Cookout Foods: Your Best and Worst Choices
With these healthy BBQ menu ideas, you can cook out without doing in your diet.
By Elaine Magee, MPH, RD
Is it possible to cook out without doing in your diet? It all depends on the menu at your BBQ.
Consider this question: What's the difference between a half-pound hamburger with a side of potato salad (2/3 cup), and a 1/4-pound sirloin burger on a whole-grain bun with a side of fresh fruit salad (1 cup)? Answer: The first option has 500 more calories and 38 more grams of fat.
Or, if you choose a light hot dog (like Ball Park Light) on a whole grain bun with a side of three-bean salad made with light vinaigrette (2/3 cup), instead of a regular hot dog on a white bun accompanied by a bag of chips, you'll cut 170 calories and 23 grams of fat (and add 8 grams of fiber to boot.)
As these examples show, the menu items you choose during cookout season can be pretty healthy -- or not! Read on for some of your best and worst cookout options, from buns to burgers and side dishes to treats.
Healthy Meat Choices for Your BBQ
It's not only which meat you choose to throw on the grill that counts, but also the portion size. People tend to eat what's on their plate, so to cut calories and fat from your entree, stick to sensible servings.
This means a quarter-pound burger instead of a third- or half-pounder, and a regular-sized light hot dog instead of an oversized sausage frank or link. And you don't need an 8- to 12-ounce steak on your plate -- a 4-ounce lean steak can be just enough when served with a couple of BBQ sides.
Whatever meat you choose at your cookout, there is almost always a lighter, better option. For example:
Want a beef burger?
Want a hot dog?
Want a sausage link?
Want kabobs or skewers?
Best and Worst Cookout Toppings
Once you've grilled your lean burger or light hot dog, don't ruin the healthy effect by serving it on a white, fiber-less bun topped with bacon, mayonnaise, fried onions, and/or full-fat cheese! Instead, top them with tomato, lettuce, onion, salsa, BBQ sauce, mustard, and/or reduced-fat cheese -- and serve on a whole-grain bun (they're now easy to find in most grocery stores).
Best and Worst BBQ Side Dishes
Creamy salads like coleslaw, macaroni, or potato salad are popular BBQ side dishes. But they don't have to spell diet disaster. Any recipe for these creamy salads can be lightened by using 1/2 cup of light mayonnaise plus 1/2 cup of fat-free sour cream for every cup of mayonnaise the recipe calls for. You can even increase the fiber in macaroni salad by using whole grain blend macaroni pasta.
And for the healthiest BBQ sides, just “follow the bean and the green.” If you trade your creamy macaroni salad for some BBQ baked beans, you'll trim about 80 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 3 grams of saturated fat per cup. Switch that cup of potato salad for a salad made with 2 cups romaine, 1 tomato, and 1 tablespoon light Italian dressing and you'll cut 250 calories, 15 fat grams, and 2.5 grams of saturated fat.