and be prepared to cook in batches.

Tip #3: Check the temperature

When preparing meat, one of the most important steps is checking the internal temperature of your food. Many backyard chefs may be tempted to rely on their intuition or their eye to tell if meat is ready. But meat is only safe to eat when its internal temperature gets high enough to kill harmful bacteria. Always use a meat thermometer, even if you think you can “eyeball it.”

Tip #4: Be prepared for emergencies

Backyard barbecues can be a fun and relaxing opportunity to spend time with loved ones. But your social gathering can turn south quickly if a fire starts or someone gets hurt. Always have first aid kits available and know what to do to treat burns.

Consider downloading the Red Cross First Aid App, which is a free resource that can guide you through treating different types of burns. In case of a grease fire, have baking soda on hand, and a fire extinguisher nearby for all other kinds of fires.

Building a healthy menu

Summer barbecues are notorious for fat-laden potato salads and fried foods. Try these healthy swaps for lightening up your outdoor fare.

  • Choose whole grains.Instead of enriched white hamburger or hot dog buns, choose whole grains. Whole grains are high in fiber, B vitamins and antioxidants, and can decrease your risk of chronic health conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
  • Go leaner. Decrease your fat intake by swapping beef patties for salmon or black bean burgers. Look for turkey dogs instead of traditional hot dogs. Choose hot dogs that are nitrate-free, as the additives in these processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of certain cancers.
  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables. Forego fat-laden side dishes in favor of a fresh fruit and veggie platter. Zucchini, onions and peppers all work well as grilled vegetable or mushroom kebabs. Try watermelon or fresh berries for dessert.
  • Don’t drink your calories. Avoid filling up on sugary sodas and juices. Instead, swap a can of pop for a sparkling water or trade out a pitcher of lemonade for lemon-infused water.