Summer is the perfect time to get together with friends and family and enjoy gorgeous weather, good company and, of course, good food. Barbecues and pool parties have always presented an opportunity to break out the grill and indulge in summer menu must-haves like potato salad, crispy French fries and late night s’mores.
Unfortunately, if you’re calorie conscious, these dishes aren’t easy to resist. Going to a party week after week can begin to take a toll on your waistline unless of course, you know how to make healthier choices and navigate your way through a summer spread. Here, registered dietitian Judy Matusky, nutrition program specialist at Bryn Mawr and Paoli hospitals, offers tips for how to enjoy summer parties and avoid diet pitfalls.
Hamburgers and hot dogs are kid-friendly and easy to prepare, making them the ideal main course for a party. Every now and then, treating yourself isn’t a problem, but when you’re at one or two parties per weekend, you could begin to notice the effects those burgers are having on your body. Instead, Matusky suggests finding a healthier substitute.
“Gravitate to fish and seafood during the summer,” she says. “Grilled fish is as fast and easy as cooking a hamburger, but it’s better for you and has the added benefit of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Plus, it might be welcome change of pace for your guests.”
Not a fish fan? Stick with ¼ pound burger patties and bulk them up with healthy toppings like slices of red onion, avocado, fresh garden lettuce and tomato.
Potato chips, French fries, macaroni salad, deviled eggs, beans…the list of popular summer side dishes goes on. Unfortunately, barring a post-meal workout in the pool, those favorites won’t do anyone’s waistline a favor.
“Creamy side salads are usually loaded with saturated fat and calories that you don’t need,” explains Matusky. “Instead of bringing one of those to a party, take advantage of delicious local produce, which is at its peak during the summertime.”
For a healthier side, look for veggies that are easy to grill, including eggplant, zucchini, onions and tomatoes. Instead of using croutons or bacon bits to top off a salad, try fresh herbs like basil, parsley, cilantro and dill and use vegetables like peppers and cucumbers.
If you can’t resist the temptation to dig into a helping of macaroni or potato salad, volunteer to be the one who brings it, and lighten up your recipe by using half the mayonnaise and mixing it with an equal amount of fat free yogurt.
Just because you’re paying attention to your calories doesn’t mean you should have to give up dessert and fortunately, with these dessert ideas, you don’t have to. The grilled veggies you tried out as a side? That works for fruit, too.
Grilling nectarines, plums, and peaches drizzled with honey can bring out their sweetness, and are the perfect topping on a bowl of low-fat yogurt, or try tossing sliced strawberries with balsamic vinegar and serve over a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Recipes like these will help you sneak in an extra serving of fruits, and won’t leave you coveting your neighbor’s cake from across the table.
It’s not always easy to resist temptation, especially when other guests might not give a second thought to a second helping. So, if you do find yourself unable to resist traditional summer fare, Matusky offers some tips for gauging your intake.
“The plastic plates with divided sections aren’t only easy to clean up, they’re also a helpful in determining portion sizes,” she says. “Fill the largest portion of your plate with fruits and vegetables, and reserve one smaller one for an indulgent dish. The other small section is great for grilled fish or a side salad.”