For many households, an outdoor barbecue could resemble an all-you-can-eat buffet. Like it or not, some seasonal dishes can cause you to want to reach for your cover-up. Here's how to help ensure your barbecue has a lasting impact on your palate and not on your pant size.
• If you're the griller, don't eat what's on the grill until it's on your plate. Dip veggies into hummus or salsa or pick on cut-up fruit as a pre-dinner bite. Even the calories eaten while standing up count.
• Choose sides that will fill you up and not out. Salads laden with mayo and oil can pack on calories quickly. At 2,000 calories per cup, even healthy oil can invite unwanted pounds. Try grilling vegetables that are brushed lightly with a marinade of balsamic vinegar, fresh herbs, lemon zest, and a touch of olive oil. Not only will this bring color to your plate, but it'll also bring fiber's filling benefits and a host of nutrients you wouldn't otherwise find in a bowl of white macaroni salad. And if macaroni salad is one of your faves, toss it with lots of fresh veggies, whole-grain pasta, and a light (fat-reduced) mayo to cut calories and add value.
• If you're invited to someone else's home, volunteer to bring a green salad loaded with crunchy, colorful veggies like carrots, jicama, and red and yellow bell peppers. This guarantees that there will be a dish that's satisfying and won't break the calorie bank. Covering half of your plate with these gems from the garden is a great way to feel satiated and not stuffed.
• Although we know that protein is an essential nutrient, would you ever go to a restaurant and order a steak, chicken breast, hot dog, burger, and a piece of fish in one sitting? If you did, the waitress might ask you which one of the above you would prefer. At outdoor family gatherings, however, having a protein smorgasbord is not so unusual, and in fact, is expected. Try choosing the food you're in the mood for and save the rest for the next time. Unless it's made with someone's grandmother's special recipe…a hot dog will always taste like a hot dog.
• Instead of serving cuts of meat the size of a side of beef, try using cubes of meat or chicken on skewers, combined with lots of colorful vegetables. These kabob-type dishes add variety and allow you to sample different foods without overdoing portions. And don't forget to trim visible fat and skin to help keep the flavor on the meat you will eat, instead of on the parts you should discard.
• Portion distortion is likely when sitting around a table with platters of food in front of you, seemingly begging to be tasted. Overdoing summer indulgences is also made easier by the way in which food is served, since family style dining (a big platter in the middle of the table) invites bigger portions. If you're just feeding your family, it might be best to keep the salad, veggies, and fruit on the table, and keep the proteins and heavier sides separate or on the countertop, out of reach. If you're at someone else's home, fill your plate once, as if you were in a restaurant, and avoid having seconds.
• Creating a marinade is your chance to craft any concoction you desire. Proceed with caution though, since some foods commonly relied upon can be high in fat, sugar, and sodium. Here's how to jazz up any dish: Start with a large, gallon-size sealable plastic bag and add a medley of spices and seasonings like garlic powder, paprika, smoky paprika, turmeric, and pepper, just to name a few. You can make your job even easier by purchasing rubs and spice combinations that are already mixed together. Certain blends are specifically tailored toward fish, meat, or poultry dishes while others bring out the best in vegetable recipes. Next add a touch of something sweet like honey, maple syrup, molasses, or agave. For an additional kick, bring on the balsamic vinegar (which contains virtually no sodium) and skip the soy sauce (which has almost 1,000 milligrams of sodium per tablespoon). This will cut sodium without compromising the flavor of your marinade.
• Don't forget the fruit. Grilled fruit screams with sweetness and makes a perfect partner for chicken and meat dishes. Pineapple, mangoes, and peaches are just a few of the many fruits you can explore. Your kids will love them, too.
And of course we always need to keep food safety in mind. Remember to separate raw from cooked foods by using color-coded cutting boards, have a food thermometer handy to check proper food temperatures, and be sure to wash hands before, during, and after meal prep. These simple steps could help keep your guests safe, and combined with the above tips, make it easier for them to simultaneously stay svelte!
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Bonnie Taub-Dix, MA,RD,CDN, has been owner of BTD Nutrition Consultants, LLC, for more than three decades and she is the author of Read It Before You Eat It. As a renowned motivational speaker, author, media personality, and award-winning dietitian, Taub-Dix has found a way to communicate how to make sense of science. Her website is BetterThanDieting.com.