Whether you’re working towards building healthier eating habits or you’re aiming to lose some weight, with food-centric summer get-togethers popping up every other weekend, sticking to your goals might feel like a challenge. No doubt, opting for the healthier option while everyone else is chowing down on your favorite barbecue foods isn’t an easy thing to do, but it is the smarter option and the one that will help you reach your goals more quickly.
To help us highlight some of the better, more nutritious foods typically available at barbecues we consulted three nutrition experts: Dr. Caroline Cederquist MD, creator of bistroMD and author of “The MD Factor Diet”; Sarah Hallenberger, lead dietician at bistroMD; and Susan Bowerman, M.S., R.D., C.S.S.D., director of nutrition training at Herbalife.
These are their suggestions for making healthier choices without sacrificing enjoyment.
“Have barbecue chicken breast instead of hot dogs and hamburgers,” says Cederquist. “Chicken contains less saturated fats and does not have nitrates like hot dogs.” She also recommends avoiding “well-done” red meats since some research shows that carcinogens may form in red meat cooked at high temperatures.
Bowerman also recommends against typical barbecue meats like sausages and hot dogs. “It’s the higher fat meats that get you into trouble—particularly sausages or hot dogs, which have the most fat,” she explained. “Burgers are generally made with a higher fat meat, so if that’s your only option, don’t add insult to injury by slathering it with melted cheese or mayo.” Instead, if there’s fish or poultry on the grill, Bowerman says either is always a good choice. “One good thing about grilling is that it’s a low-fat cooking method,” she added.
“Watch the appetizers, too,” says Bowerman. “Baskets of chips, fried chicken wings, mini-pizzas or egg rolls—typical fare at a casual outdoor event—are loaded with fat, and they’re also salty, which just makes you more thirsty—likely for more beer. If there’s a raw vegetable platter, cozy up to that instead.”
“Substitute a green vegetable salad or a fruit salad in place of coleslaw because it is made with a lot of mayo,” Cederquist said. “Mayo has lots of calories and it also needs to be refrigerated or it can be a cause of foodborne illness.”
“Replace the noodles in your pasta salad by making zucchini noodles,” Hallenberger said. “Add fresh tomatoes, cucumber, onion, parsley, garlic and olives then toss with an olive oil and vinegar mixture.”
“Watch for the high-calorie side dishes,” says Bowerman. “Typical high-fat sides such as potato salad or cole slaw are loaded with fatty mayonnaise dressing. Baked beans can be a decent option if they aren’t loaded with bacon or other fatty ingredients. If vinaigrette-dressed green salads or cucumber salads are available, choose those.”
“Instead of traditional sweet tea or lemonade, opt for a floral tea, such as jasmine,” suggests Hallenberger. “Add fresh lemon and mint for a refreshing summer blend.”
“Alcoholic drinks can really add up calorie-wise, and they also can stimulate appetite,” Bowerman explains. “A bottle of beer, a glass of wine or a mixed drink will cost you well over 100 calories. One good tactic is to alternate each alcoholic beverage with a calorie-free beverage.”
Whether as a sweet side dish, a nourishing appetizer or a healthy dessert—not surprisingly—all three nutrition experts mentioned fresh fruit salad as a smart choice, but especially as an option for replacing high-sugar sweet treats like cake, ice cream and pie.
“For an after-dinner indulgence, skip the refined sugar-laden pie and opt for a few fresh strawberries dipped in dark chocolate and coated in crushed almonds,” Hallenberger says. “The dark chocolate will cure your urge for something sweet and provide a boost of antioxidants. Strawberries are a strong source of vitamin C and fiber, while the almonds are a source of healthful fats good for your heart.