Maybe you were invited to a barbecue in the neighborhood. Maybe it’s company picnic time. Maybe it’s just you and your sweetheart out on your patio wondering what to make for dinner tonight. Whatever the case, it’s a good idea to have an action plan for grilling. Although it can be incredibly easy to go overboard with the heavy meats, cheeses, white breads, caloric snacks and big desserts that are so often barbecue staples, it can be just easy to make healthier choices instead. With a few simple swaps, you can learn to enjoy guilt-free grilling. Read on for 7 tips.
1. Re-think your meat
Is it really a barbecue if you can’t have your high-fat burgers, ribs and sausages? If you think the only way to enjoy a grilled meal is to go all out with the heavy meats, think again. If you’re not ready to go full-on vegetarian, don’t worry: you can have your meat and eat it too if you stick to leaner meats. Opt for chicken, fish, and turkey sausage as yummy alternatives to the usual heavy stuff. The food will still be delicious and you’ll feel better after eating it.
2. Go for whole grain or skip the bun altogether
Whenever it’s an option, pair your burger with a whole wheat bun for added nutrition. If a refined white bun is all that’s being offered, consider skipping it and getting creative. Fill your plate with green salad, top your salad with a sliced or diced burger, and you have yourself a much healthier alternative.
3. Let vegetables be the star
When you’re making your way through the buffet line, give a passing glance to the heavy chips, dips, cookies and pies, and focus your attention instead on the veggie trays, fruit, and salads. If there’s hummus or a yogurt-based dip available, choose those over heavy dips. If you’re worried there won’t be enough healthy side dishes to choose from, offer to bring one yourself.
4. No, really – let vegetables be the star
Veggies so often get relegated to cold side dishes, but there’s no reason they can’t get in on the grilling fun. Try grilled Portobello mushrooms or eggplant if you’re looking for veggies with a meatier texture. Try this recipe for grilled avocado stuffed with lentils and goat cheese when you’re in the mood for a vegetarian dish that’s equal parts healthy and indulgent.
5. Grill your fruit
There’s no need to bring out the cakes, pie and ice cream. Keep your desserts simple and healthy by simply grilling up some fruit. If you’ve never tried grilled peaches or pineapple, here’s your chance. Slice up your fruit, brush it with honey and lime juice, throw it on the grill, and prepare yourself for an incredibly flavorful way to end the meal.
6. Make a healthy cocktail
Before loading up on the heavy beer and mixed drinks, consider making a few ingredient swaps so you can enjoy a drink or two without filling up on calories. In this strawberry-citrus vodka cocktail recipe, the secret to the sweetness is light agave nectar instead of sugar. Add some strawberries, lemon and mint and you have yourself one refreshing – and guilt-free – drink.
7. Don’t forget to drink water
Skip the soda and stick to water to stay hydrated and satisfied. Throw a few slices of fruit into your water glass or try sparkling water if you’re bored with plain water. Make sure you’re having a glass of water for every cocktail and up your water intake even more if it’s a hot day. When your body is dehydrated, your brain thinks you’re hungrier than you are. Stay hydrated and only eat out of true hunger.
If you’re used to going all-out at cookouts and this is your first attempt to make healthier choices, it can seem overwhelming at first. Just focus on a few small decisions you can make and don’t overthink things. Check out all the options before you put anything on your plate. Go for the green salad over the mayo-drenched potato salad. Choose the veggies and salsa over chips and sour cream dip. Have one or two cocktails instead of four. Every little choice adds up. Make healthy choices and enjoy yourself – guilt-free eating can be a lot of fun.