Tips to a Healthier Barbecue Season

Even though summer is ripe with fresh fruit and veggies — summer potlucks, holiday barbecues, and camping trips can make it a challenge to eat healthy.

So the next time you throw something on the old grill for a day at the beach, or prepare a night of dinner and drinks with friends on your back deck, here are eight tips for healthier barbecue meals…

Grill a Healthier Burger

I know that burgers on the grill and summer go hand in hand. However, you can make your barbecue cookout a lot healthier depending what you grill. For instance, burgers can be made with lean ground beef, or lean ground chicken or turkey. You can also make some veggie burgers using beans and complex grains (i.e., quinoa), or grill up some skinless, boneless chicken breasts to put on buns.

What’s In That Sauce?

Remember that even though barbecue sauces and marinades might not taste like they contain any sugar—most do! Check the bottles for sugar content (and hidden sugars, like cane sugar and molasses) or marinate grilled items in a homemade marinade of your own made with sugar-free ingredients (i.e., a mix of olive oil, herbs, spices, and fruit puree).

Green Up Your Sides

Your barbecue or backyard party won’t implode if you don’t set out a creamy potato or macaroni salad. If guests insist, make a healthier version using Dijon mustard and low fat plain yogurt instead of high-fat mayonnaise. I also make a point of featuring a load of chopped veggies, raw nuts and seeds, and seasonal fruits in my cold summer side dishes.

Grill Up Veggies

Meat doesn’t have to be the feature of every meal. In fact, the grill works wonders on seasonal vegetables—like portabella mushrooms, zucchini, sliced red peppers, eggplant, asparagus,  and corn on the cob.  Most veggies grill up beautifully in a mere 10 minutes on the grill and can be lain on top of a lovely salad or, in the case of a thick portabella, a whole grain burger bun.

Fresher Snacks

When it comes to nibbles in the summer, look no further than your local farmers’ market or your own garden! Serve up fresh veggies—like green beans, cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, carrot and celery sticks, sugar snap peas, and asparagus spears to dip into a homemade guacamole, Greek yogurt dip, or hummus.

Remember to Hydrate

You can easily become dehydrated at a barbecue or beach cookout. As you perspire, the body needs to refuel its vital fluid levels. Sure, a few beers are nice with a chicken burger, but remember to pack a cooler with bottled water, sparkling water, and infused water (i.e., a water pitcher with lemon and cucumber slices) to top up hydration levels at hot barbecue parties.

Summer’s Sweets

You wouldn’t dare deny your guests a sweet dessert following dinner. However, it’s what you serve that can make all the difference. Fresh, local fruits—like a seasonal fruit salad, fruit pops made with fresh fruit puree, or a huge platter of sliced watermelon will surely hit the sweet spot!

Liven Up Your Barbecue

You don’t have to sit on your duff while dinner grills. Instead, get up and move around, go for a swim, throw the football or Frisbee around, or stage a game of bocce ball or horseshoes to keep the circulation flowing. And remember, after dinner is the perfect time to go for a leisurely stroll…and maybe catch the sunset.

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching, MS, RDN, CDE

Julie Ching is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator in Los Angeles. She decided to become a Dietitian after traveling through Europe, South America, and Asia and discovered a passion for food. She now works with people of all ages and varying disease states to improve their health. She is passionate about teaching people about nutrition so they can live their best life while still considering their cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds.