No need to forgo the BBQ. A Mass General nutritionist shares ways to eat well and stay healthy this summer.

With summer in full swing, cookouts can make healthy eating a challenge. But they can also be an opportunity to serve some of the season’s freshest foods. Aim for healthy BBQ by striving to make it balanced — rather than austerely healthy or jam-packed with tempting items.

Size Up Your Sides

Mayo-based potato and macaroni salads are frequent barbecue guests, but they can contain more calories per cup than a fast-food double cheeseburger.

Serve mayo-based salads in tennis-ball size portions.

When serving them, start with a portion the size of a tennis ball. (You can always go back for seconds if you are still hungry). You can also substitute plain Greek yogurt for some of the mayo in creamy sides like potato salad. Plus, save some work and boost your fiber intake by leaving the skin on those spuds.

Try Slaw Instead

Sure, coleslaw has fewer calories than potato or macaroni salad, but you also get a healthy dose of glucosinolates, a chemical found in cruciferous vegetables (like cabbage) that promotes detoxification pathways in the liver, helping your body eliminate toxins and waste. Glucosinolates have also been associated with a reduced risk of certain types of cancer.


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Bring on Brunch

As with most components of a healthy diet, consistency is key so aim to include vegetables that contain glucosinolates regularly. This includes options like Brussels sprouts, kale and broccoli – which can be consumed raw and repurposed into slaw form. Toss them with lemon juice or vinegar and a little olive oil. Fennel, carrots or peppers can be thinly sliced or grated to add flavor and color, plus more disease-fighting nutrients too.

Balance Your Plate

Aim for half your plate to contain vegetables and fruits and include a whole grain as your starch to seriously boost the fiber and antioxidant properties of the meal. Consider using whole wheat pasta, if making macaroni salad, or try a different grain altogether. For instance, bulgur and quinoa are quick-cooking whole grains that make great cold salads. (Try this quinoa recipe with fresh parsley and dried apricots.) If you have fiber-rich sides in place, it will also be easier to balance portions of those classic summer proteins like burgers, hot dogs and ribs, which, sadly, are high in saturated fat (the kind linked to increasing heart disease risk).

Healthy BBQ Choices

Fish and chicken are wonderful options, but if you are craving beef — lean cuts of red meat, tenderloin or sirloin steak take to the grill with ease. Or, better yet, try grilling produce — consider this portobello burger featuring fresh peaches and peppers.

Summer is the time to take advantage of fresh produce in New England.

Grilled summer vegetables also make for a perfect side – here’s a recipe to try. Just remember to cut them nice and thick (or use a vented grill pan) so they don’t fall through the grill grate.

There’s room to include the seasonal foods you love this summer, without adding a side of guilt. It’s also the perfect time to take advantage of fresh produce here in New England.

Plus the perks of opting for a variety of brightly colored options are significant — here’s a list of some sources. So, aim to serve items that offer health benefits alongside your favorite cookout foods this season and reap the rewards of balance.

Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN
Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN

Emily Gelsomin, MLA, RD, LDN, is a senior clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and is co-director of Be Fit, the hospital’s employee wellness program.

Jointly sponsored by The Clubs at Charles River Park and MGH Nutrition and Food Services, the 10-week program focuses on helping participants “Be Fit and Eat Right.” Every ten weeks, employees from different departments within the hospital compete with each other as they make a commitment to Be Fit. Through the creation of a social environment at the workplace, participants are supported to make progress in personal lifestyle changes with the help of a unique support system that includes a dedicated nutritionist and personal trainer.

Be Fit strives to create a milieu of wellness that extends beyond the 10-week curriculum by offering features to those who are not part of the intensive program. This includes the creation of Choose Well, Eat Well, a rating system designed to help both employees and patients increase awareness of healthy choices at retail eateries within the hospital. It also includes a monthly e-mail with a timely nutrition tip.