Nothing kicks off grilling season better than a delicious, juicy burger, sizzling from the grill. While burgers can have a reputation of being unhealthy, simple swaps can amp up the flavor while building a better burger, a healthier burger.

Building that better burger can be easy if you make healthy choices:

• Burgers: Of course the traditional choice for a burger is ground beef, but our foodie culture has made way for an influx of salmon, tuna, turkey and bison burger recipes that not only taste great but can be better for you.

Burgers made from salmon or tuna offer omega-3 fats that benefit our heart and brain health. “Traditional” tasting burgers can be made from 93% lean ground beef, 93% lean ground turkey or even bison meat. For the vegetarian griller, there are great-tasting meat-free alternatives. Vegetarian burgers that also save a few calories and fat grams over traditional meat-based burgers.

• Cheese: Cheese adds beneficial calcium, protein and vitamin D, but it can be high in fat and sodium. Swiss cheese is lower in sodium, fresh mozzarella and goat cheese are lower in fat and calories, and strongly flavored cheese (such as feta, blue or Parmesan) allows you to use less yet still gain a punch of flavor. Don’t be afraid to try reduced-fat cheese, either.

• Condiments and seasonings. With leaner meat you may want to amp up the seasonings to compensate for the loss of fat. Incorporate fresh herbs into the meat for a flavorful punch without any calories, fat or sodium. When making beef burgers, reduce the amount of meat used and incorporate sautéed mushrooms to save calories and fat, to add moisture and a meaty flavor, and to enhance the flavor of other seasonings.

Lean ground turkey meat is more prone to drying out during cooking so add a bit of low-fat ricotta cheese to the meat to keep burgers moist without altering flavor.

• Tasty toppings. Retire that ol’ iceberg lettuce in favor of crunchy romaine. Add grilled onions for anti-cancer nutrients or sautéed Monterrey mushrooms for a shot of Vitamin D. Tomatoes are a traditional burger topping and provide lycopene, which helps fight prostate cancer.

• The bun. Swap that traditional flimsy, white bun for a whole-wheat hamburger bun. It will add fiber, vitamins, minerals and protein. Toast a hunk of whole grain bread and serve your burger open-faced to save a few calories.

By keeping these ideas in mind, you really can build a better burger. Don’t be afraid to try your hand at creating a culinary masterpiece using healthier ingredients that you’ve found.

Tracey Shaffer, RD, LD, is a Hy-Vee dietitian at the Blue Springs location. The information provided should not be construed as professional medical advice. Email her at