Most of us think grilling when we think summer. Parties at home usually center around the grill — burgers, brats, barbecued chicken or steak. Raising cattle on our family farm meant our freezer was full of high-quality beef just waiting to be grilled.

How healthy is it? Depends on how you cook the meat.

“Cooking meat at high temperatures is known to produce cancer-causing chemicals,” according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. So what can we do to make it safer?
Grill plenty of vegetables along with those burgers. And grill at lower temperatures. Another key is to marinade meat before it’s grilled. The marinade adds flavor and reduces formation of cancer-causing chemicals.
The AICR recommends marinating meat, poultry and fish for at least 30 minutes. Prepare a marinade that includes vinegar, lemon juice or wine, along with your favorite herbs and spices.
The National Beef Council offers two reasons you might want to marinade meat: to add flavor or to tenderize. Both contain similar ingredients, but the key is the marinating time. If you’re just looking to add flavor, you only need to marinate for 15 minutes to 2 hours. If you’re looking to tenderize cuts, you’ll want to marinate for 6 to 24 hours.

Marinades can offer the best of both worlds: They allow you to take a leaner, healthier cut, such as a strip, flank, top round or tenderloin steak, and give it more flavor.
A few tips to keep it food safe, gleaned from the National Beef Council:
1. Always marinate in the refrigerator.
2. Allow 1/4 to 1/2 cup of marinade for every pound of beef.
3. Before cooking, remove beef from marinade and pat dry with a paper towel to promote even browning and prevent steaming.
4. If a marinade is to be used for basting or as a sauce, reserve a portion of it before adding to the beef. Marinade that has been in contact with uncooked meat must be brought to a full rolling boil for at least 1 minute before it can be used for basting or as a sauce.
As to those vegetables, try grilling onions, corn on the cob, zucchini, eggplant, bell peppers or tomatoes in thick slices on the grill, in a grill basket or in chunks for kebabs. My favorite is asparagus — brushed lightly with olive oil and seasoned with an all-purpose salt-free seasoning. Grilling brings out the sweetness in fruits and veggies.

Q and A

Q: Should I buy whole flax seeds or milled flax seeds?
A: Both are good. The whole seeds are an insoluble fiber, and the milled seeds are a soluble fiber. We need both. Insoluble fiber passes through the digestive system and helps promote regularity and prevent constipation. Soluble fiber helps lower cholesterol and makes fiber, fatty acids and other phytonutrients more available. It’s best to store either milled or whole seeds in the refrigerator or freezer to prevent rancidity and to prevent the omega-3 fatty acids from breaking down. If you prefer to mill your own, a coffee grinder will do the job. Store leftover ground flax in the refrigerator or freezer as well.

RECIPE

Here’s a recipe to try on the grill — a perfect side to your summer picnic. It’s from the National Watermelon Promotion Board.

GRILLED WATERMELON AND KALE SALAD

1 small seedless watermelon, cut into 1-inch thick wedges
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch dinosaur kale, stems removed
2 cups torn, baby kale
6 ounces goat cheese
1/2 cup slivered toasted almonds
1/2 cup olive oil
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tablespoon honey

Preheat grill a gas grill to high. Brush watermelon wedges with olive oil and season with salt and pepper on both sides. Grill each side 2 to 3 minutes, creating grill marks. Set watermelon aside. Meanwhile, remove stems from the dinosaur kale and julienne leaves. Place in a large bowl with the baby kale and top with goat cheese and slivered almonds. Whisk together the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic, honey and salt and pepper (to taste). Toss salad with dressing. Serve with 1 to 2 watermelon wedges on each plate. Serves 8.
Per serving: 297 calories; 7.7 grams protein; 11.4 grams carbohydrate; 3 grams sugar; 26.9 grams fat; 26.7 milligrams cholesterol; 3.6 grams fiber; 134.4 milligrams sodium.
Charlyn Fargo is a registered dietitian at Hy-Vee in Springfield, Illinois, and the media representative for the Illinois Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics