The Magic of Foil
Grilling packs of food yields delicious results
Whether your family likes camping or just cooking out in the backyard, chances are this summer you’ll be firing up the grill or campfire and making a meal. For me, these are the times that memories are made of.
I remember helping my grandmother make our meals on numerous summer camping adventures. Even then, I liked to help make meals. And one thing we know for sure is that kids are much more likely to eat what they have helped to prepare.
But burgers and hot dogs not only get old fast, they’re not necessarily the most healthy and certainly aren’t the most creative. If you haven’t tried foil packages, it’s time to give this time-tested outdoor cooking staple a go. The great thing about foil cooking is that you can do it one of two ways. You can either create the packs at the fire site, or create them at home before you head out and then have one less thing to do (and less packing to carry) to the fire.
What to put in your foil packs is really up to you and your family’s likes and dislikes. I love chicken or turkey, so they’re often my go-to protein in this dish. But I’ve made such good foil pack dinners with zucchini and fish (for me, it’s salmon—an “oily” fish and less likely to dry in this type of very hot cooking environment), with shrimp, beef, pork, heck, really any protein will work.
The trick to making your foil pack is to slice everything into “like” size pieces. If you’re cubing the protein, then cube the vegetables, too. If you’re using potatoes, I like to slice them on a mandolin; the very thin slices are more likely to cook tender than chunks would. Kids love to use the mandolin, but we adults realize those are tricky and can be dangerous. If yours has a finger guard, then let them have fun (with you nearby in case they start trying to move like an Iron Chef). If not, it’s most likely best if you slice the spuds and give them the pleasure of arranging the discs in the foil package.
Now, a few words about potatoes. Sweet potatoes are much lower on the glycemic index than white potatoes. And even with white potatoes, there are differences. Baking (russets) have more sugar than new potatoes. If you’re really worried about sugar, it’s best to parboil any potato, and then drain off the starchy water before finishing in the foil packet. That may be more work than you want to do, but it will lower the amount of glucose in the spuds.
So, I prefer sweets. They sound like they would wreak havoc on your insulin levels, but they really do produce less of an effect. Sweets are considered “medium” on the glycemic index. But wait, there’s more! We tend to think potatoes are just starch and starch is bad for us. But sweet potatoes have been found to actually help regulate blood sugar (even in people with type 2 diabetes). That’s why we’ll leave the skin on these orange gems when we slice them thinly.
The dietary fiber in a sweet potato paces the digestive process. And, now, I’m getting technical, but this is good stuff—sweets raise adiponectin. What does that mean? Well, in case you didn’t know (and who would!) adiponectin is a protein hormone that helps us all regulate our insulin metabolism. So, for those of us watching our sugar consumption, sweet potatoes are a solution, not a problem.
And these tubers give us a ton of vitamin A. Enough to meet 35 percent of the average adult’s daily needs, but for kids that can be up to 90 percent of their daily needs. While sweet potatoes (and most orange and red foods) contain an exceptional amount of beta-carotene, to get absorbed into our bodies we need some fat with that! Just a tablespoon of olive or coconut oil will do the trick. Plus, “good” fats help us feel fuller longer.
It’s time to make our packets. Use a heavy-duty aluminum foil. Shiny side in or out really doesn’t matter. (We’ve just busted that myth!) I pour about a tablespoon of oil on the bottom and smear it around. Then I layer. If I’m using a starch, it goes down first. Then the veg and the protein on top. I fold tightly so the steam doesn’t escape. This will help keep things tender in this high-heat environment.
How you fold is up to you. It can be a square, a rectangle, or even wadded up like a drawstring bag. Just make sure the steam doesn’t escape and you can get it on and off the coals or the grate.
Grill over medium-high heat for about 12 minutes turning just once. Make sure to check for doneness before serving, as cooking on a grill or open flame is an inexact science.
If you’re looking for a bit of a “s’more” reprieve, consider taking a dollop of marshmallow fluff and putting it on the end of an enormous strawberry. Hold over the flame until just lightly browned. Now, that’s what I call camp food!
4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup chopped mixed herbs
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
Toss chicken breasts in the olive oil, herb and lemon juice mixture in a bowl.
Divide among four foil packets.
Grill over medium-high heat, 12 minutes.
Chris Xaver, Ph.D., is a local TV and radio personality with three children and five grandchildren. Her healthy lifestyle show, The Sweet Life, is airing on public television stations nationwide.