by Jessica Remitz
While it may seem impossible to hold on to that “eat right” resolve at every cookout, family party, and happy hour you attend, there’s a good chance you’ll be able find a variety of healthy (and tasty!) dishes to choose from at every event on the calendar. Here’s a list of what to steer clear of and what to load up on for a summer full of good, nutritious meals.
Foods to Skip
Mayonnaise-heavy side dishes, like coleslaw, potato salad, and egg salad, are often staples of a barbeque menu and can quickly add a lot of calories to your meal, said Erica Giovinazzo, MS, RD and nutritionist at CLAY Health Club & Spa. Mayonnaise is also made up of vegetable oil, which may be more inflammatory than olive or coconut oil. Fried foods including chicken, french fries, and calamari are full of unhealthy fats and calories, Giovinazzo said, and are often breaded with refined flour before being dunked in oil for frying. The condiments you often see alongside these foods at family parties including ketchup, barbeque sauce, and tartar sauce are also loaded with refined sugars and heavy creams to up the calorie count of your meal. Even if it isn’t fried, the skin of chicken can be fatty, as can hot dogs and hamburgers, said Frank Terranova, senior instructor at Johnson & Wales University.
Summertime drinks are also big diet-busters to look out for, especially as we begin enjoying entertaining outdoors more often, Giovinazzo said. Sweet cocktails like mojitos, margaritas, and frozen daiquiris are loaded with calories and sugar, as are nonalcoholic beverages like lemonade, soda, and sweetened iced tea that can be found at happy hours and barbeques alike. Just a few of these drinks can be as many calories as a full meal!
Foods to Serve
Fortunately, there are a number of ways to eat healthy without sacrificing flavor, your beloved grill, or the entire contents of your wallet, Terranova said. Here are some diet-friendly ideas for main dishes, sides, snacks and beverages for your next event.
- Proteins—Cooking seafood on the grill is a great substitution for burgers or hot dogs. Terranova recommends picking up wild salmon, halibut, striped bass, shrimp or scallops in a light olive oil and fruit (lemon, lime, orange or pineapple) marinade. Lean protein like pork, flat iron steak and boneless, skinless chicken breast also work well on the grill with a low-fat salad dressing marinade. Still looking for that traditional barbeque taste? Try using a vinegar-based or Worcestershire sauce to cut down on the sugar content, Terranova said. Your favorite fried foods like fries and wings can also be drizzled in olive oil and baked to cut back on the fat and calories.
- Side Dishes—Low in calories and filled with nutrients, grilled veggies are an easy side dish found at most summer barbeques that allow you to fill up without packing on pounds, Giovinazzo said. Roast in season vegetables like zucchini, squash, eggplant, and peppers on the grill and serve them as-is or alongside salsa and hummus for a lower fat option than a creamy dip. Make your coleslaw and potato salads healthier with olive oil, mustard, and vinegar for some heart-healthy fat options in lieu of mayonnaise, Giovinazzo said. “The yolk from eggs can also really make one of these salads creamy without having to add any additional oil or mayonnaise,” she added.
- Drinks—In terms of alcoholic beverages, the best thing you can do is steer clear of ingredient-heavy cocktails and beer and try having a glass or wine or simple mixed drink of a spirit and seltzer or tonic water with a splash of juice to sweeten it, Giovinazzo said. For nonalcoholic drinks, opt for unsweetened iced tea and plenty of water to reduce your daily calorie and sugar consumption.
- Snacks and Desserts—steer clear of chips, pretzels and fried foods and instead focus on a small portion of mixed nuts, olives or grilled proteins (like chicken or shrimp skewers). Serving plenty of fruit as a snack or dessert will also help fill you up without adding unnecessary calories, Giovinazzo said. Whip up a fruit-heavy salad with cherries, watermelons and toasted nuts like pecans or walnuts, Terranova said, or serve in season fruits on their own for a naturally sweet treat.
Find additional healthy barbeque recipes here.
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