Tips for Staying Slim Through Summer BBQ Season

By: EatingWell Editors
It's summertime and the eating is easy—too easy. Here are seven fixes for avoiding temptation this summer.
When the weather is fab and the days are long, the thing to do is this: fire up the grill, round up your family and friends, and feast. Everybody loves a barbecue. But if you’re trying to watch your weight, big food spreads may actually induce stress—and that’s a problem. Fortunately, we’ve got fixes.
So you can enjoy the delicious spread—without letting the grazing get out of hand—it’s helpful to follow a few simple rules for smart eating at summer barbecues.

1. Contribute something that’s good for you.

If you bring a healthy potluck dish, you know that you’ll be able to get something nutritious in, no matter how decadent all the other offerings are. Here are some perfect summer potluck recipes to bring to the picnic.

2. Pay attention to portions.

Use these 3 memorable points of reference:
  • A tennis ball or baseball = about 1 cup (or use your clenched fist as a rough estimate). This measure is useful for scoopable sides (think: potato, pasta and bean salads). If you’re trying to keep a cap on calories, aim for 1 cup total of these starchy side dishes.
  • Your cell phone (provided you’ve upgraded since 1999) = about 3 ounces meat. (The other oft-cited reference for 3 ounces of meat is a deck of cards.) This measure comes is useful for steak, chicken and fish.
  • Your thumb = about 1 tablespoon. This measure comes in handy when you’re trying to estimate dressing or a spread. Most full-fat salad dressings have 50 to 100 calories per tablespoon (creamy ones fall toward the higher end); mayo (at 100 calories per tablespoon) is another one to watch. Choose reduced-fat varieties, which usually have half the calories, whenever you can.

3. Fill up on vegetables first.

Eat loads of green salad—with a couple of tablespoons of dressing, preferably one that’s lower in fat. (Here are 13 great dressing recipes to try.) Crunch on the crudités—go easy on dips—instead of chips.

4. Have a little lean protein.

Studies show that, gram for gram, lean proteins help you to feel fuller than carbohydrates or fats, so enjoy a little bit of what’s grilling: a lean-beef burger, a piece of chicken (try these Sweet-&-Sour Chicken Drumsticks) or fish, some tofu. Aim for about 3 ounces, which is about the size of your cell phone—provided you’ve upgraded since 1999—or a deck of cards.

5. Don’t go crazy with starchy carbs.

If you’re trying to keep a cap on calories, limit yourself to 1 cup—total—of starchy side dishes, such as potato, pasta and those delicious bean salads. Of course, you’re not going to whip out a measuring cup at a social event! Instead, visualize a tennis ball—that’s about the size of 1 cup. So is the size of a woman’s fist.

6. “Prioritize” your favorite food.

If you’re dying for a big cheeseburger, get in line at the grill. Stick with a green salad or grilled vegetables and fruit as sides. Not so big on buns? Go for grilled chicken, fish or tofu on top of greens and spend that starch serving on a scoop of the creamy potato salad you truly love. Does dessert look irresistible? Dig in. Just make room for it first. Have a piece of lean protein (chicken, fish), grilled vegetables and a healthy side (1/2 cup or so of baked beans or a bean salad) so you can indulge without feeling guilty.

7. When you’re finished, go play.

Start tossing a ball with the kids. Rally the adults to play horseshoes or some other outdoor game. No need to jump around like a fool to “burn off” dinner; the point is to pull yourself away from the chips and salsa.