Shrimp bruschetta. PHOTO / Tess Vella-Collette

3 healthy, tasty, barbecue-friendly recipes to try

With Memorial Day behind us and the Fourth of July on the horizon, it’s fair to say that it is officially the season for cook outs and backyard barbecues. But between the sugary BBQ sauce and the big pan of mac and cheese, it seems almost impossible to eat healthy.  

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If you’ve been working hard for your summer bod, you don’t have to throw it all out the window just because of a summer soirée. After putting together a few recipes that won’t pack on the pounds, I sat down with personal trainer and nutrition guru Susan Harrison to discuss the seasonal snacks and figure out what kind of summer eats will do your body good. 

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Susan, who co-owns Present Tense Fitness with her husband Jason, knows a thing or two about eating right and staying fit, as she is a certified Precision Nutrition coach. One of my favorite things about Susan is that while she may be a nutrition pro, she also has a sweet tooth. That’s part of her trick to staying on track -- she understands that food, like life, is all about balance. 

“The higher quality the ingredient, the better you will feel, and the more processed the food, the worse you’ll feel,” she said.  

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Susan puts into practice the proper ratio of proteins, veggies, carbs, and fats in her diet, but also strives for high quality foods to do the body good, even if that means a decadent brownie here and there (made with whole milk and fancy butter, of course!). And now, she’s helped me weigh in on what dishes are good for a party, and what might ingredients might be out of whack.  

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Any good party starts with a drink. So I took a twist on a classic cosmo with naturally sweet watermelon in place of the cranberry juice. This drink is refreshing and sweet without being too boozy. 

Watermelon Cosmo

- 2 oz. watermelon puree

- 1½ oz. vodka

- 1/4 oz. triple sec

- ½ oz. agave nectar

- ¼ oz. fresh lime juice

Build in tin, fill with ice, shake, strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.  

What the expert says: Using agave nectar or simple syrup is okay in moderation, but keep in mind it’s the alcohol that can have bad side effects too -- including a hangover. Susan gives this drink a thumbs up, but reminds you to have a glass of water for every cocktail. 

“It slows down your drinking, and makes you feel better the next day,” she said. 

This healthy twist on a cosmo uses watermelon puree and agave syrup in place of sugar. PHOTO / Tess Vella-Collette

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This bruschetta dish incorporates some of summertime’s freshest produce that makes for a satisfying dinner for two, or a party pleasing platter. 

Summertime Bruschetta 

For bruschetta:

- 2 large tomatoes, diced

- 1 avocado, diced

- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice

- 1 Tbsp. flat leaf parsley

- 1 Tbsp. fresh basil

- Pinch of kosher salt

- ½ tsp freshly ground black pepper

- ½ cup olive oil, divided

- 4-6 slices whole wheat ciabatta bread

- 8 oz. shrimp, peeled and deveined

Combine first seven ingredients in large bowl, stir together 2 tbsp olive oil. In large cast iron skillet, heat half of remaining of olive oil, and sear ciabatta bread until lightly golden. Next, heat remainder of olive oil and sear shrimp for 2 minutes each side, until light pink. Place bruschetta topping on bread, and stack shrimp on top. Want a little extra zing? Quick pickle some shallots or red onion by adding red wine vinegar, a pinch of sugar, and some red pepper flakes in a small container. Let it sit for hour, add on top as garnish. 

What the expert says: This dish is full of fresh vegetables and the “good fats” like olive oil, avocado and shrimp. The shrimp is also a good source of protein, so all around a balanced meal. 

Susan recommends limiting your bread intake, as processed foods and sugars start to add up. You could substitute corn tortillas for the bread, but some of the less expensive brands have lots of sugar too.   

Shrimp bruschetta. PHOTO / Tess Vella-Collette

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I think every meal is best ending with a bright and light salad, and a barbecue is no exception. This classic Greek salad is a great way to cleanse your palate, and keeps it light in the summer heat. 

Greek Salad

- 2 large tomatoes, diced

- 1 large cucumber, diced

- 1 cup thinly sliced red onions

- ¼ cup pitted and halved kalamata olives

- ¼ cup feta cheese

- Pinch salt

- ¼ tsp. black pepper

- 2 Tbsp. chopped parley

- 2 Tbsp. chopped dill

- ¼ cup white wine vinegar

- 2 Tbsp olive oil

Toss all ingredients together, and enjoy. Will keep in fridge for several days.  

What the expert says: Susan thinks this is a great dish, all fruits and vegetables and again, good fats from the olives. Her biggest gripe: “Not enough protein!” Consider adding a piece of grilled chicken or salmon to the dish.  

Susan also discussed steering clear of “Fat Free” or “Low Fat” feta for your salad. Often times the low-fat alternative is more processed than whole fat, and therefore not as healthy. Remember, FAT isn’t a necessarily bad word. 

This Greek salad is loaded with fruits, veggies, and healthy fats. PHOTO / Tess Vella-Collette

As I learned from Susan: put good food in your body, everything in moderation, eat your veggies, and stay away from processed foods. With these recipes in mind, and Susan’s recipe for health, you are sure to have a fun summer in the sun and you can even keep that summer bod well into fall!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Tess is a restaurant professional, home-baker and downtown Dayton dweller. When she's not mixing drinks for restaurant patrons, she's drinking champagne, buying shoes, or writing her blog, Ciao Vella. You can read about her home recipes, party planning tips, and more at

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