BBQ bashes mean good company, good times, and good food—but if you’re trying to eat healthily, a summer cookout may seem like a challenge. That’s because BBQ meals have a tendency to be loaded with fat, salt, sugar, and calories. However, there are plenty of delicious options that you can enjoy if you’re watching your sugar intake, want to lose weight, or eat healthier.
But first of all, I don’t want you to deprive yourself of foods you really love and leave your event feeling frustrated, hungry and unhappy because you did not enjoy yourself. If you’re trying to lose weight and be healthy, you can still eat foods that are fatty or high in calories—you just have to learn how. So enjoy a serving of your favorite dish, but focus on sticking with portion control, and try to pick just one of your favorites to enjoy. Then go to work on filling your plate with delicious foods that are high in nutritional value. Here are 8 tips to help you have a fabulous BBQ season:
1. Contribute something that’s good for you
Offer to bring a healthy potluck dish, that way you know that you’ll be able to have a nutritious option. (See recipe below for a simple and healthy side salad!)
2. Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate
Drinking a large glass of water before eating a meal will slow you down and help reduce your caloric intake; it will also avoid dehydration during the warmer weather. If you’re drinking alcoholic beverages, try to drink a glass of water between your refills.
3. Pay attention to portions-use your hand to determine portion control
- A clenched fist = about 1 cup – This measure is useful for scoopable sides (like potato, pasta and bean salads). If you’re trying to keep a cap on calories, aim for 1 cup total of these starchy side dishes.
- The size of your palm = about 3 ounces -This measure is useful for steak, chicken, and fish.
- Your thumb = about 1 tablespoon – This measure comes in handy when you’re trying to estimate fats and oils like dressings, dips or a spread. Most full-fat salad dressings have 50 to 100 calories per tablespoon. Therefore try to choose reduced-fat varieties, or vinaigrette, whenever you can.
4. Fill up your plate with raw vegetables and fresh fruit first
Before you get your meat option, load up your plate with lots of salad, veggies, and fruit. This way, you’re filling up on nutritious, low-calorie picks instead of heavier options, as well as getting a healthy dose of antioxidants. You can also grill vegetables in aluminum foil or a cast iron pan alongside the other grilled goodies. Corn on the cob is a healthy pick as its high in fiber. Just be mindful of toppings, like butter and salt, don’t overdo! Baked potatoes are high in potassium and fiber, which is great. But if you’re trying to eat healthier, think about your toppings. Maybe don’t do butter, sour cream, bacon, AND cheese; just pick one. Crunch on the veggie and fruit trays instead of chips (but go easy on the dips).
5. If you’re having a burger use whole wheat buns or try eating it bun free
If available, choose whole wheat buns over white, eat your burger open-faced (one half of a bun), or eat it in a lettuce wrap. You can also substitute pita bread for a hot dog and burger buns, or if eating it without the bun, you can cut it up and top one of your salads.
6. Have a little lean protein
Studies show that gram for gram, lean proteins help you to feel fuller than carbohydrates or fats, so enjoy a little bit of what’s grilling: a lean-beef burger, a piece of chicken or fish, or some tofu. Aim for about 3 ounces. Grilling is actually a low-fat way to prepare food, but only if you choose lower fat foods. Beef burgers, hot dogs, and ribs, which are typical barbecue fare, are high in fat and calories. Fish, like salmon fillets, is high in heart-healthy omega-3s (“good for you” fats) and typically lower in calories. Look for the lean protein if it’s available, like grilled skinless chicken breast because the fat content is lower when you lose the skin. If there’s no skinless option available, you can just take the skin off. Kebabs with veggies are excellent too, the portion of meat is smaller and you are getting your vitamins with the veggies.
7. “Prioritize” your favorite food
If you’re dying for a cheeseburger or steak, get in line at the grill, and have a green salad or grilled vegetables and fruit as sides. Or, go for grilled chicken, fish or tofu on top of greens and have a scoop of the creamy potato salad you truly love. Is the dessert looking irresistible? Dig in; just make room for it first. Have a piece of lean protein (chicken, fish), grilled vegetables and a healthy side (1/2 cup or so of baked beans or a bean salad) so you can indulge without feeling guilty.
8. When you’ve finished eating, get moving or go play
When you’re finished eating, get up and play! Getting away from the picnic table will keep you from mindlessly munching and eating when you aren’t even hungry. Start tossing a ball with the kids, a game of horseshoes, washer toss, or Frisbee, this will help you move and give you a fun way to bond with your family and friends.
Enjoy the summer BBQ season! Below is a very easy, yet nutritious side salad that is full of healthy protein, carbs, and fats. <em>(It is a meal all by itself!)</em>
Quinoa Broccoli Salad
Dairy-Free, Gluten-Free, High Fiber, and Vegan
(*You can double this recipe and take it as a healthy dish to a potluck BBQ!)
- 1 cup quinoa (cooked)
- 1 cup roasted cashews
- 1 head broccoli
- 2 large green onions (thinly sliced green and white parts)
- 1/2 cup red, yellow, or orange pepper (diced)
- 3 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- salt and pepper (to taste)
Cook the quinoa and set aside to cool.
Roast the cashews in a 350 oven for 8 to 10 minutes, checking to make sure they don’t burn.
Slice through the broccoli like you are cutting a head of cabbage, as thinly as you can. Then cut off the longest stems and chop through it to make sure the pieces are small. Steam until bright green, about 1 minute. Drain and run under cold water immediately to stop the cooking.
Whisk the oil and lemon juice into the bottom of a mixing bowl. Stir in the quinoa, cashews, broccoli, peppers, and onions. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper. Enjoy!