Are y’all ready for grilling season? With Memorial Day just around the corner, the start of summer is here. Which means lots of BBQs to enjoy…with their many traps for your waistline.
If you’re hosting a gathering this Memorial Day weekend, or over the next few months (yay grilling season!), there are plenty of ways you can slash your intake of empty calories and artery-clogging fats at and around the grill. We talked to a couple experts to get the lowdown — here are some easy ways to lighten up this season.
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Think outside the box.
Yes, yes. Everyone loves a good burger on the grill, but you can grill tons of non-meat items to for enhanced, summertime flavor. “You can also grill plenty of low-calorie, high-fiber vegetables like zucchini, portobello mushrooms and asparagus, and finish off your meal with sweet-tasting grilled fruits like pineapple or peaches,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of New York Nutrition Group. Since one cup of raw vegetables contains just 25 calories (on average), it’s a waistline-friendly way to fill up your plate.
Opt for sea over land.
Summertime protein doesn’t have to mean beef; eating fish has proven a major health tactic in recent years, and these items carry over nicely to the grill. “Low-calorie shrimp, or omega-3 tuna or salmon burgers offer up the same satisfying, meaty taste — but without all the artery-clogging fats,” Moskovitz says. “A typical 6-ounce, 80-percent lean beef patty clocks in at 456 calories and 35 grams of fat, of which 12 grams is purely saturated fat.” But a 6-ounce tuna burger? Just under 300 calories, and only 2 grams of saturated fat. Win.
Watch your portions.
While you should definitely slide some fish dishes into your summer rotation, you certainly don’t have to forgo all beef. “I do put regular burgers on the grill,” says Keri Gans, RD, author of The Small Change Diet. “But I make sure they’re portion-controlled, or sliders. Top with veggies instead of high-fat cheese, and whole-grain buns.” Gans likes Arnold’s 100-calorie Thins.
Replace mayo with avocado.
Mayo is fine in moderation, but avocado packs the benefits. Moskovitz says it’s slightly lower in calorie, but provides higher amounts of anti-inflammatory fats and vitamins you need to stay healthy and fit. “Instead of using mayo in cole slaw or as a condiment, mix in or layer on a few slices of creamy avocado,” she recommends. “A quarter-cup sliced avocado has only 55 calories, 4 grams of healthy monounsaturated fats, 4 grams of heart-healthy fiber and is also a good source of vitamin E, C and potassium.” You can hardly ask for more.
Skip the empty-calorie sides.
Your classic BBQ sides — chips, potato salad and macaroni salad, oh my! — aren’t exactly superfoods. “These foods can be loaded with nutritionally void, blood sugar-spiking carbs and artery clogging fats,” says Moskovitz. “Try something different. Serve up a colorful, chopped Israeli salad instead of macaroni, kale chips instead of potato, and grilled sweet potato instead of white potato salad.” She swears that neither your guests, nor your waistline, will be disappointed.
Get creative with (better-for-you) summertime side dishes.
Other still-summery, still-delicious side suggestions? Gans has got ‘em, nixing the unhealthy fats. “I love to do baked potatoes on the grill, and then cut them up into chunks,” she says. “It’s kind of like roasted potatoes, and works well instead of a potato salad. I also like to do a whole-grain on the side, like barley or couscous.” Gans also says you can opt for black-bean chips and guac over standard tortilla chips, or whole-grain crackers and hummus. Yum.
Stay hydrated without the sugar high.
Standing under the hot sun, by a hot grill, will definitely call for a cool beverage — but instead of grabbing a beer or sugary drink, opt for a slimmer version. “Calorie-free club soda infused with some fresh limes or lemons are one option, or infuse a pitcher full of ice water with fresh cucumbers, mint, or raspberries,” says Moskovitz. “You’ll feel refreshed and energized in no time.”