Barbecues are one of the best parts of summer, but all those hamburgers, hot dogs, side dishes loaded with mayo, and salty snacks can add up to a lot of fat and calories. Fortunately, eating well at the grill is easier than you might think. With just a few tweaks you can forego the guilt and keep your barbecue both healthy and delicious:
Grilled Foods: The Main Event
1) Get Creative and Spice Up Your Burgers
Burgers can be made significantly less fattening by using 95% lean beef or turkey. You can boost the flavor and add nutrients by mixing different ingredients into the meat, such as:
– Egg whites with bread crumbs and vegetables
– A thick and tangy tomato paste
– Mashed avocado
– Cherries or prunes, ground up into a pulp using a food processor.
I know the last one sounds especially unusual, but it’s actually been tested in restaurants! Up to one fourth of ground meat can be replaced with cherry or prune pulp without sacrificing flavor or texture. The tartness of the cherries actually balances the taste of fat in the meat. You can also have fun experimenting with different spices, such as garlic, rosemary, chilies, and even curry.
2) Give Your Toppings an Upgrade
Layering mayo, bacon, and cheese onto your burger can double the calories and fat. Dress your burger up in style with these healthy choices instead:
-Stack the burger with fresh veggies like crisp lettuce, juicy tomatoes, red onions and even alfalfa sprouts!
-Spice things up with mustard or jalapenos.
-Sliced avocado will give you a nice creamy texture, along with some healthy fats.
-Strong cheeses like sharp cheddar or aged Parmesan will give you more flavor in smaller amounts, so you’re just as satisfied – but with fewer calories.
-Switching standard bacon with with Canadian bacon will save you around 9 grams of fat per ounce and 100 calories, according to CalorieKing.com.
-Up the veggie content even more with sauteed onions, mushrooms, or spinach cooked in a small amount of olive oil.
1) Grill your vegetables
Save a spot on your grill for your vegetables! You can grill corn right in the husk. Sliced sweet potatoes or zucchini brushed with balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and some spices also come out delicious on the grill. Toss together grilled eggplant, low-fat feta, olives, garlic, tomatoes, and basil for a Greek salad.
2) Lighten up the side salads
A lot of traditional side salads rely on high fat ingredients like mayonnaise for their flavor. Try this instead:
-Use a vinegar-based dressing, or find a side that calls for olive oil instead of mayo (still watch how much oil you use – 1 tablespoon is still 120 calories)
-Cut down the amount of pasta in a salad by half, and replace it with fresh vegetables
-Switch out full-fat mayo for a lower fat version, or try using low-fat sour cream instead
1) Start with the fruit
If you eat fresh fruit first, the fiber will fill you up and you won’t be as tempted to splurge on higher calorie sweets. Fruit salad chopped into smaller pieces is actually more flavorful and satisfying. You can also eat your fruit together with other whole food-based goodies like dates, figs, and nuts. Wait 15 minutes after eating fruit before reaching for the richer treats like ice cream or cookies.
2) Put the extras away
The reason we often end up overindulging in dessert is simply that it’s available for so long! If you’re hosting the barbecue, don’t let the desserts sit out. Clear them away about 30 minutes after they’re served. You can always leave out fruit for your guests to snack on throughout the evening.
Jason Machowsky is a registered dietitian, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and certified personal trainer at the Tisch Performance Center at Hospital for Special Surgery. This material is adapted from a series of articles written by Jason for Nutrition 411.