Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN
While those in southern climates are lucky enough to be able to enjoy a good BBQ almost year round, we Northerners look forward to those first warm days of late Spring with anticipation, our mouths watering for a juicy burger or some crunchy peppers cooked to perfection on an outdoor grill.
Happily, once the grilling season begins, it seems there is no end to the parties, casual get-togethers and celebrations, all centered around a grill. The bad news is that surrendering to traditional menu items such as fat sausages, butter-slathered corn and salads dripping with mayo-filled dressings is sure to put a kink in your healthy eating plans and add pounds to your waist.
The good news is that it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing situation. You can still enjoy your fill of BBQ fun without adding notches to your belt.There are plenty of foods you can serve as a host, prepare yourself to bring to a potluck, or look for as a guest that will help keep you and everyone else happy and healthy.
The meat: Often the focus of any party, burgers are an affordable, easy-to-prepare, crowd-pleasing favorite. There are plenty of ways to make them healthy. The type of beef you choose can make a big difference. Look for lean beef (7% or less fat) versus a higher fat beef (20% or more fat). You can also use ground skinless turkey or chicken, perhaps with a bit of soy and pineapple juice to add an Asian flavor and help the cooked meat stay moist.
Keep in mind also that you should get four burgers from one pound of ground meat. That will help you keep portion sizes in check.
If you really want to stay on the low fat straight-and-narrow, go outside the burger box and use larger Portobello mushrooms as your patty.
Skinless chicken also makes a deliciously healthy main course. Marinate it in your favorite sauce and grill it up low and slow to keep it moist. If you use boneless pieces, it won't take long at all, so keep your meat thermometer handy (cook until 170 degrees F.) and don't venture too far from the grill.
Salads: Potato, macaroni, and coleslaw -- all common BBQ sightings and all usually drenched in high fat mayo. They don't have to be. A simple, healthier alternative is to use fat free, plain yogurt for half of the mayonnaise the recipe calls for. You can also make any of these salads using a vinaigrette-based dressing. It will still have a fair amount of fat, but it will be the healthier, unsaturated kind.
Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN
Heidi McIndoo, MS, RD, LDN is the author of "When to Eat What". A food and nutrition expert, writer and spokesperson, Heidi is former National Media Spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association.