by: Nicole McDermott, Austin American-Statesman
Summer time means grilling time, and we all know what that means: burger season. We love a good juicy burger just like the rest of ‘em, but we’ll be the first to admit that ladlefuls of mayo and barbecue aren’t necessarily the healthiest choices. So we’ve scoped out all sorts of healthy options to suit any palate, from carnivores to any vegetarians in the house. And do away with boring condiments like lettuce and tomato by subbing in some exciting swaps (fig and goat cheese, anyone?).
No matter your taste preference, these healthy recipes will fulfill all your burgery needs all summer long.
Tips for Making a Healthier Burger
Whatever type of burger you make, before you fire up the grill, keep these tricks in mind to amp up the flavor and the benefits of your meal.
- Swap plain, protein-rich Greek yogurt or smashed avocado (a superfood in our book!) in place of mayo for a healthier spread.
- Use whole-wheat breadcrumbs instead of white, or try ground nuts (such as hazelnut or almond) for a healthier filler that’s also gluten-free.
- Add fresh herbs to your burger for a healthy, low-calorie flavor-booster.
- Sneak more veggie servings into your day by tossing chopped spinach or other leafy greens into the burger mixture, or add as a topping.
- Spice up a burger with sriracha, hot sauce, or chipotle-infused spreads for lots of low-calorie heat and a little metabolism boost.
- Choose healthy spreads and condiments for your burger from this list. Some of our favorites: mustard, homemade ketchup, or even homemade ranch.
- Go easy on the cheese. Skip the fat-free stuff, because “no fat” means it won’t melt easily. Instead, choose a small portion of your favorite kind, fat and all. If you’ve got a block of cheese instead of thin slices, try grating it for even coverage.
- Make your own bun with whole-wheat flour—you’ll avoid preservatives and get a fiber boost, to boot. Or go bun-less and serve a burger in a lettuce wrap, on top of a salad, or even between two slices of zucchini.
Beans and Legumes
The blogger behind this recipe says the pico topping (made with mango and avocado) is the most magical thing she’s has ever put on a burger. And we believe it. For a super summery meal, this is it, thanks to fresh cilantro, mango, and a light base of lentils and veggies.
This burger is just as much veggie as it is bean. Peppers, onion, and carrot join chickpeas and herbs for a nutritionally dense patty. Ground flaxseed—known for its high fiber and omega-3s—stands in for an egg to hold the ingredients together.
This burger is both vegan and gluten-free. With sun-dried tomatoes, an ample amount of garlic, and fresh basil, this burger pays homage to the marguerita pizza (minus the cheese). Instead of breadcrumbs, this creation stays together with the help of vitamin E-filled almond meal (which is literally crushed up almonds).
Sometimes it’s not easy being green, but this burger gets its verdant hue by default with such ingredients as scallions, spinach, tarragon, chives, and parsley. Oats and tofu provide the base, while mustard and lemon juice add a citrusy tang.
This veggie burger is packed with good stuff, including oats, beans, squash, quinoa, and corn—and that’s just for starters. The ingredients lend well to whatever fresh or dry spices you’ve got on hand (the recipe suggests any combination of cumin, tarragon, coriander, and chili powder). By mashing the beans only part way, the burgers maintain a hearty texture.
Earthy mushrooms, meaty lentils, and salty kalamata olives combine for a burger you can sink your teeth into. But the star here is the sauce: Creamy, garlicky, and super easy to make (soak cashews, then whirl everything in a food processor), you’ll want to make extra to put on sandwiches and water down for salads and pastas.
Red onion marmalade may not be your average burger condiment, but it’s easy to make, and it adds a sweet tang thanks to vinegar and a little bit of brown sugar. The burger itself includes both red and green bell peppers, chickpeas, and seasonings such as tahini, superfoods garlic and turmeric, and coriander.
We’re huge fans of sriracha, the super popular paste-like hot sauce. This spicy patty gets in on the (hot) action. It’s made mostly from black beans and oats and is seasoned with superfood garlic and cilantro. This blogger suggests crumbling leftover burger into an egg scramble for an amped-up breakfast.
