When the weather turns warm and the days get long, my husband, Jon, and I start gathering our neighbors and friends for “firepit nights.” (A month after we moved into our house, Jon built us a huge in-ground firepit.) We’ll make burgers or some chicken, tofu or even grilled pizzas ; everyone else brings sides, snacks and drinks to share. On a typical Saturday, the crew gathers around 4:30 or 5 and lingers well past midnight. Often, the eating gets out of hand. So that I can still stuff myself into my shorts the next day, I’ve found that it’s helpful to follow a few simple rules for smart eating at summer barbecues :
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 .
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.
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.
Fill up on vegetables first. Eat loads of green salad—with a couple of tablespoons of a healthier salad dressing. (Here are 13 great dressing recipes to try. ) One tablespoon is about the size of your thumb. Crunch on the crudités—go easy on dips—instead of chips.
Prioritize your favorite foods. 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.
When you’re finished, go play. Start tossing a ball with the kids. Rally the adults to play horseshoes. No need to jump around like a fool to “burn off” dinner; the point is to pull yourself away from the chips and salsa.
Got it? Good. Now gather up your troops and get grilling.