The rising prices for protein choices including beef and pork are putting a cramp on summer menu plans. Over the past year the increase in price by as much as 16% for some cuts of meat across the United States may have you thinking twice about your purchases at the grocery store. The increase in retail price is reportedly due in large part to the drought effecting the Southwest, particularly Texas and California, as well as the porcine virus impacting pork production.

Don't throw in the towel yet on your grilling plans for summer. Here are great healthy alternatives to grill that won't break the bank:

'Shrooms are a sure thing
Look for Portobello mushroom caps in the produce section of the grocery store. The mushrooms have a meaty flavor and their size make them perfect for grilling and a tasty burger alternative. Portobello mushrooms have just 35 calories per cup, 4 grams of protein, and are a great source of potassium. Be sure to wash the mushroom caps and marinade them before throwing them on the grill.

1303147_22642156A skewer can stretch your food budget
Make skewers (also known as kebabs) with vegetables and cubes of meat or fish to grill. With skewers you can still have grilled meat, just in smaller portions that are friendly on the wallet. The smaller cubes of meat will cook faster at lower temperatures and allow you to pack more vegetables on the skewer. As a bonus, this meal-on-a-stick is tailor-made for informal backyard gatherings.

Tofu is trending
If you are feeling truly adventuresome try grilling tofu steaks (tofu cut in to 1 inch thick slices). Look for extra-firm tofu at the grocery stores, which will grill better. Tofu is about 3¢ per ounce where steak can cost up to 75¢ per ounce based on the cut.  Steak has 6-7 grams of protein per ounce where as tofu has 3-4 grams protein per ounce. However, eating a 4-6 ounce serving of grilled tofu gives you plenty of protein with less fat and calories. Tofu is a great medium for marinades and with the right marinade will add a pop of flavor to your plate.

Grilled vegetables
Add more vegetable choices to the grill. Try sweet potatoes cut into ½ inch thick rounds and cooked on the grill. Be sure the brush the slices with some olive oil before you put them on the grill and the natural sugars in the sweet potatoes will caramelize to perfection. Sweet potatoes are also a great source of vitamin A, vitamin C (for the potatoes with the orange flesh), and potassium. Zucchini and summer squash cut into ½ inch thick spears and eggplant cut into rounds are also great on the grill. 

Don't forget the fruit!
Round out your meal will grilled fruit for a new twist on dessert. Pineapple spears, peach or nectarine halves, or slices of watermelon are delicious when grilled. Brush the cut side of the fruit with a little olive oil or walnut oil before grilling. Try squeezing a lime wedge on the watermelon after you grilled it for a sweet, smoky, citrus burst of flavor.

Summer and grilling meat go together like chocolate on Valentine's Day or turkey on Thanksgiving. We are not trying to buck tradition. But with meat and pork prices on the rise, you should take this opportunity to challenge your grilling skills and explore new foods and tastes for the summer season. Check out the ShopWell Pinterest page for more summertime and Fourth of July grilling recipes.