Summer holidays and beautiful weather can only mean celebrating in one way—barbecues! Having a BBQ and inviting your closest friends and family brings both good vibes and delicious food. From creamy potato salads to grilling tons of meats to enjoying desserts (either homemade or store-bought will do), BBQs offer an array of food you may not normally eat elsewhere.
However, if you're not careful, your end-of-summer cookout may lead to unhealthy eating choices that can make you feel, well, not your best. We spoke with the experts to guide us on the eating mistakes we're making at BBQs and how to correct them to have a healthy and fun time. Read on, and for more, don't miss these 13 Non-basic Burger Recipes to Spice up Your Labor Day BBQ.
Showing up to the barbecue too hungry.
Don't feel the need to skip breakfast just because you know you're going to a cookout later in the day.
"Never show up to a BBQ on an empty stomach," says Caroline Susie, RD, LD, a registered dietitian, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "So many people want to 'save up their calories' for big food events, but in reality, this idea backfires as people tend to be so hungry that they overeat."
Susie recommends having a high-protein snack before the event such as cottage cheese or Greek yogurt. This can prevent overeating by helping you feel more in control and make healthier choices.
Standing around and grazing.
As easy as it is to stand around and socialize at the snack table, that will only encourage bad eating habits.
"Standing by the food table and grazing can lead to overconsumption/lack of awareness of how much food you have actually consumed," says Susie.
Instead, make yourself a plate and find a place to sit to stay in control of what and how much you eat.
You load up your plate with the first thing you see.
When making your plate, be sure to see everything that the BBQ has to offer before just grabbing servings of each item.
Susie shares that her Labor Day BBQs are served buffet style. If you're at a BBQ with a similar layout, Susie suggests taking a lap to assess all of your options before you fill your plate.
"I recommend skipping the foods that you see regularly (think crackers and cheese) and opting for special holiday favorites," she says. "Pro tip: watch your portion sizes! I am very much an 'all foods fit' dietitian, but you must be mindful of your portion sizes."
With this being said, Susie believes that you can enjoy all of your favorites without calorie overload if you watch your portion sizes.
"Also remember that if you have the opportunity to bring a dish, bring a healthy option that can be enjoyed by all," she recommends.
Eating something just because it's there.
Similarly, seeing a ton of food laying on the tables can be exciting. Maybe you just want to try everything, or maybe you'll feel bad if you don't eat your friend's food. Whatever it is, you need to be sure you really want to eat it.
"Before you fill your plate, ask yourself what really sounds good to you today," explains Sarah Anzlovar, MS, RDN, LDN, certified intuitive eating counselor and owner of Sarah Gold Nutrition, LLC. "Give yourself permission to choose the things that will satisfy you and skip the things that won't."
Not prioritizing the foods you can only get at this time of year.
BBQ season brings seasonal foods that you're unable to enjoy all year round. So, try to eat some of those instead of wasting calories on foods you can get elsewhere.
"Why 'waste' time on the crackers and cheese you can eat all year," says registered dietitian Melissa Azzaro, RD. "Focus on the foods that are at their peak during summers like fresh corn, watermelon, and cool desserts like ice cream!"
Completely avoiding any produce.
As much as you want to enjoy that ice cream, be sure to balance it out.
You want to also fill your plate with fresh fruit and veggies," says Susie. "At a BBQ, look for fruit salad, green salad, grilled corn, or veggie crudites."
Susie says that the fruits (like that seasonal watermelon) and veggies are low-calorie options and the fiber will help fill you up. This will help balance your plate.
Eating foods in the wrong order.
Believe it or not, there may be some proper food order when it comes to eating these BBQ foods.
"Studies have shown that blood sugar and insulin remain lower when eating protein and veggies first during a meal (versus eating carbs first)," says Azzaro. "Instead of filling up on chips and crackers before the meal, plant yourself near the shrimp cocktail and crudité!"
Not paying attention to total carb intake.
A BBQ has tons of different food options, and some of those options include carbs like pasta or macaroni salad, chips and pretzels, and more.
"For most people, I generally recommend keeping carbs to 1/4 of your plate," suggests Azzaro. "It's easy to go overboard if you're having a bun with your burger, potato salad, and pasta salad. Plus, an ear of corn for sides, beer or other alcoholic beverages, and a dessert. This can impact blood sugar and weight management (if those are concerns)."
Not checking in with yourself as you eat.
It can be easy to mindlessly eat at social gatherings, especially if you stand by the snack table. You're not paying attention to what you're grabbing or how much you're eating.
"Before you head back for seconds or thirds, check in with yourself to notice if you're still hungry or not," advises Anzlovar.