If your typical summer centers on the barbecue grill for fun, food and nutrition, dire warnings of cancer risks probably throw a pall over your party.
Cooking at high temperatures, as well as direct contact between food and hot metals or grill smoke, are the culprits.
All can be thwarted by packette grilling.
The tidiest method is to make one aluminum foil packet per serving.
On a large square of heavy duty aluminum foil, stack up the meat, chicken or fish, a potato, some vegetables, a few drops of water, and the herbs and spices of your choice. Crimp the edges of the foil together to seal the packette. Pop on the grill over medium heat. Cook till the meat and potato are tender and veggies are tender crisp.
To speed grilling and further reduce cancer risks, precook meat or chicken in the microwave, then throw away the juices, which can become carcinogens (heterocyclic aromatic amines) upon grilling.
Packette-grilled vegetables and potatoes remain juicy and tempting because they do not become blackened or dried out.
They retain vitamins and minerals because they cook in their own juices without much added water.
And they can be seasoned with herbs and spices rather than fats and oils, reducing calories and cancer risks at the same time.
Try some of these combinations the next time you're headed for the grill.
* Thinly sliced sweet potato, topped with pork tenderloin rounds, apple chunks and a sprinkle of cinnamon.
* A bed of thinly sliced celery, onion, green pepper and grated carrot topped with a fish fillet and lemon or lime slice. Season with thyme and freshly ground pepper.
* A medium-sized, red-skinned potato thinly sliced, then topped with a boneless, skinless chicken breast, slices of zucchini, yellow squash and fresh tomato. Season with chopped garlic, freshly ground pepper and a fresh basil leaf.
Any time you're grilling, try a packette of "Scott's yummy onions" as a side dish. For each, peel and quarter two small yellow cooking onions. Pile onto foil square. Sprinkle with a little water. Top with Old Bay or Wye River seafood seasoning to taste. Crimp. Grill till tender.
Remember, moderation is the key to good nutrition. If you're really hooked on the taste of old-fashioned grilled foods, you can still have them occasionally.
But packette grilling is a simple, healthful and delicious alternative to get you through the long, hot summer.
Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.