Summer means cookouts and barbecues. If you have any intention of being social between the months of May and September, odds are you’ll find yourself at one, or more, family cookouts or holiday barbecues. That’s not a bad thing. Nothing tastes better than a brat, fresh off the grill, with some potato salad, coleslaw, cornbread and baked beans. However, nothing can ruin your hard-earned gains as quickly as a few too many helpings of cornbread and an extra trip to the dessert table. So when you’re faced with one of these outings, it’s best to go in with a plan of action. Here are our best tips for how to actually enjoy a cookout, without completely sabotaging all the hard work you’ve been putting in at the gym:
Bring your favorite dish
There’s always one dish you can’t pass up at a cookout, no matter how calories, fat and sodium packed you know it is. Maybe it’s potato salad, coleslaw, apple pie or chili. Whatever your weakness is, make your own, healthier version of it at home and bring it with you. That way, you won’t be tempted to eat the mayonnaise-loaded potato salad the host provides. You’ll have your own, healthier version which uses vinegar, mustard and spices instead. Just make sure you make enough to share with other guests, too.
Do a full sweep
Before you load up your plate, look at all the options. Your eyes, and your stomach, will tell you to grab a plate and dig in, but that could lead to you filling up on spinach dip, hot dogs and cupcakes. At the same time, you would totally miss the fish tacos, veggie tray and fresh fruit platter. Make sure you know all of the options before you start pigging out. If you don’t see anything healthy, ask the host to show you around the spread to make sure you don’t miss anything. Sometimes people hide healthy food in weird places.
Make small swaps
Instead of slathering salt and butter all over your corn on the cob, just squeeze a little lime juice on. Choose leaner cuts of meat. Ground beef is insanely delicious, but a turkey burger is much leaner than a hamburger. So is a Sirloin steak or a tuna steak. And if you’re jonesing for the potato chips, see if you can find some kale chips instead. If not, eat a pickle—you’ll find the saltiness will satisfy your chip urge.
Eat before you drink
The tendency at barbeques is to come in, grab a beer, make the rounds, grab another beer, make the rounds again and then, after you’ve been there for an hour, you’ll finally grab a plate. But by that time you’ve had three beers which means at least 400 empty calories. There’s nothing wrong with having a drink, but make sure you’re careful about how many you have and how many calories are in each one. You could end up running into your daily caloric goal with just beverages alone. Try to stick with water or homemade, naturally sweetened lemonade for most of the party.
Host it yourself
The ultimate solution if you love getting together with friends and family for a cookout, but don’t want to be tempted into eating your mom’s double-chocolate brownies or your aunt’s cheesy artichoke dip, is to host the cookout yourself. That gives you ultimate control over menu-planning and you can make the fare as healthy as you want. Make turkey and black bean burgers instead of hamburgers, use non-fat Greek yogurt instead of Mayo in your coleslaw and have a whole spread of fresh fruits and vegetables with healthy, homemade dips, rather than sodium-filled store bought ones.
We hope this information will help you to stay lean all summer long and keep you on track with your nutritional goals.