1. Choose a lean protein.
“Look for the lean protein,” suggests Kroplin. “You’re going to get a whole lot less fat and cholesterol with turkey or chicken than pork.” If it’s available, grilled, skinless chicken breast beats out barbecued chicken, because the fat content is lower when you lose the skin, plus there’s no added sugar from barbecue sauce. “Grilled chicken thigh is still a relatively lean meat as an alternative to something like steak,” adds Jackie Newgent, R.D.N., culinary nutritionist, chef, and author of The All-Natural Diabetes Cookbook. If there’s no skinless option available, says Newgent, you can also just take the skin off.
And if ribs or pulled pork are truly calling your name (hear that), feel free to enjoy a serving. “Keep your portion the size of the palm of your hand, so about ½ cup, or three to four ounces,” says Kroplin.
2. Fill half your plate with raw veggies and fresh fruit.
Before you hit the meat options, though, get started by filling half your plate with fresh fruits and veggies, says Kroplin. “Any fresh vegetable or fruit you can find, go for that first,” she says. Things like chopped salad, sliced crudités, and watermelon (yum!) are good options you might find at a barbecue. This way, you’re filling up on nutritious, low-cal picks instead of heavier options.
3. Beans are a great source of fiber.
When portions are kept in check, baked beans can actually be a smart choice at a barbecue, explains Kroplin. “In general, beans are going to have good fiber, they’re going to have good protein, they’re a healthy carbohydrate, and they’re not fried,” says Kroplin. “You’re going to have a lot of flavor, too.” However, be mindful that some preparations of baked beans can tack on fat and calories, she explains. Another bean option that’s typically on the healthier side is a hearty bean salad, she adds.
4. Remember that classic corn on the cob is a vegetable (and a pretty delicious one, too)
Barbecued or boiled, corn on the cob is typically a go-to healthy pick, and it basically tastes like summer. “Corn counts as a vegetable, and one cob is two servings,” says Michelle Dudash, R.D., Cordon Bleu chef, and creator of Clean Eating Cooking School. “It’s high in fiber, so it’s a great choice.” Just be mindful about toppings, like butter and salt.
5. Try eating your burger bun-free.
If you’re going for a burger, fork-and-knife it to cut back on refined carbohydrates, suggests Newgent. Or, if you’re not about that steak-style approach, “eat it in a lettuce wrap, or eat it on half a bun,” says Dudash. If you are jonesing for the full burger, “evaluate your carbs, and take a look at the whole spread,” says Dudash. “You really want one to two servings of carbs, and that’s it. So if all you’re going to have is the bun, that’s fine, but if you want potato salad and pasta salad, I would skip the bun.” Big picture, right?
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