Chicken and Turkey
In Vietnamese, “banh mi” stands for a single serving baguette, but the sandwich itself generally includes a meat of some sort as well as cilantro, chili peppers, and pickled carrots. Lean ground chicken, tons of veggies, and an egg makes this burger (which loosely mimics a banh mi) a healthy, well-balanced meal. Plus, the yolk makes for a hassle-free condiment.
Though it may sound sinful to separate a burger from its bun (the shame!), this chicken version gets sandwiched between two slices of char-grilled zucchini (and is just one of the many ways to cut back on carbs). Not a bad way to up the day’s veggie servings!
This burger is easy-peasy to make (just be sure to remove the red chili pepper seeds or your tongue may lose all feeling for the remainder of the meal). If this is your first introduction to fish sauce, you can find the savory liquid (made from salted, fermented fish) in the Asian section of the grocery store, near the soy sauce. Or make this vegan version instead.
Mangos strike again! But we certainly don’t hate it. This time it’s in the form of a slaw (feel free to sub in plain Greek yogurt for all or half of the mayo). The burger itself has even more fruit with the addition of a chopped tart apple.
Ohhhh yeah. Gooey brie, crunchy and tart superfood apple, and rich caramelized onions make this burger a total winner. Lean ground turkey makes for a protein-packed lunch or dinner!
Fajitas? In a burger? Pass it over! The idea is simple—this burger’s got all the fixings of your standard fajita (turkey, onion, bell peppers, and jalapeño), just sans the steaming hot skillet. This sounds like the perfect home for a scoop of heart-healthy guac!
These chicken burgers are smoky and sweet, with pineapple rings as the featured topping, and paprika and chili powder to season. A light layer of pepper jack cheese helps keep the pineapple, which is full of fiber and vitamin C, in place.
This blogger makes an excellent point—turkey burgers can be pretty blah. But thankfully, this version is the opposite of bland with crumbled feta, char-grilled red pepper, and arugula, which adds a little bite. Don’t forget to check out the simple tutorial for charring!
Think outside of the bun and fill your burger with cheese rather than haphazardly tossing it on top (jeez, who does that anymore?!). We forgive you if you slather the BBQ sauce, which is made with peach preserves, on every food item in the fridge.
Veggies, Nuts, Grains, and Seeds
This burger marries every healthy and delicious thing ever. OK, so we’re exaggerating a wee bit, but it does include sweet potato, roasted garlic, protein-rich quinoa, chipotle chiles, lime juice, sharp cheddar, and homemade avocado-ranch dressing (amongst other ingredients). While the ingredient list is lengthy and this burger requires a little more prep work than some of the others, the end result is nothing short of mouth-watering.
These burgers are all about umami—the savory, meaty taste found in foods like mushrooms and soy. Instead of meat or beans, the burger draws on superfoods quinoa (which packs a protein punch) and oats for its base. It gets its umami flavor from a hefty dose of white mushrooms.
Shredded beets, know for the rare antioxidant betalains, add a touch of sweetness to these patties. Even cooler: The beets turn the burgers bright red! One of these guys is a nutrition powerhouse, combining lentils, quinoa, rice, and oats.
This burger is all healthy thanks to seeds, quinoa flakes, and (of course) broccoli and pistachios (two of our favorite green superfoods). If using pre-salted seeds, feel free to cut back on the sea salt (1/4 teaspoon should do it.).
No risk of E. coli with these raw burgers! Marinating portobellos in tamari, liquid smoke, agave, and apple cider vinegar adds tons of flavor. The meaty shrooms made a hearty texture when mixed with ground pepitas, celery, and carrots. And if you don’t have a deydrator (because who does?), just bake them in the oven. They won’t be “raw,” but they’ll still be delicious.
This veggie-heavy burger beefs up its nutrition stats with vitamin-rich carrots, celery, zucchini, and onion. Brown rice and oats amp up the fiber content, and tofu adds in some veg-based protein. If you’ve never heard of nutritional yeast, it’s a healthy cheese alternative (vegan, low in fat, and high in protein) that tastes nutty and cheesy at the same time.
This meat-free burger uses nuts (cashews), seeds (sunflower), and grains (brown rice). Onions and a big helping of carrots keep these patties from going dry and add the carotenoid beta-carotene, which converts into eye-healthy vitamin A.
