The Best Choices at the Backyard Barbecue

by MyFitnessPal
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The Best Choices at the Backyard Barbecue

Grilled meat isn’t inherently unhealthy, yet for some reason when we gather around the backyard for a cookout with friends and family we inevitably go overboard with the eating and drinking. Traditional summer barbecue foods tend to be creamy, delicious, and loaded with calories and fat, but it’s possible to fill your plate and still feel satisfied without sabotaging your calorie goal for the day. Here are some swaps to consider.


Skip… The Cheeseburger A patty with a slice of cheese can set you back 510 calories and 26 grams of fat. If you’re really craving beef, enjoy the burger without the creamy topper and use lettuce instead of a bun.

Savor… A Hotdog Lower in fat than you might think, hotdogs are typically accompanied by lower calorie toppings, too. Try yours “garden style” with shredded lettuce, diced tomatoes, onions, and mustard, for a tasty lunch around 300 calories and 17 grams of fat.


Skip… The Potato Salad Potatoes are higher in calories and lower in vitamins than most veggies, which isn’t terrible, but when you slather them with mayonnaise things get ugly—one cup of typical potato salad is around 360 calories and 20 grams of fat.

Savor… The Coleslaw Yes, it’s also made with mayo, but cabbage contains fewer calories than potatoes, and raw cabbage is a good source of isothiocyanates, compounds that have been shown in studies to protect against cancer. One ¾-cup serving of coleslaw has about 150 calories and 11 grams of fat.


Skip… The Strawberry Shortcake The jewels of summer, strawberries turn up in a number of popular backyard-barbecue dessert recipes, including cakes, tarts, and pies. While the berries are loaded with vitamin C and other antioxidants, the health benefits are blunted when sugar and cream are added to the mix. One average serving of strawberry shortcake can weigh in around 425 calories and 25 grams of fat.

Savor… The Watermelon Or any other fresh fruit. Naturally sweet, watermelon and other fruit can curb a dessert craving and help you stay hydrated in the hot sun. One cup of watermelon contains only 46 calories, and slips in about 170mg of potassium, too.

Where do you try to save calories and where do you splurge when you’re at a cookout with friends? Tell us in the comments!

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22 responses to “The Best Choices at the Backyard Barbecue”

  1. Marjorie says:

    What about the margaritas and the sine, the miedo drinks?

  2. kwest_4_fitness says:

    I’ve been known to bring my own Boca burgers or
    lean beef hotdogs to a cookout. If I go
    for a beef burger, I’ll skip the cheese and pile on the lettuce, tomato, onion
    and ketchup or a little Miracle Whip. I
    pass over the chips and go for a bit of macaroni salad and tons of any kind of
    fruit. Baked beans are a favorite, too. I’ve been seeing hummus and 7-layer dips crop
    up at recent cookouts, too, and those tend to be healthier than potato and
    other heavy salads.

  3. mastadge says:

    I call shenanigans. The burger may have more fat and calories than the hot dog, but it also likely has more actual nutrients and fewer additives and preservatives.

  4. Eliza says:

    make a spritzer with wine and soda water…also add some of that fresh fruit to the drink..refreshing and you get flavour but half the calories….leave out buns for any of the bbq items….it isn’t always a calorie issue but a gluten one and you get used to burgers and dogs without the bun.

  5. Tim says:

    It would be a lot easier if the tasty foods weren’t always on display mocking you. 😉

  6. Kathy Ruth says:

    I go for the overall healthier choices rather than the lower calorie ones. The hamburger is better for you than the hot dog, unless you are buying certified organic ones, and not many people do that!
    Try a sweet potato salad, too-surprisingly good!

  7. Stasia says:

    Bring angel food cake, fresh berries, and sugar free cool whip to share! Because angel food cake is mostly egg whites and super light a fairly big piece will be super satisfying and low cal. You won’t feel like you are depriving yourself!

  8. Andrew says:

    I think a chicken breast would be a better option for some lean protein off the grill.

  9. pamelas9 says:

    I’ll take a burger over a hot dog any day! If you are doing the BBQ, even boneless skinless chicken breasts are awesome and great to have on hand..

    But I think this post missed the most glaringly obvious, skip the booze/soft drinks and drink/serve water! Nothing is as good ice cold water.. unless you are a master of infusing it with fruit!

  10. Steve Weiss says:

    How about you eat whatever you want at a BBQ ? Your not doing it everyday so enjoy yourself.

    • Shemar Moore's Bae says:

      Exactly Steve. Just don’t overdo it and when you feel full, stop. Hey, go all out and have a beer too!

  11. Diana says:

    make the coleslaw even healthier by making with Aldi low fat Greek yogurt instead of the mayo and if you want a little sweetness, grate an apple and add to it.

  12. Suzble says:

    Enjoy a grilled salmon party or a black bean burger instead of a burger. Also, in my book…hotdogs are not food. I can’t think of one thing in a hot dog that is good for you. Use avocado instead of mayo and make a quinoa salad as a side in addition to fresh fruit. A nice big green salad goes a long way as a side, too.

  13. Charles says:

    Skinny Popcorn is always a good snack good 4 cups 140 calories! Any cut up fruit – watermelon is the easiest and enjoyed by a lot of people. Baked beans – the vegetarian variety is lower in fat and calories and is very tasty. Corn on the cob another carb but if you don’t put the butter and salt on it you can also lower the salt content and calories, besides you can actually taste the sweet corn that is just coming in at this time of year. Another tip is that we put fresh salsa on our burgers when we do indulge rather than ketchup or mayo reducing both calories and sugars.

  14. carpe diem says:

    A bun-less turkey or salmon burger with no toppings, a mayo-less coleslaw, a slice of watermelon, and water to drink. If that’s the menu, I think I’ll stay home. I agree with Mr. Weiss. A cheat day once in a while is good for the soul.

  15. Shemar Moore's Bae says:

    How’s about a nice steak with a side of tossed salad and a beer? LOL Fattening? Probably! Steak may have a few calories, but instead of using 500 calories on a burger, I’d rather use it on a steak. I don’t use bbq sauce on my steak b/c it’s tasty enough without the sauce and that stuff is full of sugar anyway. when BBQ’ing at home, most times I will grill chicken and veggies. Zucchini on the BBQ is delish

  16. Booba says:

    I alway try to be the last one to fill my plate. That way, while I’m eating my first plate of food everyone else goes back for seconds. When it’s time for seconds, the food is often being packed away and dessert is being put out. A geat way to cut down to just one sensible plate of food.

  17. Randy says:

    Shut up and pass the wine. It’s a PARTY for goodness sake. Diet tomorrow.

  18. Pamela says:

    have tried for a few years to get family gatherings to serve healthier foods. Only my sister in law has decided to follow my requests. I always volunteer to bring the dessert which I usually provide fresh fruits, angel food cake with fresh strawberries and FF cool whip or sugar free puddings in parfait glasses. I also try to arrive a little late to avoid eating the high calorie/carb appetizers. When I host any function, I try to have the main dish something that is low fat/carb and have the guests bring complimentary side dishes.

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