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Use These 8 ‘Picnic Survival Tips’ to Stay Healthy at Your Next Cookout

Want to enjoy a guilt-free summer picnic? Experts from LVHN’s Helwig Health and Diabetes Center share these tips to help you stay healthy at your next cookout.

Now that summer is in full swing, you might be feeling the stretch on your waistline from enjoying the typical cookout fare. However, summer barbecues and picnics do not have to be ruined by overeating. To survive the rest of the season without overindulging, here are eight picnic survival tips:

  1. Grill vegetables. Start by filling your plate with salad or veggies. Doing so will help to fill you up and make it easier for you to control your portions of higher-calorie foods. Grills are especially great for bell peppers, zucchini, cherry tomatoes, carrots, onions, bok choy, radicchio and mushrooms, and kebabs can be a festive way to incorporate vegetables at a barbecue.
  2. Choose a lean protein. Don’t feel limited to only grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. Be creative. Try grilling lean turkey burgers, skinless chicken breast, black bean burgers, veggie burgers, salmon or tuna burgers, or extra-firm tofu.
  3. Build a better burger. Opt for a whole-wheat bun for a fiber-rich starch. If you’re having a starchy side such as corn, beans, potatoes or macaroni, you might want to turn your burger into an open-faced sandwich or skip the bun all together. This will help to help balance the amount of carbohydrates at your meal.
  4. Use condiments with caution. Condiments can make or break the healthiness of a food. Mustard is a great go-to spread; a tablespoon of Dijon mustard has 18 calories with no added sugar or fat, while mayonnaise has 57 calories and 5 grams of fat. Ketchup can easily be a major source of hidden sugar in many people’s diet. If you do chose ketchup, read ingredient lists and shop for a brand with no added sugar. Also be mindful of marinades; if using a store-bought marinade, be sure to read the food label to avoid artificial sweeteners and additives. Try to choose a marinade with a lower sugar count, like Italian dressing rather than barbecue sauce.
  5. Chose sensible sides. Potato salad, macaroni salad and coleslaw usually are present at a barbecue; however, they are loaded with a ton of saturated fat (mayo). For a healthier side, choose a dish that is made with oil and vinegar, or one that has a yogurt base. For healthier versions of your barbecue favorites, try German-style potato salad or give coleslaw a makeover by making it with plain, nonfat yogurt instead of mayo. Or for a new favorite, try a whole-grain salad made of wild rice, quinoa, wheat berries or barley.
  6. Don’t forget the fruit. Grill fruit for a healthier, sweet dessert. Bananas, peaches, pears, nectarines and pineapple all grill well. Their natural sugars caramelize, therefore creating a sweet treat without the added sugar. Sprinkle with cinnamon or non-fat Greek yogurt for some added flavor.
  7. Stay hydrated. Thirst or dehydration is easy to confuse with hunger. Staying adequately hydrated can help prevent eating out of thirst. Choose water, seltzer, club soda or unsweetened iced tea for a healthier choice without the added sugars and calories.
  8. Watch your portions. Before filling your plate at a barbecue, take inventory of all the options available and prioritize what you would like to eat. Taking the time to think about your meal before filling your plate will give you some time to think about your portioning and how you can balance your food groups. Aim to make half of your plate vegetables, one quarter of your plate lean protein, and one quarter a fiber-rich starch. For starchy sides like potato, pasta or bean salads, think of a tennis ball, baseball or a female’s fist; starchy sides should equal about 1 cup total. A healthy portion of protein equals 3-4 ounces. Try choosing pieces of chicken, steak and fish that are about the size of a deck of cards. Also be mindful of salad dressing, because it’s easy to go overboard. Limit dressings to 1 tablespoon, or the size of the tip of your thumb. One tablespoon of salad dressing can have 50 to 100 calories, which adds up quickly.