Healthy Living in the North

Foodie Friday: Build a Better Summer Burger

Summer burgers and saladSummer is here—as is evident by the light beaming in my bedroom window at 5:30am, the amount of things blooming in my garden, and the increasing need to mow my lawn—and nothing says summer like a juicy burger on the BBQ! You might think burgers and dietitians don’t go well together, but you’d be wrong! Perhaps because of these incorrect beliefs: dietitians only eat healthy foods; foods can easily be defined as healthy or unhealthy; and burgers can’t be healthy. All false!

Dietitians think less in black and white and more in shades of gray when it comes to food and eating. Our careful consideration of food and nutrition science clearly shows that healthy eating is defined more by the pattern of how one eats over time, rather than food by food or meal by meal.  When we translate that knowledge into practical tips for you to use, a list of things to consider about food begins to form:

  • Burgers on the barbequeFood – is it real food, local, minimally processed?
  • Nutrition – does it provide a variety of key nutrients to support growth, development, and health?
  • Eating competence – are you able to get enough food that you enjoy?
  • Culture and traditions – are you able to get and enjoy foods that support continuation of your family and cultural traditions?

Dietitians work with people where they are at and support them to make small, sustainable changes in what and how they eat. That means we would never try and convince someone who loves a burger loaded with fried onions, bacon, cheese, and mayo-based sauce to make the switch to a veggie or salmon burger (although I do make a great veggie burger!). Instead, we might offer tweaks to your usual recipe to pump up the nutrition and flavour while reducing the salt and fat a little.

Below is a typical burger recipe with a few suggestions to do exactly that. You can pick and choose from the list, do them one-by-one or a few at a time. Let your taste buds guide you!

Usual Burger Ingredients

Possible Modifications

1 lb. hamburger meat
  • Use extra lean ground beef (local if you can get it) or moose
  • Mix ¾ lb. of extra lean ground beef with ¼ lb. of lean ground chicken or turkey or ¼ – ½ cup soy ground round or mashed black beans
  • Add 1/3 cup of grated carrot, zucchini, apple or pear or 1/3 cup of ground cherries to the meat mixture
¼ cup soft bread crumbs
  • Use whole wheat bread crumbs or oatmeal
  • Use leftover cooked quinoa or brown rice instead of bread crumbs
1 egg
  • Use 2 egg whites instead of a whole egg
¼ tsp. salt
  • Leave out of the recipe
1/8 tsp. pepper
  • Be creative and add other herbs and spices like cumin, chili powder, oregano, garlic, etc.
4 hamburger buns
  • Use 100% whole wheat or whole grain buns
Toppings: ketchup, relish, mustard, mayo, bacon
  • Use a lower sodium ketchup, substitute with salsa or use a fruit chutney
  • Load on the veggies whether grilled veggies like mushrooms, onions, zucchini, peppers or fresh ones like sliced tomatoes, leafy garden greens, onions, grated cabbage, avocado or hot or sweet peppers
  • Add a lower fat cheese (<20 MF), preferably a sharply flavoured one for added zing!
  • Use less traditional condiments like hummus or tzatziki
  • Use lower sodium bacon or turkey bacon or leave out the bacon sometimes


Flo Sheppard

About Flo Sheppard

Flo has worked in northern BC for over 20 years in a variety of roles. Currently, she is the Chief Population Health Dietitian and Team Lead for the Population Health Nutrition Team. She takes a realistic, supportive, and non-judgemental approach to healthy eating in recognition that there are many things that influence how we care for ourselves. In her spare time, you are likely to find Flo cooking, reading, volunteering, or enjoying the outdoors.