It's finally barbecue season. I'm always surprised that many of my patients who work hard throughout the winter to look and feel good in a bathing suit wind up sabotaging their efforts when summer arrives. I'd never tell someone to avoid the season's social activities, but I do suggest a few small changes to help them survive cookouts without gaining weight.
Corn on the cob. Who doesn't love corn off the grill? But instead of slathering on a ton of butter and salt, simply top it with freshly squeezed lime juice. Skeptical? Don't knock it until you try it. And once you do – trust me – that butter will be a distant memory.
Good old-fashioned hamburgers. This year, instead of your usual ground chuck, choose a leaner cut. Go for sirloin, ground chicken breast or skinless turkey. You can even try mixing the ground beef with the ground poultry when making the patty. We can attack topping choices another season.
Hamburger buns. It's time you ditched the fluffy white flour buns and progressed to the 100 percent whole grain variety. You could also try a 100 percent whole wheat English muffin or the buns marketed as a "sandwich thin" instead.
Potato salad. Sneak extra fiber into the salad by keeping the skins on your potatoes. (I'm partial to using new red potatoes.) And try adding white wine vinegar, mustard and a little olive oil in lieu of regular mayonnaise.
Cole slaw. Swap in nonfat Greek yogurt for regular mayo, and add a little apple cider vinegar to give it just the right flavor.
Steak. I've never said that a lean cut of beef can't be grilled on the barbecue, but if many cookouts are planned, why not try a different category of steak? Tuna or salmon steaks are great on the grill, especially when they're brushed with olive oil and seasoned with a little fresh lemon, lime, herbs and spices.
Potato chips. Chips are staples of most cookouts, but they're not always a healthy choice. If you're craving something salty and crunchy, try making your own kale chips instead – a rather popular trend these days. Or simply have a pickle, which can leave you surprisingly satisfied.
Ice cream. What's a cookout without ice cream? Instead of passing on it altogether, buy individual serving sizes in lieu of the gallon box. This way, you're in control of how much ice cream is scooped and served. Or if so inclined, switch to nonfat frozen yogurt – but you'll still need to keep your portions in check.
Pie. Fresh berry pies are amazing in the summer, but they're usually a bit high in calories. So instead of giving into a slice, create your own healthier version. In a bowl, crumble two graham crackers, then pile on the berries and top them with low-fat Greek yogurt. Viola – your own (healthy) pie!
Cocktails. Many people would prefer not to consider cocktails as a source of calories, but they certainly are. This summer, make your own fruity version with vodka, seltzer or club soda, a splash of fruit juice and fresh fruit for garnish. Leave the pina coladas and daiquiris to cookouts of summers past.
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Keri Gans, MS, RD, CDN, is a registered dietitian, media personality, spokesperson, and author of The Small Change Diet. Gans's expert nutrition advice has been featured in Glamour, Fitness, Health, Self and Shape, and on national television and radio, including The Dr. Oz Show, Good Morning America, ABC News, Primetime, and Sirius/XM Dr. Radio.