In case the 90 degree weather didn’t tip you off, it’s summer! Hopefully you are all enjoying long sunny days, empty schoolyards, campfires, parties, and picnics in the park. As is American tradition and culture, we typically like to celebrate the summer season with endless backyard barbeques.

Gatherings of this nature generally involve food and beverages that may not be – let’s say – of the heart healthy variety. This summer, as you partake in the festivities, keep the following tips in mind. In doing so, you will find it is possible to enjoy the celebration and indulge in delicious food without compromising personal health and nutrition goals.

  • Keep it lean. When grilling meats, choose skinless chicken breasts, lean heart-healthy fish (salmon, for example), and lean cuts of pork and beef (“loin” or “round” cuts are often the leanest). Surprisingly, filet mignon is not a terrible choice! Just don’t eat 12 ounces at a time. 😉
  • On the side, please! We often forget that certain condiments can pack extra calories, sodium, and sugar. To minimize the amount of these added ingredients, use condiments such as BBQ sauce, salad dressings, ketchup, or mayonnaise sparingly and keep them on the side.
  • Whole grain goodness. If your meal comes with a bun, opt for a whole grain version rather than the typical white flour/processed breads and rolls. Make pasta salads with whole grain noodles. Even better – try quinoa and black beans.
  • Go the homemade route. When food is prepared at home, caloric content and ingredient quality are controlled. Another benefit to homemade is the ability to modify and “health-ify” certain traditional BBQ favorites. For example, as an alternative to the common “chips and dip”, prepare a homemade salsa and whole grain baked pita chips. Or, baked deserts such as brownies, can be made with whole wheat pastry flour rather than white flour – this boosts the fiber content considerably. Another option is to grill stone fruits (peaches, pineapple, or nectarines) and serve with yogurt or homemade ice cream. The added time to prepare and cook homemade foods is worth the overall health benefits.
  • Go green. A crisp salad is always a healthy idea. To boost the nutrient power, select dark leafy lettuce (romaine, spinach, arugula, or kale) and add bright colored veggies or fruits. Toasted almonds or walnuts make great toppers and are a healthy alternative to croutons.
  • Drink smart. Fruit-infused teas and water are excellent substitutes for other sugary beverages. To brighten the flavor of plain water, add slices of citrus fruits; fresh berries work well in iced-tea.
  • Keep it safe. The foods and beverages we consume at these gatherings are not the only health tips to keep it mind; it is important to be mindful of food safety practices as well.
    • Keep raw food separate from prepared or ready-to-eat foods. This will prevent contamination.
    • Keep meats at the appropriate temperature. A thermometer in the cooler is helpful.
    • Provide a separate cooler for drinks. This tactic will allow party-goers to grab drinks as often as they would like without compromising the temperature of other coolers meant to store food items.
    • Keep hot foods hot (at least 140 degrees) and cold foods cold (at least 40 degrees).
    • Put food away. Don’t allow foods to sit out beyond two hours (one hour if the outside temperature is 90 degrees or hotter).

For other specifics on food safety, visit

Summer is upon us; get ready to enjoy the warmth of the months ahead and celebrate the start of a new and healthier season.

And remember, it’s All About That Balance – even at a BBQ!

Categories: Nutrition

Erin Nitschke

Passionate wife, mother, college educator, writer, blogger, and health and fitness professional.


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