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Turkey burgers deliver far less fat and few calories than beef. Cocktails without the sugar and kebabs instead of ribs can help minimize waistline barbecue damage.Getty Images/iStockphoto


Every weekend I host a barbecue. How can I make it healthier but still tasty?


With barbecues, picnics and cottage weekends, many of us increase our calorie intake by sipping vodka coolers, eating more red meat – including fatty, processed meats – and cooling down with ice cream. Even a green salad can do damage for your diet if it’s loaded with croutons, cheese and dressing. Sticking to a healthy eating plan in a season packed with social activities is challenging, especially considering a single summer weekend meal can deliver a full day’s worth of calories.

Calories in a burger

Consider this: A six-ounce lean beef burger with cheese has 770 calories; one cup of homemade potato salad delivers 360; corn on the cob with butter adds another 155; two beers puts another 300 calories on your tally. Then there's dessert: One slice of blueberry pie with vanilla ice cream adds 520 calories to that meal, for a grand total of 2,105. That's not including the chips and dip.

It’s not just about the calories, though. Many summertime foods are also notorious for their high fat and sodium content. Half a rack (six ribs) with barbecue sauce serves up about 650 calories, 42 grams of fat and nearly 700 milligrams of sodium – almost half a day’s worth of salt. A large Italian sausage (3 ounces) has 260 calories, 21 g of fat and 570 mg of sodium. Add the bun and you’re at 460 calories and 970 mg of sodium.

Finding balance in your diet

Unless you’re balancing those summer calories by stepping up your exercise program, you could be carrying a few extra pounds by Labour Day. The good news: By choosing lighter options – or serving them if you’re the host – you can still enjoy summer foods without piling on extra calories.

6 tips for a healthier summer BBQ
  • Try turkey over beef: Instead of a beef burger, opt for a turkey burger (save 200 calories and 16 g of fat for a six-ounce burger). For a southwest version, add 4 tablespoons chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and half a teaspoon black pepper to 1.5 pounds of lean ground turkey meat. Serve burgers with salsa.
  • Try kebabs: Instead of pork ribs, grill kebabs made with pork tenderloin (save 360 calories and 36 g of fat per six ounces). Marinate the pork in a Greek-style marinade (white wine, lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, bay leaves, oregano); serve kebabs with tzatziki.
  • Pick healthy sides: Serve a quinoa salad instead of a mayonnaise-laden potato salad (save approximately 160 calories and 18 g of fat a cup). Toss 2 to 3 cups of cooked quinoa with 2 tablespoons of olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Add finely chopped red onion, halved cherry tomatoes, chopped fresh dill and mint and crumbled feta cheese. Add black pepper and more lemon juice to taste. Instead of creamy coleslaw, make one with vinaigrette dressing (save as much as 215 calories and 14 g fat a cup). Or swap mayonnaise for low-fat plain regular or Greek yogurt.
  • Try a protein-packed dip: Dip raw vegetables in black bean hummus instead of a high-calorie spinach dip (save 105 calories and 14 g of fat). In a food processor, puree 2 cups of black beans, a quarter cup of tahini, 3 tablespoons lemon juice, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 clove crushed garlic, red pepper flakes (to taste) and 1 tablespoon of finely chopped parsley.
  • Grill fruit: Instead of pie and ice cream, serve grilled fruit kebabs – apple, pear, strawberries and pineapple work well – with a yogurt dip (save 216 calories and 16 g of fat for two kebabs and a quarter cup of dip). For a lemony ginger dip, mix 1.5 cups of low-fat vanilla yogurt with one teaspoon minced fresh ginger root and the zest of half a lemon.
  • Curb cocktail calories: One cooler won’t ruin your diet, but if you drink a few, you’ll do more than weaken your resolve to watch what you eat. Consider that 12 ounces of Smirnoff Ice has 228 calories and eight teaspoons of sugar. Lower-calorie cocktails include a vodka and soda, a margarita made with freshly squeezed lime juice instead of a sugary mix, a white wine spritzer, light beer and light coolers.