Summertime and the eating is easy

It's the barbecue-based choices that can be difficult

It's the barbecue-based choices that can be difficult

June 05, 2006|by KRISTIN WILSON

You're in the buffet line at a family picnic. You're watching your weight, so you want to make some smart food choices. Do you pick the fried chicken breast or hamburger? Potato salad or baked beans? Coleslaw or pasta salad?

Actually, you're faced with a no-win situation. Most classic barbecue foods are probably not part of any discerning diet. Foods such as fried chicken, pork ribs, hot dogs and all the heavy-mayonnaise salads pack lots of calories and fat.

Still, you want to enjoy your summer and all the summertime eating. What is a weight-conscious person to do?

Nutritionists encourage looking for foods lower in fat and thinking outside the box when it comes to summer picnics or cookouts.

Instead of preparing hamburgers, make kebabs with lots of vegetables and either steak, chicken or shrimp.

"That way you have a little bit of meat, and every other bite you have a vegetable," says Jane Runyon, registered dietitian and director of Food and Nutrition Services at City Hospital in Martinsburg, W.Va. Also, if using a lean meat with the kebab, picnickers will avoid the fat found in hamburger and the added fat from condiments many people use when eating burgers.


Cookout planners also might consider adding or substituting white meat poultry or fish for hot dogs and hamburgers, Runyon says.

Following are more tips from dietitians on how to healthfully enjoy summertime picnics:

  • Look for substitutes. When preparing potato salad or pasta salad, use a reduced-fat or low-fat version of mayonnaise or dressing. For even more calorie savings, experiment with using nonfat yogurt in place of sour cream for dips and in place of mayonnaise. Tofu can be a substitute for eggs or potatoes.

  • Balance food choices. OK, so you're going to a cookout with friends. You know there are not going to be any low-calorie options, and you're not bringing anything with you. Besides, you really want to have some potato salad and a burger with the works.

    It is important that people feel they can enjoy foods - even if they aren't healthful - on occasion and in moderation, says Lynn Little, family and consumer sciences educator with Maryland Cooperative Extension in Washington County.

    If lunch is likely to be high in calories and fat, consider what you are going to eat the rest of the day. Also, try to get some extra exercise on the picnic day or the day before to compensate for the extra calories, she suggests.

    "Balance what you do on other days so that you can enjoy some of these foods on the picnic day," Little says.

  • Plan to bring a low-cal dish. Check with the cookout host, but if the menu doesn't call for many fresh fruits or vegetables, bring some along. Pack a vegetable tray with a low-fat dip or a mixed fruit tray or salad with a low-cal dip.

    "If you are asked to bring a covered dish, look for something new," suggests Sandie Baker, registered dietitian and Food and Nutrition Services Manager with Waynesboro Hospital. "Search online for a lower-fat, lower-calorie recipe, or make over your favorite recipe into a low-fat, low-calorie version."

  • Stay hydrated and watch out for high-calorie drinks. "People need to pay attention to their fluid intake. Stay well-hydrated," Runyon says. Since cookouts often take place on hot summer days, it's important to drink plenty of water or other noncarbonated, sugar-free drinks. Also, remember that alcoholic drinks like beer or wine coolers can contain 100 to 200 calories per drink. And, alcohol also acts as a dehydrator.

  • Watch out for sauces. A little bit of extra barbecue sauce or mayonnaise can add sugar, salt and dozens of calories to food. Two tablespoons of a standard bottled barbecue sauce contains 39 calories and 7.38 grams of sugar. It also contains 418 milligrams of salt - 18 percent of the recommended daily intake. One tablespoon of regular mayonnaise adds 57 calories and 5 grams of fat to food.

  • Don't forget the low-cal veggies. Beyond the vegetable platter and potato salad, consider bulking up on vegetables by adding them to the grill.

    "You can grill all kinds of veggies," Runyon says. Corn, zucchini, asparagus, even chunks of sweet potatoes can be marinated and grilled for a tasty, lower-calorie side dish.

  • Have a game plan. "Look the food table over before you start serving yourself," Baker suggests. That way, if you choose a cheeseburger, you might want to avoid the coleslaw. You also can decide on which foods you are going to splurge and which you want to avoid.

  • Mind your portions. "Portion size and moderation is the key," Baker says. Be aware that a serving of potato or macaroni salad is a half cup. A serving of baked beans is one-quarter cup. One serving of cake is a 2-inch-by-2-inch square. Eating only one portion of a traditional cookout food allows you to enjoy the food and helps keep calories and fat in check.

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