Aptly dubbed the “veggie burgers for the carnivore in your life,” these patties employ mushrooms as their base, a plant-based alternative that offers a slightly meaty flavor when cooked. Brown rice and oats add filling fiber and keep the chopped ‘shrooms from falling apart. For a healthier spread, try combining fig preserves with goat cheese instead of mayo.
For this burger there’s no mixing, and no getting your hands dirty in a bowl of mushed up stuff. Portobello mushrooms serve as the actual patty, while goat cheese and red bell pepper add color and flavor.
Beef, Bison, and Pork
This burger has a whole lot of intense flavors going on. Apple and sage are stuffed right in the burger, while a jalapeño-sage pesto and crumbled smoked blue cheese go on top. Whoa. To keep the burgers (or any meat-based burger, for that matter) from getting tough, avoid over-mixing the ingredients (mix just until everything is combined).
The light yogurt sauce used for this burger—which uses nonfat plain Greek yogurt, cucumbers, superfood garlic, and lemon juice—lends flavor without adding a boatload of extra fat like regular mayo would. This burger is also chock full of vegetables (roasted red peppers, romaine, cucumber, and red onion). Choose a whole-wheat bun for an even healthier option.
This recipe calls for grass-fed beef, which tends to be slightly lower in overall fat and higher in omega-3 fatty acids (compared to conventional meats). Turn to pineapple and chipotle chili powder-infused avocado cream sauce (say that ten times fast) for both spicy and sweet flavors.
If you’ve never dabbled in bison, it’s time to get cookin’. Bison meat generally has less fat than beef as well as a higher protein content. This specific burger gets jazzed up with slow-roasted tomatoes and wine-sautéed onions.
What makes this burger worthy of a German pilsner? It’s topped with sauerkraut, whole-grain mustard, and caraway seeds—the earthy, citrusy spice used in rye bread (and tons of other German staples). For a healthier rendition of this burger, swap the sour cream with plain Greek yogurt.
This quick-to-prepare meal gets a spicy kick from shredded pepper jack and diced green chiles (feel free to use fresh ones, or find prepared, canned chiles in your supermarket’s Mexican food section).
While apples are a more typical fruit accompaniment to burgers, this beef patty is infused with superfood blueberries, which are rich in the antioxidant anthocyanins. (Note: Thawed frozen berries work just fine!). The addition of Worcestershire sauce counters the sweetness of the berries.
As we’ve seen in a few previous entries, this burger turns to nut flour (from ground almonds) instead of breadcrumbs. What’s the point? The nut flour means added nutrition—a 1/4 cup serving provides 35 percent of the daily value of vitamin E as well as three grams of fiber and six grams of protein. It’s also a healthy choice for all the gluten-free folks out there.
This recipe goes the extra mile with homemade buns. For that special touch, you can do the same, or buy your favorite whole-wheat pre-made version. And as a side note, we’d use this super delicious avocado-yogurt dressing for just about anything!
More mango! (We just can’t get enough). This time, simple pork burgers join a sweet and tangy chutney of mango, raisins, onion, and vinegar. Tip: For super lean pork, head to a butcher and choose a pound of tenderloin (and ask for it to be ground).
This burger uses two parts extra-lean ground beef and one part lean—a great way to add in just the right amount of fat to maintain the juiciness of a good burger without going full-out on the calories. To cut down on more added calories and fat, choose sun-dried tomatoes that are not packaged in oil. The meat itself lends plenty of flavor without it!
Talk about a one-pot meal! To whip this puppy up, toss all of the ingredients in a ball before forming patties. The horseradish and soy combo add an umami bite. This recipe uses lettuce instead of buns to hold the burger, but feel free to serve it however you’d like.
These burgers have it all: Salty feta and pomegranate seeds infuse the bison patty for cheesy pleasure in every bite. Then it’s topped with caramelized onions, extra feta, pomegranate sauce, and watercress for a colorful and gourmet meal that’s easy to make and loaded with flavors that come together perfectly.
