Lighten Up Your Summer Barbecues

We’re at the peak of summer barbecue season, which typically involves getting together with friends and family over big food gatherings. I’ve had many patients asking me recently for tips to eat healthier at parties, especially with the 4th of July coming up. The abundance of

© jillchen - Fotolia.com

© jillchen – Fotolia.com

calorie-dense foods poses a constant challenge if you are trying to lose or even maintain your weight.

This 4th of July – and beyond – here are a few ways to host a summer barbecue gathering that is both tasty and cancer-preventive.

The Main Dish: add some color
Instead of the traditional cheeseburgers and hotdogs served with white bread, get creative and add some color to the main dish. I’ve been loving kabobs lately – they are a great way to combine lean protein, vegetables (and even fruit). Here are some ideas:

For protein options try chicken, shrimp, heartier fish — like salmon, tuna or swordfish — or extra firm tofu. Mix up the vegetables: try peppers, onions, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant or mushrooms. Use pineapple to add a sweet touch.

Thread your skewers, then top with a light marinade. Marinating the skewers adds flavor and helps reduce the carcinogens created when grilling foods. Right now, my favorite is tuna kabobs with onion, red pepper, and peach or pineapple. I marinate the whole skewer with a soy and ginger mix for about an hour then grill.

The Starches: potato and pasta salad
Most potato or macaroni salads are loaded with high calorie mayonnaise or dressing. You can make these dishes healthier by added vegetables and changing the dressing to something lighter.

Potato salad: boil, cool and dice small red potatoes, add chopped scallions, garlic and cut up steamed green beans. Dress this version of potato salad with an apple cider vinegar, a little olive oil, basil and cracked pepper.

Pasta salad: use a whole wheat pasta and add in a variety of vegetables: cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, cucumber, broccoli, chopped carrots, etc. Use a light vinaigrette-based dressing (like a light Italian) or a small amount of a lower fat yogurt-based dressing in place of mayo.

The All-Star Sides: coleslaw, fruit salad, grilled vegetables, corn on the cob.
You can make it easy for you and your guests to eat well if you include lots of fruit and vegetable sides. Try making coleslaw with a vinegar-based dressing (similar to the one used on the potato salad above) rather than mayonnaise. Make a big fruit salad and grill up some corn on the cob and extra veggies.

Watch portions by filling a smaller plate, and model it after the New American Plate (2/3 plant foods, 1/3 or less meat). It’s easy to build a healthy, colorful and delicious plate with these side dishes.

How do you make your summer parties healthier?

Sonja Goedkoop, MSPH, RD, is a clinical dietitian at the Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center. She has a passion for promoting a healthy lifestyle and reducing obesity through improved nutrition and physical activity. You can follow her on twitter @SonjaGoedkoopRD.


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