Smiling parents holding young children at beach

Summertime and the grilling is easy

June 15, 2023 | Valerie Elwell
A grilled pineapple spear with two scoops of banana ice cream on a blue plate.

This grilled pineapple with banana ice cream is a powerhouse dessert pairing that not only tastes good but really is good for you! Photos by Jessica VanRoo.

Summer is all about taking it easy, enjoying the longer, warmer days and firing up the barbecue for delicious no-fuss meals.

"Grilling is also one of the healthiest and low-calorie ways to cook because not much oil is needed and any excess fat from the meat just drips away," says Katie E. Rankell, a registered dietitian and director of the UCI Health Weight Management Program. "It also helps keep your kitchen and home cooler during hot summer days."

Marinating foods with herbs and spices in advance not only locks in moisture when grilling, it also enhances flavors, reducing the need for sugar, salt and additive-laden condiments. Another plus: fresh summer vegetables and fruit retain more minerals and vitamins when cooked fast over high heat.

Perhaps the best benefit of grilling is sharing conversation, laughter and fun with family and friends, which makes for a more relaxed and healthy way to enjoy meals.

Try brightening your summer table with these vibrant recipes — a new spin on salad, a make-ahead entree and even a grilled dessert — all from Jessica VanRoo, executive chef of the Susan Samueli Integrative Health Institute, part of UCI Health.

Grilled Romaine With Charred Red Pepper Dressing

Serves 4 (Total cost: $7/ $1.75 per serving)
Calories: 396 per serving

Grilled romaine displayed with bowls of charred red pepper dressing, parmesan cheese and walnuts.

Crunchy, sturdy and nutritious, romaine lettuce has about 8 calories and 1 to 2 grams of carbohydrates per cup. It's especially high in minerals like calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium — all key ingredients for building bone and muscle health during the active summer months. Romaine is also a great source of essential vitamins and minerals: folate, vitamins C and K. and beta carotene, which converts to vitamin A.

Roasted red peppers and garlic, which form the base of the dressing, add a strong dose of anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting ingredients. Red peppers provide 200% of your recommended daily vitamin C allowance as well as the antioxidants capsanthin, violaxanthin, lutein, quercetin and luteolin. When chopped, crushed or minced, garlic releases beneficial sulfur compounds such as allicin, which helps lower blood pressure and bad LDL cholesterol.

Even the garnishes for this recipe deliver great nutrition. Parmesan cheese is packed with protein, is high in calcium and has little lactose for those who are sensitive. Walnuts are rich in antioxidants and healthy fats that can lower LDL cholesterol, reduce inflammation and improve blood vessel function for better heart health.

This unique salad will thrill guests and may even tempt the kids to eat their greens!



  • 12 oz. roasted red peppers, drained
    or 2 fresh roasted peppers, peeled
  • 1 large or 2 small garlic cloves, smashed 
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • ⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste


  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 heads romaine lettuce, cut lengthwise into quarters


  • ½ cup Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ nuts of choice


  • Preheat grill to medium-high, about 425 degrees.
  • Brush romaine quarters with oil
  • Grill romaine 1-2 minutes per side, charring slightly and set aside.
  • Blend dressing ingredients together until smooth, adjusting seasonings to taste.
  • Serve two grilled wedges per person sprinkled with Parmesan and nuts and a drizzle of dressing.

Grilled Chicken or Mahi-mahi Skewers and Mango Sauce

Serves 4 (Total cost $10.89 / $2.72 per serving of chicken; $14.42 / $3.61 per serving of mahi mahi)
Calories: 304 per serving, chicken / 229 per serving, mahi-mahi

Two chicken skewers with mango sauce and quinoa on the side.

These low-calorie skewers are great for summer BBQs. You can prepare a big batch ahead of time and with adult supervision, kids really enjoy layering the ingredients onto the skewers.

Chicken or mahi-mahi are both lean proteins. The fish is full of omega-3 fatty acids that are known to decrease inflammation and play an essential role in brain and heart health. The chicken contains the amino acid tryptophan, which has been linked to higher levels of serotonin (the “feel good” hormone) in our brains. It's also rich in many other nutrients including selenium, a trace mineral that’s necessary for proper immune function, thyroid health and fertility.

