Summer cookouts don’t have to derail your diet. With a little planning and smart strategies, you can have a healthy BBQ and enjoy the party whether you’re the host or a guest. Yes, summer BBQ regulars like burgers, bratwurst, and creamy salads can be full of fat, but there are ways to cut calories without sacrificing fun and flavor.
Healthy BBQ Staples
Fatty meats aren’t the only things that taste better when cooked outside on the grill. Low-fat BBQ options include chicken, fish, turkey burgers, and sausages made from lean meats.
Fresh fruits and vegetables are also a healthy addition to summer meals and perfect for a low-fat BBQ. Try:
- Kebabs: Cut them into pieces and skewer them for easy cooking and eating.
- Flavor enhancers: Add flavor by marinating vegetables like corn, onions, and peppers with a light, herb-infused vinaigrette before grilling.
- Foil packets: Another healthy grilling idea is to make aluminum foil packets for smaller or tender vegetables like tomatoes, zucchini, and eggplant slices. Place veggies on a large sheet of heavy-duty foil, sprinkle with water and your favorite herbs or no-salt seasoning, and fold over like an envelope to seal before placing on the grill. This makes for easy cleanup, too.
- Grilled desserts: Fruits like watermelon taste even sweeter when grilled. Try a new twist on this summer BBQ favorite by caramelizing watermelon slices on the grill and then drizzling them with honey, lime, and a pinch of salt. Peaches, pears, and pineapple slices are also dessert-sweet when grilled.
If a summer celebration just isn't the same without favorite recipes like potato salad or cake, try modifying the recipe with less fat, sugar, and salt. Here’s how to get started:
- Swap out full-fat mayonnaise, sour cream, or cheese for reduced-fat or low-fat versions.
- Consider Greek yogurt. Many recipes that call for mayonnaise or sour cream taste great with Greek yogurt instead.
- For desserts, try replacing fat with fruit purees, such as applesauce.
- Try egg whites for some or all the eggs in your recipe. Two eggs whites can usually be used in place of one egg.
Adding Variety in the Right Places
Variety may be the spice of life, but it could be dangerous to your diet at a summer BBQ.
“Research shows that when there’s a lot of variety, people eat more — a little of this and that adds up,” says Melissa Joy Dobbins, MS, RDN, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. That means a table full of decadent desserts, as well as several creamy dips and other high-calorie appetizers, could spell disaster.
Worried your cookout spread will look dull without an assortment of foods? You can add variety with plenty of colorful fruits and vegetables, Dobbins says. “And perhaps only one or two dessert options — one for the adults, and one geared toward the kids.”
If you’re planning a potluck, Dobbins says, don’t be afraid to be specific when asking guests to bring a dish. Ask them to bring a salad or a vegetable for the grill. If not, you could end up with five desserts and no healthy side dishes.
Secrets to Eating a Healthy Summer Meal
When you’re a guest at a summer BBQ, there are simple tips to stick to your diet and make healthy choices.
- First, choose a smaller plate. “Psychologically, we eat less if we have a smaller plate,” Dobbins says.
- Then load your plate with nutritious options like vegetables and fruit before hitting the meats or desserts. “The first things we put on the plate take up the most real estate,” Dobbins says. “Put your salad or veggies on the plate first and then add other items.”
- When choosing a pasta or vegetable salad, opt for those with vinaigrette-based dressings. Creamy dressings usually have more fat and calories.
- If you’re unsure about a food, use your smartphone to look up the nutritional content of store-bought items. “If someone has potato salad from a certain grocery store, you may be able to find that brand online or use a bar code scanner,” Dobbins says.
- Another option is to just take a taste-testing approach: Eat in moderation but still get a small spoonful of a certain food item.
What about beverages? Icy cold drinks like sugary sodas, sweet tea, and lemonade can be a source of hidden calories at summer parties. Dobbins says water should be your first choice, but if that’s just too boring, you can make it more appealing by adding sliced fruit or cucumbers.
Among alcoholic beverages, the lowest calorie choices are a glass of wine or a light beer. Beware of mixers that add extra calories to those in the alcohol. Tonic water, for example, has as many calories as a regular soda.
“Choose your calories wisely, and spend them where you’re going to enjoy them most,” Dobbins says. “Sometimes I pick a glass of wine instead of dessert.” Making informed food choices makes it easier to enjoy a healthy meal without missing out on your summer get-togethers.