Summer is the season for pool parties, lazy days at the lake, and family barbecues. The long cold days of winter have given way to warm sunshine and the smell of hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill. Unfortunately, many traditional cookouts feature foods loaded with extra calories and fat. With a few simple tips, you can pile on the flavor and not the pounds at your next barbecue.

The foundation for a healthier cookout menu is a good lean protein. Chicken, turkey, pork, and fish can provide a lighter alternative to traditional ground beef. If you aren’t ready to stray from the ground beef, try switching to a leaner cut such as sirloin. If you choose to use a leaner cut of meat, try adding some finely chopped veggies such as onions, peppers, or mushrooms, into the mixture. The vegetables keep the meat moist and boost the flavor.

When it comes to food, fat is flavor. Fresh herbs and seasonings are a great way to add extra flavor when cutting out fat. Add some fresh basil to your pasta dish or try a little chipotle or even curry seasoning in your next turkey burgers. These additions pay enormous flavor dividends without adding extra calories. A burger is a blank canvas so let your creative side run free.

Your perfectly-cooked, healthier burger deserves a better bun. Instead of the usual bun made with white flour, look for a whole-wheat variety. Whole-wheat English muffins and sandwich thins are also suitable alternatives. If you want to slim down your burger even more, you can skip the bun altogether and wrap it in some fresh bib lettuce.

Sides are a crucial part of any barbecue menu. They are also often loaded with high-fat ingredients such as mayo. Sides are an easy place to make healthful substitutions. For example, try non-fat Greek yogurt or a light vinaigrette in place of full-fat mayo in a pasta or potato salad. You can also use your favorite roasted veggies to add filler to these salads. The extra vegetables allow you to reduce calories by using less of the potato or pasta.

You don’t have to shy away from dessert just because you are making your barbecue healthier. Try grilling fruit instead of opting for pies, cakes, or cookies. The natural sugars in the fruits carmelize on the grill, bringing out a whole new level of flavor. Look for fruit dishes that use fresh herbs or vinegar like balsamic to dress the fruits instead of sugar. If you do choose to go with higher calorie desserts, try to provide for portion control. For example, buy ice cream cups instead of big containers.

Barbecues can be a minefield of empty calories. Sugary sodas, teas, beer, and cocktails are a part of most cookouts and can add a significant number of calories. Instead, drink lighter alternatives such as water with a squeeze of citrus, unsweetened tea, or home-made lemonade where you control the sugar content and save the calories for where they matter the most. Try drinking a bottle or two of water between each alcoholic drink. The water will keep you hydrated, feeling full, and limit the number of empty calories.

Finally, no healthy barbecue is complete without ensuring proper food safety. Don’t forget to have plenty of extra plates and utensils on hand to prevent cross-contamination. Never use the same dishes and utensils for raw and cooked meats. Make sure your grill is clean and at a high enough temperature to kill bacteria. Always use a meat thermometer to make sure your meat is done. Beef should be cooked to an internal temperature of 160 degrees, poultry to 165 degrees, and raw pork to 145 degrees. You should also have an ice chest or some other means available to keep cold foods cold.

Now get creative, fire up those grills, and get cooking!

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