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Avoiding Post-Backyard Barbecue Bulge: Healthy Barbecue Foods

Fitday Editor

The sweltering summer season beckons you to fire up the grill and gather your friends and family for a fun-filled backyard barbecue. While most people relish the opportunity to attend or host barbecue, these gathering can wreak havoc on your sensible eating plan. Typical foods found at barbecue and summer gatherings are often high in fat and calories, and low in beneficial nutrients. However, there are easy ways that you can slim down your barbecue fare while still enjoying delicious summer favorites.

Hosting a Healthy Barbecue

If you're hosting the party, you're lucky in that you have almost complete control over what is served. The first tip to serving sensible seasonal favorites is by starting with lean cuts of meat. Generally, barbecues are defined by hot dogs, hamburgers, bratwursts, ribs, and fatty steaks. Start the meal off right by grilling lean turkey burgers, fish, boneless skinless chicken breasts, lean tenderloin pork chops, light or fat-free hot dogs, hamburgers made from lean ground beef (look for at least 93% lean on the label), or lean cuts of beef, such as sirloin. Try a delicious vegetarian option by throwing some veggie burgers or veggie dogs on the grill. For a fun, lean, protein-packed option, grill kabobs made of chicken (skin removed), shrimp, or tofu and plenty of colorful vegetables or fruits.

BYO Healthy Food

If you're attending a party, it will be a little harder to find healthy options, but it can be done. One great idea is to bring your own healthy side-dish to share with the other guests (the hosts will be thankful that they have one less thing to prepare!). Having a healthy option available will make sticking your healthy eating plan that much easier.

Certain foods to steer clear of (or have only small portions of) include foods like potato salads, pasta salads, or coleslaws made with regular mayonnaise/dressing, potato chips, deviled eggs, and desserts. Lighter options to seek out include baked beans (as long as they're not soaking with hunks of bacon), veggie and fruit trays, baked potato chips, hummus, and vegetable salads (if the dressing is on the side).

Walk & Talk, Don't Graze

Another tip is to avoid hovering around where all of the food is located. After you fix your plate, move away from the food to avoid the buffet mentality, which occurs when you keep going back for seconds simply because it's nearby. This mindless munching can rack up the calories quickly. Make a point to walk around and socialize--you can catch up with old friends or make new ones while simultaneously avoiding overeating.

Here are a few other quick tips:
  • Use herbs, spices, and low-calorie seasonings or condiments, including salsa, mustard, and soy sauce, to add flavor to your food.
  • Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water or other calorie-free fluids to avoiding mistaking thirst for hunger.

Lastly, remember that barbecues are meant to be fun! Try not to stress too much about what you'll be eating. Instead, enjoy some of your favorite summer foods, but be sure to practice portion control. Concentrate on reconnecting with friends and family, and focus on the enjoyment you get from socializing and visiting with others.

Kari Hartel, RD, LD is a Registered Dietitian and freelance writer based out of St. Louis, MO. Kari is passionate about nutrition education and the prevention of chronic disease through a healthy diet and active lifestyle. Kari holds a Bachelor of Science in Dietetics from Southeast Missouri State University and is committed to helping people lead healthy lives. She completed a yearlong dietetic internship at OSF St. Francis Medical Center in Peoria, IL, where she worked with a multitude of clients and patients with complicated diagnoses. She planned, marketed, and implemented nutrition education programs and cooking demonstrations for the general public as well as for special populations, including patients with cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer's disease, obesity, and school-aged children. Contact Kari at

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