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Dietitians Share Their Healthy Choices for Summer Barbecues

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    Focus on Friends and Enjoy Treats in Moderation

    "The key to enjoying a summer cookout with friends is to focus on the socialization rather than the food! When the time comes to eat, rest easy knowing you've brought your own healthy dish and load up on that. Save room for those items you truly like, too. If that means a side of potato salad, then eat it! You should be able to enjoy the food and company—just keep your portions in check and you'll be surprised how much you'll save calorically in the long run. Think about it! When you deprive yourself of the item you truly want, you more often are going to overdo it on those other items that can easily rack up endless calories without any satisfaction. Wouldn't you have rather had that cookie all along than five servings of whole wheat crackers?"
    —Elizabeth Shaw, M.S., R.D.N., C.L.T., of Shaw's Simple Swaps

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    Supplement a Healthy Option

    "Bring a healthy dish to the party that everyone can enjoy. I never show up to any party without something tasty in tow. Not only is it good party manners, but it also gives me a reason to make something a little lighter that I know I can fall back on if everything else is drowning in oil or sugar. Consider making a big bowl of salad, grilled vegetables, or something with lean protein like these low-carb chicken tacos—and be sure to make enough for a crowd!"
    —Abbey Sharp, R.D., Abbey's Kitchen

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    Pick and Choose Your Indulgences

    "Personally, there are two things I enjoy most at a barbecue: a burger and corn on the cob. To keep calories in check, I usually skip the bun (and cheese) for the burger, and grill my corn, husk-free, wrapped in tin foil with olive oil and ground pepper (no need for butter). I'd much rather leave the calories for that ice-cold martini!"
    —Keri Gans, M.S., R.D.N., C.D.N.

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    Stock Up on Produce and Marinade Everything

    "Whether hosting or attending, I always make sure I have lots of vegetables on hand. I'll make salads and let guests add their own dressing on the side, grill zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, tomatoes, or onions on skewers with meat or tofu, as well as fruit skewers. My favorite is grilled pineapple sprinkled with cinnamon!

    "I also always marinate any meat, poultry, or fish before grilling, with a marinade that contains lemon, lime, or orange juice. The antioxidants in the marinade prevent carcinogens from forming on animal protein—not to mention it tastes amazing!"
    —Christy Brissette, R.D., M.Sc., 80TwentyNutrition

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    Don't Deprive Yourself Beforehand

    "When hosting a summer barbecue, don't do food prep on an empty stomach. Set aside time to eat regular meals to make sure you maintain your metabolism throughout the day. This might call for prepping food the night before or making the barbecue a potluck. Try to avoid 'taste testing' everything you're preparing. Instead, stay hydrated by drinking water and munching on summer fruit like watermelon."
    —Erin Thole, M.S., R.D.N., C.S.S.D.

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    Focus on Greens and Indulge in Dessert

    "I always bring or prepare a simple vegetable dish, whether it's a mix of sugar snap peas and English peas with feta, fresh mint, dill, olive oil, and a pinch of salt and pepper, or raw and roasted corn with colorful cherry tomatoes, basil, parsley, olive oil, a splash of balsamic vinegar and a bit of salt. The vegetables are flavorful and filling without the added calories of a mayo-based dressing. I also indulge in dessert. There's no reason to feel guilty over three or four bites (which are the best!) and it will satisfy you without adding on too many extra calories."
    —Deborah Tagliareni, M.S., R.D., C.D.N.

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    When in Doubt, Bring an Entrée

    "I bring what I want to eat. I don't leave this to chance! I'll put together a hearty salad including spinach or arugula, pistachios, feta cheese, strawberry slices, and red onions. The pistachios and cheese provide satiating protein and fat, while the pistachios, veggies, and strawberries provide fueling fiber. Then I like to make my own salad dressing—a combination of fig-infused balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and just a touch of maple syrup; I serve that on the side. Of course, I'll also try a little of the other dishes at the gathering—but at least I have a healthy start to my plate!"
    —Amy Gorin, M.S., R.D.N., owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in Jersey City, NJ

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    Add a Healthy Kick and Savor Small Bites

    "When I make burgers, I love swapping 25 percent of my ground meat with chopped mushroom. The blend of mushrooms and meat decreases the calories and overall fat while increasing the flavor and moisture of the burger. It is so good! My go-to summer BBQ contribution is quinoa tabbouleh. It's easy to whip up and a lovely way to introduce friends and family to a new grain and/or side dish.

    "When there is a large spread of food on the table, I try small bites of all of the foods that I love—including desserts and rich side dishes. I give myself permission to truly enjoy each bite, mindfully and guilt-free. By choosing smaller portions and truly savoring each bite, I find I am really satisfied by the eating experience."
    —Katie Cavuto, M.S., R.D., Chef, Nourish Breathe Thrive