Healthier Cook-out Recipes with Secret Ingredients

Welcome to Cultivate Healthy, Good Morning Washington viewers!

With the temperature finally heating up, it’s time to update some classic recipes before you host your next cookout. Cook-outs usually involve burgers and hot dogs with those delicious high calorie side dishes and desserts that everyone loves 🙂 I wanted to switch up those traditional recipes to make them healthier without sacrificing the flavor. This is a great way to get picky eaters to eat their vegetables.

On Good Morning Washington this morning, I had the opportunity to present 4 dishes that you might see at a typical outdoor barbecue. I made two versions of each recipe- one is the original version and the other has a hidden ingredient that makes it a healthier option. Check out the video here:

The lovely hosts, Adriana and Julie, got to guess which version was the healthier dish. Then they had to see if they could guess what the secret ingredient was in each recipe.

Below are the recipes and the nutritional benefits that come along with making super simple changes to the original recipes.

The first dish was beef sliders. The secret ingredient for making these burgers healthier is red lentils! Cooked and pureed red lentils (NOT green) blend perfectly into the beef mixture, making more burgers than the original recipe. These beef and lentil sliders have 12% less calories, 25% less sodium and cholesterol and triple the fiber for each!Sliders

Beef and Lentil Sliders
Makes 8 burgers or 16 sliders

1 1/2 pounds 80/20 ground beef
1 stalk of celery minced very fine
1 small onion minced very fine
1 egg
1 cup red lentils, cooked and pureed
Salt and pepper to taste

• Mix all ingredients well in a large bowl
• Form into patties
• Grill until desired temperature

The second dish was traditional homemade baked beans which are tasty, but are often high in sugar and calories. I used steamed butternut squash, pureed and added into the original recipe to cut the calories, sugar and sodium by 20% each and give you 10X more vitamin A than the original recipe. Vitamin A helps support your vision and a healthy immune system. The butternut squash blends in perfectly to the sauce and you can’t taste it at all.

Bakedbeans Pot

Baked Beans with Butternut Squash
8 servings (1/2 cup each)

3 cans of great northern beans (3 whole)
1 cup butternut squash, cooked, pureed, drained (about 1/2 lb of squash)
½ can of tomato paste
½ cup of brown sugar
¼ cup of molasses
1 tbsp of dry mustard
1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 tsp paprika
¼ tsp of liquid smoke

• Mix all ingredients well in a saucepan
• Heat on low for 30-60 minutes

Next is my personal favorite, cornbread. You can make cornbread in the oven or on the grill on indirect heat. This healthier version of cornbread simply adds raw pureed yellow squash which boosts the potassium by 35% for healthy muscle and nerves and adds 50% more magnesium for energy, controlling blood sugar and blood pressure, and healthy muscle/nerve function. In addition, this recipe has 30% more fiber, which most Americans do not get enough of in their diets.

Cornbread Pan

Cornbread with Hidden Squash
Makes one 10×2 inch cornbread or 12 Muffins


1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 tablespoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
31/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1 cup buttermilk
1 cup cooked fresh corn kernels
1.5 cups yellow squash, pureed (1 medium squash)
2 tablespoons butter


• Heat oven or grill to 425 degrees
• Whisk eggs in bowl
• Add in buttermilk and corn
• Mix well
• Puree squash in food processor or with immersion blender
• Squeeze out excess water in pureed squash by pressing with a spoon through a colander or by wrapping in cheesecloth and twisting
• Add squash pulp to wet mixture and mix well
• Mix dry ingredients in a separate bowl
• Slowly add wet ingredients to dry and mix just until wet and combined
(It is ok to have lumps, over mixing the batter will make the cornbread too chewy)
• Grease or spray large cast iron skillet or large baking pan or line 12 muffin tins
• Bake/grill 12-20 minutes – once a toothpick comes out clean it is done
If you are grilling make sure it is not over direct heat, the bread will burn. Put the pan on the side of the grill with no flame or charcoal and close the lid
• Once done, brush butter all over the top and enjoy!

Last, but not least is red velvet cupcakes. These treats are not health food by any means, but I do love dessert at a party. I figure any way to make something just a little healthier for you is a good idea, especially if it makes the food even tastier, as it does in this case. I chose red velvet cupcakes to mask the red color of the beets, but the truth is, the red color turns brown when cooked. That means you still have to use food coloring for these cupcakes, but if you wanted to make chocolate cupcakes, you could still use beets and no one would know! I have had beet-haters taste this recipe and LOVE it, so don’t knock it until you try it! Adding 1 cup of pureed cooked beets cuts the calories, fat, and sodium by 20% and boost the potassium by 50%.


Red Velvet Beet Cupcakes with Cream Cheese Icing
Makes 24 cupcakes


1 cup sugar
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 large eggs
1 cups cake flour
1 cup beets, cooked and pureed
1 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small box instant chocolate pudding mix
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 tsp of red food coloring
1 8 oz package light cream cheese, softened
¼ cup butter, softened
5 cups powdered sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

• Preheat oven to 350 degrees
• Cream butter
• Slowly add eggs one at a time until combined
• Add buttermilk
• Add vanilla
• Add beets
• Add food coloring
• Combine dry ingredients in a separate bowl
• Slowly mix in dry ingredients to wet mixture
• Spoon into lined cupcake pan
• Bake for 12-15 minutes until a tooth pick comes out clean or the cupcake springs back after being pressed

• Cream butter and cream cheese together
• Add vanilla
• Slowly mix in powdered sugar

Enjoy your cookouts this season and let me know if you try these recipes! I’d love your feedback.

1 thought on “Healthier Cook-out Recipes with Secret Ingredients”

  1. I was with you until the beets in the cupcakes! I’m definitely going to give all of these recipes a try…even the cupcakes! I can’t wait to see the video.

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