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How to eat healthy while experiencing summer BBQ scene

It is undeniable that there are loads of food options at summer barbecues. It begins with the table of chips and dip. As you greet the other quests at the BBQ, you eye the selection: salt and vinegar, BBQ potato, extreme heat, ranch flavored, Sun Chips and Juanita’s torilla chips. Etc.

Then there are the dips: ranch, guacamole, bean dip, salas and cheese dip. This is only the beginning of the food line! More choices await you.

How can one eat reasonably healthy when this food-centered fun lasts from Memorial Day to Labor Day – June to September? It isn’t always easy.  So here are some food-focused solutions to make healthier swaps as you enjoy the next few months of summer fun.

Fill your plate with veggies and make everything else the side. Many people reverse this food equation and put the meat as the “main” dish and the veggies (if there even are any), along with chips and breads, as the sides.

However, if you make veggies your “main” and meat and processed or starchy foods the sides, you will be in a good way! You will be filling yourself up with nutrient-dense foods that satisfy, are full of fiber and don’t leave you with a sugar hangover. If you are wanting to lose some weight, you will find this method enables you to still feel full while not consuming as many high calorie foods.

Drinks: If there is one thing you can change to improve your health this summer, swapping out the sugar-laden beverages might be it.  A 20-ounce coke has 240 Kcals and contains the equivalent of 5½ tablespoons of white sugar. A Red Bull has 2½ tablespoons of sugar.

Almost all the sweeteners in these beverages come from high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) which readily becomes body fat. While they may quench your thirst, these beverages have the ability to make you more hungry and leave you with that sugar hangover.

The swap: Instead of the standard sweetened beverages, try stevia-sweetened varieties or the flavored-but-unsweetened seltzer waters. There of hundreds on the market to try. You will never run dry on options. If you want to get creative, you can also mix plain seltzer water with a small amount of 100 percent fruit juice or crushed fresh fruit. So refreshing!

Sides and Sauces: Conventional coleslaw and baked beans can be loaded, too loaded with goopy mayo or high-fructose corn syrup sweeteners. In their more raw form, cabbage and beans are powerhouses of nutrition. Let those good qualities shine though using the following tips.

The swap: For convenient but still lighter-tasting coleslaw, mix one pound of the store-bought coleslaw with one bag of pre-shredded cabbage. Many stores also sell a variety of ready-to-make salads and slaws sporting crunchy veggies other than straight cabbage (such as kale or shredded broccoli).

These versions/options contain dressing packets that allow you to be in control how much dressing you want. No more goopy mess! Making slaw at home is also very simple although a little messy at times. Find recipes online or snag one of my favorites at the bottom of this article.

Change the focus of your condiments from super sweet ketchups and relishes to the robust mustards (there are many different types!), salsas and pico de gallos.

These are packed with flavor but are lower in added calories and sugar.  If you are a guacamole-lover, you can “lighten” it up by mixing equal parts mashed avocadoes and salsa. That way you still get the creamy fatty flavor of the avocados while benefiting from the flavor and low calories of the salsa!

When it comes to BBQ sauces, look for those with no high-fructose corn syrup in it (a difficult task). If you are in charge of the BBQ meat, then you may find that simple preparation beforehand prevents the “need” for dousing your meat in BBQ sauce.

The day before you grill, try brining your meat, soaking it in a marinade or rubbing it down with a dry rub. These will tenderize and add incredible flavor. You may find you don’t even need BBQ sauce after all.

If you are interested in trying a from-scratch recipe, find a recipe at the bottom of the column!

When it comes right down to it, most of the ways to navigate the summer food fests healthfully have to do with a little intention and forethought.

Cookies and ice cream, chips and dip, beer and fried chicken will always be there.

By simply making small, but more intentional changes (such as making veggies your main dish) you can improve your health this summer rather than sabotage it.


Six Ingredient Coleslaw

(from Barbara Kaye)

While this coleslaw tastes best when it has set for 24 hours, you can make it the day of an event.


1 cabbage, finely cut or shredded in the food processor

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 cup vinegar (I prefer rice or apple cider vinegar)

½ tsp. dry mustard ( I have used 1 tsp. prepared mustard instead)

1 tsp. celery seed (optional)

1 tbsp. salt

1 cup avocado oil or light-tasting olive oil

Instructions: Place half of the cut cabbage in a large mixing bowl. Cover with chopped onion. Add remaining cabbage. Sprinkle sugar on top. Mix vinegar, mustard, celery seed and salt in a pan. Bring to boil.

Add 1 cup oil. Let cool, then pour over cabbage.

Cover and chill overnight. Stir only when ready to serve!


Homemade BBQ Sauce  

Prep Time 5 min   Makes 1½ cups


6 oz. or 1/2 cup of tomato paste

1/2 cup water

4 tbsp. Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar

1/2 tsp. garlic powder

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 cup raw honey or maple syrup

1 tsp. black pepper

Instructions: Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. That’s it! Adjust the flavors as needed.

(Original Source:  Melissa King of Mywholefoodlife.com. mywholefoodlife.com/2013/03/08/homemade-bbq-sauce.  Adaptations made by Dietitian Cathryn.)

– Cathryn Arndt is a registered dietitian nutritionist. She lives in the McDowell Creek area with her husband and daughter.  To learn more about Cathryn, and her nutrition counseling services, find her blog at thepantrylab.com. Also, visit her at her Facebook page by searching under “Dietitian Cathryn.”