Ask The Fitness Jewell: How Can I Eat Healthy At A BBQ?

Attending summer barbecue events doesn't mean you have to completely abandon your nutrition. Be prepared, have fun, and still rock your abs with this advice!


Summer barbecue invites are tempting, but I'm afraid the foods will wreak havoc on my fitness goals. How do I hit up the grill but keep my options healthy?

Even though the summer days might be waning a bit faster than anyone would like, barbecue events continue on! For people who attend unprepared, the picnic tables can be glutted with nutritional landmines: succulent baby back ribs with too much barbecue sauce, greasy burgers, mystery-meat hot dogs, an uneven ratio of chips to salsa—never enough salsa—and copious amounts of booze.

What's a person with fitness goals to do?

Fortunately, after reading this, you will be more than prepared to eat at any summer event without having to compromise your fitness objectives. The key is to plan ahead and bring something you know will be "safe" to eat so you can avoid some of the most common diet pitfalls.

From preparing your own healthy side dishes to saying no to the fruit cocktail, you can dance around these six pitfalls while still having fun and rockin' your abs.

Pitfall 1 One chip becomes a bag of chips

Solution Bring a veggie or fruit platter and nosh on fresh produce

Chips have long been a barbecue staple, but like the Pringles commercial says, "Once you pop, the fun don't stop." Chips typically throw portion control out the window, especially as you hungrily wait for the main course.

This mindless consumption of fat and vegetable oils from the chips simply does not cooperate with anyone's health and fitness goals.

I say skip the chips entirely. Sometimes this is easier said than done, but your fail-safe measure would be to bring your own big bowl of fruit salad or a fresh veggie platter to enjoy. Crunchy carrots and celery can provide a crispity-crunch similar to the chips—without wrecking your waistline. Don't be afraid to go heavy on tomato salsa, as well.

If chips are absolutely something you want, there are now healthier baked and popped variants available in stores.

Pitfall 2 Overdoing it on dips

Solution Make your own dip or stick to the salsa

One dip, two dips, and three dips later—the calories and fat sure add up quickly, even with veggies! Store-bought dips are usually the worst offenders because of long ingredient lists and obscene amounts of fat.

Steer clear, and if you must indulge, stick to the tomato-based salsa or moderate servings of guacamole. If you've been put on dip duty, easily sneak in extra protein by whipping up a packet of powdered dressing with low-fat plain Greek yogurt.

And there you have it—delicious, healthy dip!

Pitfall 3 BBQ events are drinking parties in disguise

Solution Be mindful of your alcoholic choices

Beer, margaritas, and summery cocktails all have their place on barbecue menus and aren't likely to disappear anytime soon. Watching your alcohol and calorie intake—while not being a complete buzzkill—is a delicate process. Thankfully, there are ways to enjoy your adult beverages and not drink a quarter of a day's worth of calories in one glass.

First, cutting out mixers such as juice, sugary soda, or anything with "creme" in the name will drastically cut calories per drink. Instead of fruit juice or premade cocktail mixes, use club soda and squeeze in lemon or lime with your alcohol of choice.

If you love your brews, stick to light beers; the greater the alcohol content, the greater the number of calories. Love wine? Wine definitely has its healthy perks, but the quantity can add up quickly. Stick with red wine and try to avoid the sweeter varieties.

Remember to be mindful of how much you drink, and raise a glass to living the fit life!

Pitfall 4 Grubbing on greasy protein

Solution Choose—or bring your own—leaner options

Leave the greasy beef patties and overly salty hot dogs on the table; their protein-to-fat ratio is typically abysmal.

Instead, bring your own lean protein source like chicken, lean steak, or salmon, which all taste spectacular when grilled on the 'cue.

If it's a burger you're after, then leaner ground beef, buffalo patties, or turkey patties will work.

If your only option is what the host has in hand, eat the patty without the bun, using lettuce and veggies to dress your burger.

Pitfall 5 Indulging in decadent desserts

Solution Make a protein dessert

The last backyard soiree I went to actually had more desserts than it did regular food: cookies, cupcakes, cakes, brownies, and pies—you name it! Had I known ahead of time that the dessert spread would rival Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory, I would have been more prepared.

Choose a simple protein treat recipe that's both delicious and satisfying for your sweet tooth, sans sugar crash and extra calories. Try whipping up a batch of protein brownies or maybe even this protein berry cheesecake. There are so many choices that the main problem now is deciding on one!

Of course, if you don't have the time to prepare dessert ahead of time and you want to nibble on some sugary goodness, I recommend choosing one dessert and sticking to that one. You tend to run into trouble when you want to "sample" a little bit of everything.

Pitfall 6 Saying "yes" to sneaky side dishes

Solution Pile on the veggies

Forgo the traditional macaroni salad, and opt for an actual salad—you know, one with real vegetables that aren't drenched in fat. Your salad doesn't have to look like rabbit food.

Stack your plate full of as many veggies you can get your hands on! The greater the variety of crunch, texture, and color to the salad, the better. Your salad will be more filling and satisfying than just, well, lettuce.

If you live for a side serving of potatoes, mash up some sweet potatoes and top them with cinnamon! Or even cut them length-wise and bake them to make some awesome baked sweet potato fries for folks to enjoy with their fare.

Balance, BBQ-Hopper

In the end, it's all about balance. You don't have to bring everything to a barbecue, but remember that you probably shouldn't indulge in the chips, alcohol, dips, greasy protein, and decadent desserts all at once!

Play a little give or take and tell yourself that if you opt in for chips, you'll have to cut down on alcohol. If you want dessert, skip the chips and alcohol. And so on.

With so many healthy alternatives to traditional barbecue foods out there, there's no reason you should think twice about accepting an invite. Taking these simple steps and preparing ahead of time will make it far easier to stay on track with your fitness goals.

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