Now that barbecue season has arrived, it’s the perfect time to fire up the grill for some good eats.
Seeing the wide array of finger-looking-good dishes at a backyard barbecue may tempt you to toss your healthy diet and go hog wild, but there are ways to navigate healthy eating at a barbecue.
At a loss for where to start? Baylee Leonhardt, registered dietician at OhioHealth Mansfield and Shelby Hospitals has some ideas.
1. When in doubt, stick to the Plate Method.
This is a great reminder regardless of the occasion. The Plate Method recommends that half the plate is made up of non-starchy vegetables, one-quarter is grain foods/starchy vegetables and the other one-quarter is lean protein, with fruit and/or dairy on the side and healthy fats in small amounts.
2. Opt for a lean protein.
Choose meats like chicken (without the skin), or a lean cut beef that has a low percentage of fat. The USDA defines a lean cut of beef as a 3.5-ounce serving (about 100 grams) that contains less than 10 grams total fat, 4.5 grams saturated fat and 95 milligrams cholesterol.
Leonhardt recommends picking meats that have less marbling, or removing the marbling before serving.
Think outside the traditional barbecue box — instead of cooking hamburgers, try turkey burgers or salmon burgers. Salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which provide heart-healthy benefits.
3. Pile on the produce.
Grilled veggies? Yes please. Corn, squash, zucchini, eggplant, peppers, onions, broccoli, asparagus… The list goes on and on. Just throw it on the grill and voila — delish. You can also add seasoning or marinades to bring out the flavor.
“We want to try to get as many nutrients as we can,” Leonhardt said. And vegetables are a great means to that end.
Don’t think the grill is reserved simply for meat and veggies. Grilled fruit like pineapples or peaches can also make for a tasty treat.
4. Don’t deprive yourself.
Have your eye on something that’s not so healthy? It’s OK to indulge… within moderation, of course.
"We don’t want to completely deprive ourselves,” Leonhardt said. “It’s not going to make or break you (to indulge a little), just try to make healthier options when they’re available.”
5. Bring the healthy option.
“If you’re going to a barbecue, be the one to bring a healthy option,” Leonhardt said.
Spread the health by sharing a dish that you and others can enjoy guilt-free.
If time allows, consider making your dish instead of purchasing packaged ones from the store, which often are high in fat, sodium, and sugar. By preparing your own, you know exactly which ingredients and how much of each are going into your food.
If you’re making pasta salad, for instance, use whole-grain pasta instead of white to bolster your fiber intake, and try to incorporate as many veggies as you can instead of cheese or processed meats like pepperoni and salami.
“It’s so easy to keep eating at a barbecue because everything is sitting in front of you,” Leonhardt said.
That’s why she suggests practicing intuitive eating by asking yourself if you’re actually hungry or eating simply because food is in front of you. If you have to, move yourself away from the food — go play corn hole or spark up a conversation with a friend.
Related reading: Tips to Up Your Grilling Game