What to Eat at Summer Barbecues

BBQ season is officially upon us! This means lots of time for fun, sun, family and friends. But if you’re interested in making healthy food choices, it’s often tough to do so at a typical barbecue as you’re often times surrounded by nothing but unhealthy options. But just because you enjoy BBQ fare, doesn’t mean it has to ruin your healthy eating habits!

I’ve compiled a few tips and suggestions to help you get through barbecues, picnics, cookouts and impromptu get-togethers this summer (and beyond).

Portion Control

Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are! If the only options are unhealthy foods, then you can either choose to not eat or choose to practice portion control. If eating a lot of bad food is bad for you, then eating less bad food is less bad for you. Eat more of the most-healthy option, and cut back on the unhealthy options.

Don’t go hungry

Nutritionally, what’s the worst thing to do when going to a party with food? Go hungry! Sure it makes sense in our minds not eat all day in order to save calories, but the opposite is actually true. Going to a party hungry will no doubt cause you to eat way higher calorie food than what is intended. Loading up on healthy foods before going to a party can help prevent overeating. It’s amazing how much less appetizing food can become when your stomach has put up the “no vacancy” sign. When you get to the barbecue, this allows you to focus on the company and the fun rather than the food.

Bring your own dish to every party

Healthy eaters always make sure to bring a healthy appetizer or side dish to a party. That way, they know what ingredients were used and are comforted knowing that it is truly a healthy dish. It’s always a good idea to keep a list of some of your favorite dishes that travel well and you feel comfortable enough cooking to whip them up quickly. Additionally, your hosts and fellow party mates will be grateful for a light and healthy dish to balance out the meal.

Always keep the plate method in mind

It’s essential to have some general guidance when going through the BBQ buffet so fill up half your plate with vegetables and fruit, one quarter with protein, and another quarter with whole grains. And, the more colorful your plate, the better – so add lots of leafy greens, carrots and bell peppers to the vegetable mix if those choices are available.

Meat or protein choices are important

Meat is the highlight of any great BBQ. Some get-togethers require bringing your own meat. If that is the case, lean turkey burgers, chicken breasts, or dare I suggest a veggie burger, would fit the healthy bill.

Watch the sauce

Some BBQ sauces are nothing more than slurry of sugar and high fructose corn syrup, while others use vinegar and spices to add a kick.

Vinegar based sauces are typically your best bet. A sharp vinegar base gets sweet balance from brown sugar, plus a little body from a dollop of ketchup. Of all the sauces, this one is usually lowest in calories and sodium.

Mustard Sauce typically consists of yellow mustard flavored with sugar, molasses, and vinegar and often enriched with a little butter. This may be lower in calories than some sauce, but sodium is the biggest concern.

Red sauce starts with ketchup or tomato sauce, and then brown sugar and molasses are added sweeten it up. Red sauces are typically high in sugar and sodium, and are higher in calories than vinegar or mustard based sauces.

Select healthier side dishes

Dive into fresh fruit, fresh vegetables and summertime salad greens. All of which provide a great deal of fiber and nutrient-rich calories.

Another favorite is grilled vegetables, these are a great way to sneak in more vegetables and flavor (think roasted garlic) into any get-together.

Scoop up some baked beans; they are heavy on protein, fiber, and antioxidants. Even if bacon is blended in, this is still a better option than biscuits or French fries.

Go for coleslaw if it’s vinegar-based, instead of traditional mayonnaise based, which add additional fat and calories to a dish that can be a good choice.

Collard greens are also a 'green light item' and among the healthiest sides you can eat. This side carries a day's worth of vitamin A, 2 days' worth of vitamin K, and a heavy load of sulforaphane, a cancer-fighting antioxidant. Most likely they are cooked in fat, but the nutritional benefit far outweighs the extra calories from fat.

Jazz up your burgers or sandwiches

Add lots of veggies like lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, bell peppers, red onions and avocado slices to add an extra layer of flavor and fiber. You can also pile on grilled vegetables like red peppers, onions and zucchini for something different.

Desserts can be part of any meal

That’s right, a fruit-based dessert has the ability to offer a light, refreshing, naturally sweet end to a meal. Desserts like dark chocolate covered strawberries add heart-healthy antioxidants, some fiber, and a host of vitamins, minerals and other phytonutrients to your day. 

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