Zucchini is a sturdy vegetable for skewering and one that helps stabilize blood sugar levels and is high in vitamin A, which supports vision and immune system health. It's also high in fiber, vitamin C, potassium and carotenoids, which may lower blood pressure and cholesterol as well as reduce other risk factors for heart disease.

Mango sauce adds a festive pop of color and just the right amount of sweetness to balance the spices used to marinate the meat and vegetables. Mango also happens to be low in calories and high in fiber, which promotes digestive health. Plus, it contains an especially powerful antioxidant called mangiferin, which is linked to improved heart health and may have some anti-cancer properties. That's not all. Mango is full of immune-boosting nutrients, including vitamins A, C, E and several B vitamins, along with copper and folate.

Set these skewers on the grill when your guests arrive, then sit back and enjoy the conversation over a refreshing summer beverage.



  • 1 lb chicken breast or mahi mahi, cut in 1-inch chunks
  • 2 bell peppers, cut in 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red onion, cut into 8 wedges
  • 1 large zucchini, halved lengthwise and cut in ½-inch pieces
  • ½ tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 lime, juiced and zested
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ½ teaspoon onion powder
  • ½ teaspoon granulated garlic

Mango sauce:

  • 1 mango
  • ½ lime, juiced
  • 2-4 tablespoons water, more as needed
  • 1 tablespoon honey


  • Gently toss chicken (or mahi mahi) with oil, lime juice, zest and spices.
  • Skewer chicken or mahi mahi, alternating with peppers, onion and zucchini.
  • Place mango sauce ingredients in a blender or food processor, mix until smooth then set aside or refrigerate.
  • Preheat grill to medium-high, about 425 degrees.
  • Grill skewers about 8 minutes for mahi mahi, 10-12 minutes for  chicken, turning every 2-3 minutes.
  • Remove from heat and serve with mango sauce.

Grilled Pineapple and Banana Ice Cream

Serves 4 (Total cost: $1.50 / $0.38 per serving)
Calories: 154 per serving

Grilled pineapple spear served with banana ice cream on a blue plate.

Pineapple, a fruit native to Central and South America, has been prized for centuries for its medicinal properties. We now know that it is rich in a wide variety of minerals, vitamins and enzymes that improve immune function and reduce inflammation. In countries like Brazil, the fruit is often served with meat and poultry because it contains a enzyme called bromelain that is thought to aid in the digestion of proteins. 

Pineapple is plenty sweet on its own, but grilling it lightly caramelizes the natural sugars, creating a more intense and complex flavor. A dusting of cinnamon pairs perfectly with the caramelized fruit while helping to improve heart health by lowering blood pressure, LDL cholesterol and triglycerides. Studies also have shown that cinnamon significantly increases the body's sensitivity to the hormone insulin and may help improve blood sugar control.

Bananas are known to be high in fiber and potassium, which plays a vital role in a kidney and heart function, nerve transmission and many other cellular processes.

"Making ice cream from frozen bananas is a definite must," says Rankell. "It's a super low-calorie treat that will be the hit of the summer with both kids and adults." 



  • ¼ pineapple, cut into 4 wedges
  • 1½ teaspoons melted coconut oil or neutral oil
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Ice cream:

  • 4 large bananas, frozen in skins (about 2 hours)
  • 2-4 tablespoons milk of choice, as needed


Ice cream:

  • Run warm water over frozen bananas for 20-30 seconds.
  • Peel then place banana pulp and milk in a blender and slowly mix until smooth.
  • Place the banana mixture in a container and freeze 45 minutes before serving.

Grilled pineapple

  • Preheat grill to medium-high, about 425 degrees.
  • Toss pineapple wedges with the oil and cinnamon, coating well.
  • Grill wedges 3-5 minutes per side.
  • Remove and set aside to cool.
  • Serve pineapple wedges topped with heaping scoops of banana ice cream.

More summer treats