Pickled peaches may not be a pantry staple in your kitchen, but they’re the perfect way to pair sweet and sour. For a quick pickling method, boil and simmer peaches, onion, vinegar, mustard, sugar, and salt and then let cool (no need to let it ferment for months and months). Serve the burgers in whole-wheat pitas to keep the peaches from going anywhere but your stomach.
Booze with a meal, and in a meal? Yes, please! While it’s less than a cup (and likely not buzz-inducing), the wine adds a nice flavor to the caramelized onions. With just a few (healthy) ingredients, the burger itself couldn’t be easier to prep.
Venison, Veal, and Lamb
This burger goes bun-less to capitalize on the flavorful meat and slight nuttiness from the hazelnuts. Top with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt (our go-to healthy condiment base) and a few sprigs of fresh dill.
The Mediterranean diet is all the rage (and may even make us happier with healthy fats and tons of fresh fruits and veggies). This burger gets its Mediterranean flair from roasted red peppers, basil pesto, and grilled eggplant. Toss whole-grain bread into the food processor for healthier breadcrumbs.
This guy is super simple. All it takes is venison, held together with egg and breadcrumbs, then sage, red pepper, and mushrooms for a little crunch and flavor. If you’re looking to ditch the mayo, check out our list of healthier condiments (we particularly recommend the yogurt herb Dijon spread or avocado spread).
While prosciutto isn’t exactly the healthiest burger topping in existence, a little goes a long way—just a slice for each burger will do. Choose whole-wheat breadcrumbs or nut flour (such as hazelnut or almond) for a healthier way to bind the ingredients.
Choose sun-dried tomatoes that aren’t packed in olive oil for a lighter but still flavorful topping. The burger itself is simple, but gets jazzed up with some sun-dried tomatoes.
Lamb can be higher in fat and calories compared to beef, but some cuts—such as loin, shank, and leg—are healthier. It may be worth your while to ask a butcher to grind your preferred cut. Yogurt, cucumber, and mint create a light topping that pairs nicely with the lamb.
This is definitely not your average chain-restaurant fair. The burger itself includes capers, minced pickles, and apple cider. Crumbled goat cheese, pomegranate seeds, and baby arugula make for festive-looking (and healthy!) toppings. Added bonus: Pom seeds provide a good amount of fiber as well as plenty of antioxidants, which may help prevent heart problems Pomegranate Protection against Cardiovascular Diseases. Aviram M, Rosenblat M. Evidence-based complementary and alternative medicine : eCAM, 2012, Nov.;2012():1741-4288. .
These patties feature a dollop of summer with a salsa made from vitamin A- and C-rich watermelon, along with onion, jalapeño, cilantro, and limejuice. The burgers themselves are a simple mixture of fish, breadcrumbs, egg, mustard, garlic, and spices.
This budget-friendly and low-cal burger uses canned tuna and panko bread crumbs as its foundation. To flavor the meal, add a good amount of lemon juice, fresh parsley and chopped green onion, and some minced, good-for-you garlic. Top with sour cream or plain yogurt for some tang!
This burger draws from traditional Asian flavors with ingredients like ginger, peanut butter, soy sauce, and hoisin sauce. Find hoisin, a Chinese dipping sauce made from toasted mashed soybeans, in the Asian section of the supermarket. Try plain yogurt instead of mayo for a lower calorie swap.
Eating one of these burgers twice a week (or just eating salmon in general) can increase levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) 19339404. Cilantro and lime create a light dressing, and sliced avocado adds some guilt-free, heart-healthy creaminess.
This recipe calls for a skinless salmon fillet, but for a quick, easy, and cheaper alternative, turn to canned salmon. Choose whole-wheat breadcrumbs or oats for more fiber. Horseradish adds a kick for negligible calories.
You’ve heard it before, and we’ll undoubtedly say it again, but feel free to use our favorite swap in this recipe: plain yogurt for mayo. Just two tablespoons of light mayo packs nearly 100 calories, while the same amount of plain nonfat yogurt has only 16 calories (plus 3 grams of protein!). These burgers are low in calories and have more fish than breadcrumbs compared to some chain restaurant fish patties.
This burger has only a few ingredients (including scallions, parsley, and lemon zest), which lets the protein-rich shrimp shine. Since this recipe calls for only three tablespoons of mayo, it may be worth it to go for the real stuff.