No need to forego that BBQ invitation. An MGH nutritionist shares ways to eat well and stay fit.

With summer in full swing, frequent cookouts and parties can make healthy eating a challenge. Lighten up your barbeque by making it balanced—rather than austerely healthy or overly gluttonous.

Start With Your Sides

Mayo-based potato and macaroni salads are frequent picnic guests, but they can contain up to 500 calories per cup, which is more than a fast-food double cheeseburger. Try to limit these salads to a ½ cup portion or about the size of a tennis ball. You can also substitute Greek yogurt for some of the mayo in creamy sides like potato salad.

Try Slaw Instead

Also, never reuse or serve an old marinade with cooked protein because the liquid contains bacteria from the raw meat.

Coleslaw has 50 to 75 percent fewer calories than potato or macaroni salad. You can also experiment by varying ingredients. Toss cabbage and red peppers with lemon juice or wine vinegar and a little olive oil. Fennel, carrots, or even raw Brussels sprouts can be shaved or grated to add flavor and disease-fighting nutrients, as well.

Fruit & Veggie Rule

Aim for half your plate to contain vegetables or fruit and include a whole grain as your starch, if possible, to boost the fiber and antioxidant properties of the meal. You could use whole wheat pasta, if making macaroni salad, or try a different grain all together. For instance, bulgur and quinoa are quick-cooking grains that make great cold salads. If you have fiber-rich sides in place, it will be easier to practice portion control with high-fat proteins like burgers, hot dogs, pulled pork, and ribs.

Looking for Healthier Proteins to Grill?

Fish and chicken are wonderful options but if you are craving beef, lean cuts like top loin, tenderloin, or top sirloin steak take to the grill with ease. In addition, the shoulder and hind areas are quite muscular and can be lean options as well, but cuts from these parts typically benefit from being marinated. Choices include flank, eye of the round, and bottom round steak, also called the “western griller,” and the rule of thumb is to marinate these cuts for at least one hour and up to twelve. Also, never reuse or serve an old marinade with cooked protein because the liquid contains bacteria from the raw meat.

Hungry for more? See here for additional lean cuts for your next BBQ.

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

Emily Gelsomin, RD, LDN, is a clinical nutrition specialist at Massachusetts General Hospital. As a registered dietitian, she counsels on medical nutrition therapy on an outpatient basis and works extensively with 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.