7 tips for enjoying a summer barbecue without breaking your diet

Do you count down to holiday barbecues by counting calories?

Summer’s much-anticipated barbecue season has finally arrived. And after weeks of dietary diligence, this is your chance to show family and friends how great you look and feel.

But then it hits you — you’re heading straight into holidays made of burgers, hot dogs, chips, sodas, creamy sides, desserts, and every other food you’ve been trying to avoid.

Do you really want to derail from the healthy track you’ve worked so hard to stay on? Of course not! And you don’t have to! Follow these 7 tips for enjoying a holiday barbecue without breaking your diet:

1. Load up on veggies.

Summer vegetables are a diet’s best friend at a holiday barbecue — mainly because you can enjoy unlimited amounts of delicious raw veggies in unlimited ways.

  • Drooling in front of the chip bowl? Look no further than the ever-popular vegetable platter. Bite-sized veggies keep your hands and mouth busy, delivering the crunch of greasy chips without the high amounts of fat.
    Not a fan of raw veggies? Add a light dip, like this low-fat carrot hummus, or keep it simple by mixing Greek yogurt and your favorite dry dressing mix.
  • Fill up on a large salad, packed with leafy greens and plenty of colorful veggies, before digging into the main course. Drizzle it with a light dressing — about two tablespoons worth.
  • Don’t forget the grill! Brush vegetables with a little extra virgin olive oil, and flavor with salt and pepper (and any other natural flavorings you love). Great summer vegetables to grill include:
    • Zucchini
    • Squash
    • Eggplant
    • Corn
    • Portabella mushrooms
    • Onions
    • Bell Peppers
    • Tomatoes

2. Feel fuller with lean meats.

Since you’re at a barbecue, more than likely you’re going to be surrounded by protein-packed meats, which fill you up better than carbohydrates. Opt for lean meat, such as:

  • Skinless poultry (white-meat chicken, turkey)
  • Beef (90–95% lean, “round” or “loin” in the name)
  • Pork (“loin” in the name)

But beware! Even the leanest meats can turn into diet disasters if coated with high-calorie, sugary sauces and marinades — like most BBQ sauces. Instead, try one of the many low-sugar or sugar-free options from your local grocery store, or make your own low-calorie BBQ sauce!

3. Sweet tooth? Find the fruit!

When those fluffy, frosted cupcakes are calling your name, look no further than summer fruits, like naturally sweet watermelon, kiwi, pineapple, strawberries, blueberries, and peaches. Chop up your favorite summer fruits for a classic fruit salad or refreshing fruit popsicles.

4. Thirsty? Lighten up!

However you choose to quench your thirst this holiday weekend, choose wisely — many summertime drinks are loaded with sugar. And alcoholic beverages are packed with empty calories, act as an appetite stimulant, and tear down your inhibitions faster than you can say “last call!”

Fill up on plenty of ice-cold water, and add fruit slices if you want to enjoy a sweeter treat. Choose low-calorie options, like sparkling flavored water or unsweetened iced tea brewed with lemons and mint. And if you select an alcoholic beverage, stick to the recommended daily allowance — one serving for women, two servings for men. Opt for a light beer or wine spritzer.

5. Moderation!

So, you’re ready to eat light and healthy. But your best friend brought her world-famous baked beans. And your mother is adding the finishing touches to your favorite banana pudding.

Don’t panic! As long as you indulge in appropriate portion sizes, you won’t wreak havoc on your journey to health.

Simply keep the entire amount of not-so-healthy sides to about one cup — about the size of a tennis ball or your fist. If you’re tempted to devour a gigantic, greasy hamburger, limit yourself to 3 ounces of meat — about the size of a deck of cards or the palm of your hand. Or enjoy the burger without the bun!

6. Bring it yourself.

If you’re not hosting a barbecue and are worried that there won’t be any healthy options available, bring your own to share!

Remember the party-pleasing vegetable platter? Bring one! And don’t hesitate to bring your own meat, veggie burgers, and sides to throw on the grill — more than likely, your hosts will appreciate the extra grub.

7. Get up, and play!

Swimming, dancing, horseshoe, hula-hoop, tag, football — there’s an abundance of outdoor activities you can do to burn calories, have loads of fun, and keep your hands away from the cookies.

Remember: holiday barbecues are a chance to spend quality time with your family and friends and to celebrate summer. It’s not about the food — it’s about the fun.

Struggling with your diet? Meet with a registered dietitian at the Chattanooga Lifestyle Center, or call 423-778-9400 to enroll in one of Erlanger’s medical weight management programs, including exercise classes, one-on-one nutrition consultations, and support group programs.