It’s no secret that Americans love grilling: 80 percent of all U.S. households own a grill or smoker, according to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association. 60 percent of those households use the grill all year.
For the other 40 percent, spring and summer are prime time, and no wonder: A backyard cookout is one of the most affordable and fun ways to spend a day with family and friends—and it’s an invitation few people can turn down, thanks to the incredible, flame-kissed food.
But don’t let these awesome, lazy Saturdays put the brakes on all the weight loss progress you made Monday to Friday! Be careful of BBQ calorie bombs that are waiting to sabotage your success. Instead, fill your plate and enjoy the day wisely with our 23 Healthy BBQ Dishes and these five easy BBQ swaps:
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Instead of: Going back for a second cheeseburger
Try this: Start with one and get creative with your seconds
A lean burger with a slice of low-fat cheese won’t destroy your diet. And, with veggies on top and on the side, it can make for a fairly well-balanced meal.
But if you’re the type of person who just has to head back to the grill for seconds, consider a small burger wrapped in lettuce the second time around to save on the calories from the bun. You can also cut up a small burger and use it as topping for a plate of salad, so you’ll get that burger taste without all those extra calories.
Looking for some tips for cooking up a weight loss-friendly burger?
Check out this article on How to Build a Healthier Burger for your grilling game-plan, then try one of our Better-for-You Burger Recipes. Condiments can also be calorie bombs, so check out these these five low-calorie condiments for some extra flavor. You can also stock up your freezer with the Classic Hamburger from Nutrisystem for a perfectly portioned option that’s ready in a snap!
2. Pasta Salad
Instead of: A big glop of mayo-heavy pasta or potato salad
Try this: Have a little, then visit the veggie tray
There’s nothing inherently wrong with potatoes or pasta, but when fast-acting carbohydrates like these are combined with saturated fats, the food doubles down on risks to your cardiovascular health. Not to mention the calories: A one-cup serving of homemade potato salad has 358 calories—more than the burger and bun you’ll eat them with.
If your cookout isn’t complete without a little of the creamy stuff, take a small amount (no more than half a cup), then pile your plate with raw veggies if you’re still hungry. Better yet, head right to the veggie tray from the get-go. Once you fill up on the nutrient-dense stuff, you may not have room for calorie bombs like mayo-based sides.
Or, probably our favorite solution: Whip up a bowl of your own pasta salad or potato salad. We’ve got a healthier recipe for pasta salad right here. And this article provides some guidance on how to build a healthier potato salad.
3. Baked Beans
Instead of: Canned baked beans leaking all over your plate
Try this: Freshly-chopped veggie kebabs you can eat all day
At an event bursting with fresh, homemade food, expertly cooked and lovingly prepared, canned baked beans are a strange staple—loaded with preservatives, sitting on a shelf for months, just waiting to leak all over your burger bun, contaminate your watermelon slice and intermingle with your dessert.
All this for almost 20 percent of your daily sodium, 10 grams of sugar, and about the same amount of calories of two small ears of corn—and that’s just in a half-cup serving. And who really scoops just half a cup of baked beans? In a list of BBQ calorie bombs, this one can easily be replaced with something lighter and tastier.
Bring a side that’s worthy of the occasion, and that you can actually eat with your hands. Cut onions, zucchini, bell peppers and yellow squash into chunks and make veggie kebabs. Toss them on the grill until the squashes start to soften. Enjoy them, handheld, with your burger, dog and corn on the cob. They won’t sully your watermelon or bun with sticky residue, and you can eat as many as you want without going off plan.
4. Potato Chips
Instead of: Mindlessly munching on chips
Try this: Play a game with the kids
Yes, the event is called a cookout, but it isn’t just about the food. The reasons you came might include your aunt’s famous spice mixture that makes the burgers absolutely incredible, but it’s also about the family or friends that you’ve chosen to spend the day hanging with.
So after you’ve eaten your meal, put your focus on them: Talk to them, catch up and move yourself away from the tempting snacks—studies have shown that physical distance can keep you from munching. In one study involving an office candy dish, dieters ate 1.8 more candies per day when the dish was placed on their desk versus when it was just 6 feet away. Move the chips away from you to combat the mindless munching.
And if you get a craving to have not-just-one, remember that what your body is after is likely not chips, but a change in your brain chemistry: When you eat a salty, savory or sweet snack, your body releases a biochemical called dopamine that’s associated with pleasure. But you can get this pleasure chemical in other, non-food-related ways—like exercise.
Instead of grabbing a handful of chips while listening to your uncle tell another fish story, excuse yourself to play badminton or blow bubbles with your nieces and nephews. You’ll get away from the snacks (and that story!), and give yourself the dopamine release you crave.
Instead of: The sad wasteland of the dessert table
Try this: Bring something fruity and summery
There isn’t a quintessential cookout dessert, and that’s the problem: What’s there is kind of just there to be something sweet. It’s calorie bombs like brownies wilting in the sun and cookies melting into each other. If you’re on a diet, it’s not the kind of special, delicious treat that warrants a fall off the weight loss wagon. Worst of all, it doesn’t use either of the things that make a barbecue food perfect: Using the grill or being a cool, refreshing treat to take the heat off.
Solve both problems: Bring along some peaches and a container of light whipped topping to make some healthy grilled peaches! Cut them in half and remove the pits. When the grill is just about done being used for meat, put the peaches on, cut-side down, for about two minutes, until they start to soften and get cool-looking grill grate lines.
Serve each half with a big dollop (about a tablespoon) of the whipped topping in the hole where the pit was. If it’s around, top with a sprinkle of cinnamon for a summery, hot-and-cool treat that’s really special—and can only be had in summer.
If you don’t want to commandeer the grill, bring fresh blueberries and cut strawberries with the whip. Mix a half cup of each fruit with a tablespoon of the whip for a cool, refreshing treat that, again, screams summer. Oh, and it’s red, white and blue—a dessert that’s almost as American as apple pie.
Check out this tasty recipe for Fruit on a Stick with Yogurt Dip. Love something sweeter? How about a Healthy Ice Cream Recipe, a Slushie Recipe or a Popsicle Recipe?
Looking for some creative ways to enjoy summer’s best fruits? Check out these great articles: