Spring is finally here in Chicago, which means grilling season is right around the corner! From Memorial Day to 4th of July to family get-togethers to beach parties, summer is chock-full of barbeques and cook-outs. Sharing food and drinks with family and friends is a central part of any special occasion, but it can be hard to choose healthy options when faced with so many unhealthy choices. Science has proven there is such a thing as decision fatigue: the more things we have to choose from, the more stressed our brains become and the more likely we are to make an impulse choice (i.e. “whatever, I’m getting cheese fries”).
But making healthy choices doesn’t have to be stressful or complicated! Remember, these are special occasions… it’s OK to indulge on a few things you will really enjoy, especially when your everyday habits become healthier and healthier. Focus on making the best choices you can given the options available; it’s about progress, not perfection!
Here are six simple tips to enjoy your summer BBQ in a more healthy way:
- Be strategic and intentional with how you fill up your plate. Fill your plate halfway with veggies and fruit first (and no, just corn on the cob does not count). Salads, the veggie platter, fruit salad, watermelon, whatever you can find on the table that’s green! Next, choose 1 protein– chicken OR hot dog OR burger OR half of one and half of another. If you are actively trying to lose weight, skip the bun and sub in a big piece of lettuce and generous tomato and onion slices. Looking at your plate, whatever small plate space you have left (and it should be small!) can be for the potato salad, pasta salad, mac & cheese, baked beans, etc. The point here is not to restrict yourself entirely, but to be smart about creating a balanced plate. If your friend makes the world’s best homemade mac & cheese, give yourself the permission to have a spoonful or two and enjoy every bite!
- Eat the veggies and fruit first. Then eat the rest. If you dive right in to the burgers and hot dogs, you may be too full to eat the more nutrient-dense food. The veggies and fruit also contain fiber, which will aid in digestion and help prevent that overly-full, bloated feeling.
- Forget the chips and the soda. They’re not special, they’re not exciting, and they aren’t doing anything remotely good for you! Better to use that space on your plate (and allocate those calories) towards something more special or satisfying, or towards something that actually fuels your body with healthy nutrients.
- Drink water in between your alcoholic beverages. It’ll keep you hydrated, keep you feeling full and help slow down the impulse eating that can come with drinking. Watch out for summery cocktails, like a punch or shandy, which may sound refreshing but actually contain tons of sugar. Opt for club soda, sugar-free flavored sparkling waters, or coconut water if you are looking for healthier mixers.
- Use a small plate for dessert. Choose carefully– get what you really want, not just what’s in front of you. If you love peach cobbler, get some and really enjoy it! If you want a little of everything, then go for it, but keep it to just the small plate (NOT one plate per dessert!). If the desserts are just your average, store-bought baked goods, be honest with yourself if those are something you really want, or are just eating because they’re in front of you.
- Get away from the food table. BBQs usually span several hours so make sure you’re eating when you’re hungry and not just when you’re bored or standing next to the buffet. Play a game, walk around, take photos, chat with lots of people… enjoy all the activities of this special occasion, not just the food!