Spice Up Your Summer BBQs and Picnics

WebMD gives you tips on how to make typical barbeque favorites go from average to amazing.

By Dulce Zamora
WebMD Weight Loss Clinic - Feature

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Want to add healthy sizzle to your summer barbeques and picnics, without sacrificing taste? It's possible, thanks to a dizzying array of ingredients and ideas stirring in America's melting pot.

Don't worry, this doesn't necessarily mean giving up your favorite foods or slaving over a complicated recipe.

"You can have a traditional BBQ and accommodate all your friends with the same basics -- the burgers, meat, chicken, salad, and corn on the cob -- and season it with a variety of different toppings and accompaniments," explains Lisa Dorfman, MSRD, a national spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and author of The Tropical Diet.

A Cornucopia of Choices

Most mainstream grocery stores have powdered seasonings, salsas, sauces, spices, drinks, fruits, and vegetables from all cultures that are easy to serve with barbeque and picnic favorites.

Options include:

  • Middle Eastern or Mediterranean hummus. This paste of pureed chickpeas, lemon, sesame tahini, oil, and spices can be served as a dip or spread for veggies, crackers, and bread. Hummus is high in protein and fiber, and often contains little or no saturated fat, cholesterol, or sugars.
  • Jicama. Peel and cut up this low-calorie tropical root to eat raw, sprinkled on your regular salads, or stir-fried with vegetables. This crunchy and sweet vegetable, which is also known as the Mexican potato or the Chinese turnip, is an excellent source of vitamin C.
  • Jamaican hot sauce. With no fat or calories, this potent blend of tropical peppers can add a Caribbean kick to grilled lean meats.

You can even use familiar ingredients to create exotic dishes, which can both intrigue and appease the most conservative diner:

  • Lemon juice, red pepper, and salt are all many Indians need to add zing to corn on the cob.
  • Latin Americans use tomatoes, cilantro, jalapeño, onions, garlic, and salt to create tasty salsas.
  • Some Kenyans tenderize and jazz up meats with an overnight marinade of olive oil, vinegar, or lemon juice, and spices (ground pepper, cloves, and rosemary among them).

To really impress your family and friends, bring something completely different to the picnic table.

Malena Perdomo, RD, the Latin Nutrition spokeswoman for the ADA, recommends trying a prickly pear cactus, called Nopal, which can be bought in some urban supermarkets and Mexican grocery stores. The thorny vegetable, which tastes like a lemony and salty green bean, is peeled, boiled, or grilled, and then added to dips, salads, soups, and meats.

Nopales -- the plural form of Nopal -- are especially rich in fiber, calcium, potassium, and vitamin A.

From the exotic Nopales to the common lemon, Americans do, indeed, have a lot of choices when it comes to culturally diverse and healthy fare.

If the above sampling of foods has whetted your appetite for something different this summer, make sure to read on. WebMD has a few more scrumptious and nutritious options, provided by a few ADA dietitians and other health experts.

We've broken down the ideas by the course -- from the appetizers, to the sides and sauces, to entrees, to desserts and drinks. Give them a try, and discover a world of delicious, healthy eating.

Bon appetit!

Appetizers

The beginning portion of a barbeque or picnic is a good time to introduce new foods, because people don't normally eat appetizers to fill themselves.

"If they don't eat [the appetizer], it's OK, because the main food is still coming," says Mary Murimi, RD, PhD, chair-elect of the international division of the Society for Nutrition Education.

To entice hesitant diners, Murimi suggests presenting new fare in smaller, more familiar arrangements. Instead of making a whole salad full of strange-looking provisions, for example, she recommends slicing up fruits and vegetables, and then serving them individually in a tray. Having toothpicks available can help people sample the new foods at their leisure.

Tropical fruits such as mangoes, papayas, kiwis, guavas, and pineapples make succulent starters. They are rich in vitamin C. Deep-orange fruits and vegetables are also good sources of vitamin A.

Other ideas for starters include:

  • Grilled fruits and vegetables. Corn on the cob, tomatoes, okra, lemon, zucchini, and oranges are tasty placed on the grill with a spritz of olive oil, or without anything on them. Plus, they are chock full of different vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. You may eat them straight off the barbeque grill, add them to salads or seafood, or make kabobs with them.
  • Raw or grilled peppers. Although vitamin C- and A-rich peppers are in the vegetable family, so many varieties exist that they deserve their own listing. There are sweet peppers like the green, red, orange, and yellow bell peppers. Chili peppers include the jalapeno, habanero, poblano, and serrano. Chop up sweet peppers, and eat them raw. Or dip in nonfat yogurt for a dose of calcium. Chili peppers on the grill tend to burst with flavor. Eat straight off the grill, or add to salads, seafood, and meats.
  • Stir-fried tofu. This low-calorie Asian bean curd is an excellent source of protein and iron. Since it has little taste on its own, tofu can be mixed in raw or stir-fried with other ingredients such as vegetables, fruits, soy sauce, sweet and sour sauce, and oils, and take on different flavors. Make sure to use sauces low in sodium, and oils low in saturated fat.