“Nutrify” That Dish! Spotlight on Cheeseburgers

PHOTO: THINKSTOCK/BARTOSZ LUCZAK

Cheeseburgers are delicious! There’s something magical about that ground beef patty when it’s been lovingly grilled and topped with perfectly melted cheese!  Eating it plops us right in our happy place.

While there’s no shame whatsoever in enjoying that cheeseburger, sometimes it’s nice to go a little lighter. You can do just that by a using little process I like to call “nutrifying.”

“Nutrifying” is about how you can make small changes to your favorite foods to make them a little more nutritious. You likely do this already — remember when you swapped in that Greek yogurt for sour cream? That’s “nutrifying!” And good news — nutrifying isn’t about food shaming or sacrificing flavor. No way — I love food, all of it. Instead, “nutrifying” is all about celebrating the food in a new way, one that honors its flavor and natural goodness!

Now, back to that cheeseburger. Should you choose to “nutrify” it, let me break down the process, step-by-step!

Step 1: Ingredients 

Let’s look at what most burgers are made of — ground beef that usually has plenty of fat mixed in so that you get a moist bite every time. Luckily, you have options here, and you can find one that works for you.

Option 1: Swap it out. Replace up to three quarters of the 80 to 85 percent lean ground beef (chuck or round) with leaner, 90 percent ground turkey or ground sirloin, but know that the leaner the patty, the drier it will be.

Option 2: Go “half-sies.” Jump on the veggie burger bandwagon! Replace up to half of your patty with chopped mushrooms. Sound crazy? It’s not. Mushrooms add not only moisture, but plenty of umami! It’s the perfect way to balance out that burger.

Step 2: Instructions 

Most recipes call for simply shaping the ground beef into patties and cooking. If you’re using leaner meats, you’ll have to adjust a few things to accommodate your swaps. 

Modification 1: Regardless of what you decide to do with the ingredients, handle your farce (the meat/veg mixture) with care. That means gently mixing with your hands and not over-working it. Too much will lead to a tough burger.

Modification 2: Since you’re adjusting the amount and type of meat in your burger, you may want to consider adding seasoning. Yes, you’ll need salt and pepper, but also think about adding a little bit of Worcestershire sauce, garlic or garlic powder, minced onions or herbs and spices such as oregano, thyme, chili powder, cumin or curry powder.

Step 3: Cooking 

How are you cooking that patty? If you’re adding ground turkey into the mix, you’re going to have to cook those burgers to 165°F, so you’ll need a few tricks up your sleeve to prevent them from turning into hockey pucks!

Cooking Tip 1: Shape equally sized patties that aren’t too thick, then make a thumb size indentation into the middle of each burger. These adjustments allow the burgers to cook more evenly and at the same rate, and that indentation helps ensure you’ll end up with a flat burger, not one with a huge mound in the center.

Cooking Tip 2: Adjust time and heat. Burgers don’t take that long to cook, and that means staying close and not messing with them — no smashing! If you’re grilling, make sure the fire in your grill isn’t raging— that will scorch your burgers. Instead, go with a high heat, well-oiled grill, cook for a few minutes on each side, then move to a less hot part of the grill to finish cooking for a few additional minutes.

Step 4: The Cheese

Did you think I would forget the cheese? No way! But let’s try these ideas instead of that slice of American:

Cheese Idea 1: Mix a bit of shredded sharp cheddar or feta into the burger farce. This is a delicious way to ensure cheese in every bite.

Cheese Idea 2: Top with a flavorful cheese — because that means you’ll need less. I love sharp cheddar, feta cheese, blue cheese and parmesan cheese for burgers.

Craving a burger now? “Nutrify” it using the guidance above, and you’ll be back in your happy place in no time!

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Sara Haas
Sara Haas, RDN, LDN, is a Chicago-based dietitian. Read her blog, The Cooking RD, and connect with her on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.