Skip to content

The #1 Absolute Worst Food To Have at Your BBQ

Stay away from this food if you're trying to watch your health
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

With Labor Day around the corner, it's time to start prepping all your BBQ needs. While you can't go wrong with the cookout classics, if you're trying to be mindful of your health, not all the staples are going to meet your nutrition needs. What that means for you is that it might be time to eliminate some of those BBQ foods and swap them for healthier ones.

While there are several foods at a barbecue to stay away from, which ones are really worth keeping off your picnic table? According to Brittany Dunn, MS, RDN, CD, a performance dietitian, the #1 worst food to have at your BBQ is a creamy salad.

When we're talking about creamy salads, think of potato and macaroni salads as well as coleslaw. Creamy salads are usually made with contents like mayonnaise, which is a high-calorie ingredient.

"Typically, these salads are high in fat content, increasing the calories per serving," says Dunn.

Why mayo-based salads are the worst foods to have at your cookout

old fashioned potato salad

Take a standard potato salad with egg, for instance. According to the USDA, a half cup of this salad contains 11.8 grams of fat. According to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, fats should make up 20-35% of your total daily calorie intake. For example, for someone who weighs 150 pounds, this would equate to 34-68 grams of fat per day. Consuming just half a cup of potato salad may not mean you're over-eating your fat content for the day, but pair that with other unhealthy creamy salads or unhealthy BBQ food, and you're already maxed out for the day.

"There's also increased ease of spoiling out in the summer heat. That can lead to more risk of food poisoning," says Dunn.

When you leave cooked starch (such as the macaroni for the macaroni salad) out for too long, you can also risk food poisoning. This is due to a bacterium called Bacillus cereus. This bacterium may also reproduce thanks to the nutrients found in rice, dairy products, spices, dried foods, and vegetables…which is a lot of what you find in those creamy salads.

Healthy swaps for mayonnaise-based salads

However, if you can't seem to give up those delicious salads, Dunn has some ideas to help make them healthier.

"If you're still looking for a creamy texture, make the salads with nonfat Greek yogurt to improve nutrient content," she says. "It decreases fat and adds protein."

Other alternatives when making creamy salads:

  • Increase the vegetable to macaroni/potato ratio. Not only with the vegetables add a great crunchy texture, but they will increase vitamins and other micronutrients.
  • Switch up the type of potato or pasta. Using sweet potatoes or bean-based pasta can increase the nutrient density of the dish.
  • Keep foods chilled, if possible. For example, place the creamy salads on top of a pan of ice or keep them in a cooler.

Other worst foods to have at your BBQ

Sausage and hot dogs on grill

Dunn takes it a step further by suggesting other foods that you should skip at the BBQ. If you're focusing on grilling, it's best to stay away from the sausages and hot dogs.

"The meats can contribute to high-processed meat and sodium consumption," says Dunn.

Instead, she recommends choosing a chicken or turkey sausage, which is typically lower in fat, or low sodium options.

When you're laying out the snacks, a popular and easy option is the chips and dip. However, Dunn advises staying away from these as well.

"Chips and dip can be easy to over-consume," says Dunn. "Eating more chips than the serving size can provide added sodium and fat. The dips can be creamy and pose similar issues to creamy salads."

For some snack swaps, Dunn suggests using a nonfat Greek yogurt base for dips or providing hummus or other vegetable-based dips. Or, in lieu of chips, serve cut veggies instead.


At the end of the day, one day of eating foods, like creamy salads or hot dogs, that are traditionally not in your daily diet will not make or break your overall health. If you do want to add these to your plate, keep your portion sizes small, eat mindfully—once you feel full, put down the plate—and make sure healthier options like leafy green salads, cut vegetables, healthy dips, or summer fruits make up most of your meal.

Kayla Garritano
Kayla Garritano graduated from Hofstra University, where she majored in Journalism and double minored in Marketing and Creative Writing. Read more about Kayla
Filed Under