Survival Guide for Picnics and BBQs


Summertime celebrations often have us gathering around the grill, which can wreak havoc on our plans for healthy eating. We go to these events with the best intentions, only to leave feeling as though we’ve failed, or worse—our entire healthy-eating plan fell to the wayside.

“With a little bit of planning and strategy, healthy eating will not be as challenging at your next celebration. You will leave feeling satisfied, not starving for more,” says Erin Walker, a registered dietitian at the Memorial Weight Loss & Wellness Center.

Walker recommends these tactics to help you stay on track:

  • Don’t drink your calories: As tempting as it may be to drink one adult beverage after another, alcohol provides empty calories and may cause you to lose sight of your healthy-eating plan. Limit yourself to 1-2 drinks, and try a light beer. Generally, mixed drinks have more calories and sugar.
  • Appetizers: Light popcorn, whole wheat crackers, pitas or mixed nuts are nutrient-dense foods and a great way to start your meal out right without a lot of empty calories.
  • Dips: Avoid high calorie, full-fat dips. Instead, try salsa, hummus or make your own dip using plain nonfat Greek yogurt and a packet of dry ranch seasoning. Pair your dip with fresh vegetables from your local farmer’s market or your own garden. Baby carrots, raw broccoli, cauliflower or baby tomatoes still pack the crunch without all of the calories of chips.
  • Side dishes: Instead of pasta salad, potato salad or coleslaw, try a leafy green salad with a light dressing made with olive oil, vinegar and lemon juice; grilled vegetables; corn on the cob; or fruit salad.
  • The main event: Try a veggie burger or make burgers with lean beef or ground turkey. Load that burger up with fresh vegetables like onions, peppers, lettuce and tomato. Go light on the cheese, ketchup and mayonnaise, and choose a whole-wheat bun to fill up on fiber. Make a kabob with grilled chicken or fish and pair it with vegetables like onions, zucchini, peppers and mushrooms.
  • Create your plate: Fill half the plate with non-starchy vegetables like zucchini, lettuce, grilled vegetables, onions, tomatoes or peppers. Next, put a 3- to 4-ounce portion of protein (size and thickness of a deck of cards) like grilled fish, chicken or a hamburger on a quarter of the plate. Round out the last part of your plate with a ½ cup of cooked potatoes, a small ear of corn, baked potato or a whole-wheat bun.
  • Do not go hungry: Skipping meals is common for some individuals who are planning on eating a lot at a celebration. Trying to save calories for later is not going to help you make healthy choices. Instead, follow your regular meal and snack pattern. Going to the party starving will only make you want to load up your plate with more food and may set you up to make unhealthy choices.

Try this healthy recipe at your next event.

Greek Orzo Salad with Peas, Lemon and Kalamata Olives


8 ounces whole wheat orzo, cooked al dente, drained and rinsed under cold water

1 cup English cucumber, diced into ½ inch pieces

1 cup tomato, chopped

½ cup red onion, chopped (half a medium onion)

¼ cup kalamata olives, pitted and chopped

2 tbsp dill, freshly minced

6 ounces reduced-fat feta cheese, crumbled

½ cup frozen peas, defrosted

1 tbsp lemon juice, fresh

2 ½ tbsp extra virgin olive oil

1 tbsp oregano, dried

1 heaping cup baby spinach leaves

Instructions: Combine all ingredients, except spinach leaves, in a large bowl. Cover and marinate at least one hour in refrigerator before serving. Add spinach leaves just before serving. Add rotisserie chicken or grilled shrimp to turn this salad into an entrée. Otherwise, it can be served as a tasty side dish to complement grilled chicken or fish.

 Nutrition Facts:

Serving size: 1/6 of recipe. Calories: 260, Carbohydrate: 34 grams, Protein: 11 grams, Fat: 11 grams, Saturated fat: 2.5 grams, Sugar: 3 grams, Dietary fiber: 5 grams, Cholesterol: 10 milligrams, Sodium: 350 milligrams, Potassium: 260 milligrams

 From Sizzle and Smoke by Chef Steven Petusevsky