Declare Your Freedom from Bland Burgers

By Chef Meg Galvin, Healthy Cooking Expert at

I love a good burger--turkey, beef, pork, chicken, veggies, you name it! With my current focus on weight training, I think my body is craving extra protein. For me a lean burger is a quick, easy meal that, with added toppings, will never look or taste the same twice It's one of those "crowd pleaser" meals because the every member of the family can make each his or her own signature meal.

My slim-it-down tip (without taking out the taste) is that I usually do not eat hamburgers with my fingers. I use a fork because I almost always only eat one half of the whole grain bun. By doing this I trim close to 60 calories, and the fork forces me to slow down and enjoy the meal. (If I really want to use my fingers, I choose a low calorie thin whole grain bun.)

Though you can't go wrong with the classics, I like to get creative with my burgers. Here are some of my favorite toppings. Try them at your cookouts today!
  • Corn and poblano pepper salsa with salad greens
  • Shallot or tomato jam with soft goat cheese
  • Roasted red peppers, onions, and summer squash and diced tomatoes
  • Pesto, melted provolone, and arugula
  • Turkey bacon, melted Swiss cheese, and sautéed onions
  • Sliced avocado, heirloom tomatoes (because they are so juicy) and alfalfa sprouts
  • Caramelized red onions, shredded romaine and melted smoked Gouda
  • Mango salsa with loads of chopped cilantro and parsley
  • Black bean and corn salsa with a thick slice of red onion and tomatoes

So how can I eat burgers a couple of times a month and still fit into my summer clothes?
I choose lean meats like turkey and sometimes beef, and I use small portions of high-calorie toppings like cheese and bacon. I might only use a half a slice of bacon or cheese, break it up and scatter it across the burger. You still get the flavor and texture in almost every bite, but you save calories and fat.

I didn't include quantities above because each day and each person is different. Only you know how much will satisfy you.

In addition to the toppings, there's something else ever burger needs. Maybe for some, it's fries, but to me it is about the sauce. You don't need the skill of a saucier to make great sauces for your burger. Always keep low-fat plain yogurt on hand and add any of the following ingredients to taste for a great sauce. (For a thicker sauce, use Greek yogurt.) Here are some favorites:
  • Chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, chopped. Top your burger with grilled scallions.
  • Cajun spices. Top your burger with shredded green leaf lettuce to cool the heat.
  • Pickles, capers, parsley all chopped with a dash of Tabasco. Top this burger with a soft butter lettuce.
  • Crumbled blue cheese and chopped shallots. Top with shreds of crunchy Romaine lettuce.

More great grilling stories:

Beyond Burgers: Fun Foods You Can Grill

A Better Burger for Your Summer BBQs

Speedy Suppers: Burgers for Under 250 Calories

SparkPeople Healthy Cooking Expert Meg Galvin is a World Master Chef, culinary instructor, and the author of " The SparkPeople Cookbook: Love Your Food, Lose the Weight." A farmer's daughter and marathon runner, she lives in northern Kentucky with her husband and three teenage sons.