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Navigating Healthy Eating at Your Summer BBQ

By Kristen MacDonald

As we enter the month of May, the promise of a long Memorial Day weekend is right around the corner. Longer, warmer days and summer holidays also mean the time for summer BBQs has arrived. From burgers and hot dogs to refreshing ice cream sandwiches, summer foods are among my favorites. Below I offer some simple tips and suggestions to help you navigate healthy eating at your summer BBQ whether you are hosting or a guest.

Avoid attending any party on an empty stomach. Many people think that by eating very little all day they can eat what they like, “worry-free”, when they go to a party or out to eat later. But food-focused gatherings, such as BBQs, often equal overeating. This can be exaggerated if you’re starving when you arrive! By eating normally throughout the day you are more likely to pick balanced foods in an appropriate amount.

Replace mayonnaise with greek yogurt in favorite recipes. How much mayonnaise does your potato or macaroni salad recipe call for? Half-a-cup of regular mayonnaise has a whopping 800 calories and 88 grams of fat! Try replacing mayonnaise with non-fat, plain greek yogurt for a similar creamy texture and pleasant tangy flavor. Greek yogurt has only about 67 calories and 0 grams of fat per half-a-cup – quite a big difference. You can also try reducing the amount of mayonnaise your recipe calls for. And instead of adding ingredients such as bacon or chopped eggs to your salad dishes for flavor, try chopped vegetables, such as onions, peppers, carrots, celery, etc. and fresh herbs, like dill or scallions.

Bring a dish you feel good about eating. Attending your BBQ as a guest instead of hosting? Think of something you’d like to eat, either a healthy dish you know you enjoy or something you’ve been meaning to try, and ask the host if you can bring it. Chances are he or she will be delighted to prepare one less item and others will be happy to have a healthy option.

You don’t have to try everything. So often summer BBQ gatherings offer a smorgasbord of food options and it is tempting to try them all. From various grilled meats, to rich salads and desserts galore, the choice can be hard. Limiting what you eat and making smarter choices can lead to healthier eating overall. Select leaner meats, such as grilled fish or chicken, instead of hot dogs and sausages. Fill up your plate with fresh green salad, lightly dressed salads and crisp corn on the cob – go light on the butter and salt! For a different take try seasoning your corn on the cob with freshly squeezed lime juice and chili powder. For dessert choose fresh fruit and/or limit portion size.

Use a meat thermometer. Whether grilling or smoking meat, this tool can help ensure food safety and that your meat is cooked perfectly. Ground beef or pork should reach an internal temperature of 160℉. Fresh beef and pork steaks and roasts should reach an internal temperature of 145℉. Poultry, such as chicken or turkey, ground or whole pieces, should reach an internal temperature of 165℉. Go to for more information. 

Try grilled vegetables or fruit. These can be a healthy, tasty alternative or addition to grilled meats at your BBQ. Cut vegetables such as eggplants, zucchini, plum tomatoes, red onions and sweet red peppers into wedges or large strips. Then brush the vegetables with some olive oil, so they won’t stick to the grate, and season with salt and pepper before grilling. Required grilling time is short – only about two to four minutes per side. Similarly, fresh fruit such as pineapple and peaches can be grilled and lightly seasoned with olive oil, sugar, cinnamon, lime juice, etc. Experiment and discover which fruits and veggies are your favorites!

Buy local produce. We are entering a great season to buy produce, and other local foods such as honey, cheese and meat, from the neighborhood farmstand and farmers’ market. Most times these foods are tastier, fresher and more nutritious, as the time from farm to table is brief. This preserves the quality of the food you are eating. Eating local also helps support local families and the local economy. You can feel good about the food you are eating!

Limit alcohol intake. Even if you are aware of the foods you are eating, you may be unaware of how many calories you drink. A 5-ounce serving of wine contains about 125 calories. Keep in mind that many people don’t limit their portion size to 5 ounces and multiple servings can add up quickly. One 12-ounce regular beer has 150 calories and calories in mixed alcoholic drinks can vary greatly depending on ingredients.

Drink water for hydration. Whether you are drinking alcohol or not, staying hydrated in the summer heat is very important. Participating in activities outside or even just sitting outdoors socializing and eating in the heat can cause you to sweat and lose fluids. If hosting a BBQ, make sure you have plenty of water available for your guests. If you’re attending a BBQ, make sure you ask for water. Cool treats such a popsicles or Italian ices can also be a great option for kids and adults alike.

Make smart dessert choices. As mentioned earlier, fresh fruit, as in a summer fruit salad, can be a healthy and satisfying dessert. You may also consider making one of the below “faux ice cream” recipes to try something new! I sampled them both at a BBQ I hosted last summer and it was curious to see who preferred which flavor – my guests were split! What will yours think? 

Peanut Butter-Banana “Ice Cream” 



  • 5 bananas
  • ⅓ cup creamy peanut butter
  • ½ cup milk of choice (dairy, almond, coconut, etc.)



1) Slice each banana into about 8 pieces. Place banana pieces in a bowl and freeze for approximately 2 hours.

2) In a food processor, blend bananas until smooth. Add peanut butter and milk and blend again.

3) Mix-ins may include chocolate chips, cookie pieces, nuts, etc.

4) Transfer mixture to a storage container and freeze overnight.

5) Serve on its own or with toppings and enjoy!


Avocado-Chocolate “Ice Cream”


  • 2 ripe avocados
  • 9 pitted dates (more or fewer may be added based on your sweetness preference)
  • 4 tablespoons maple syrup, honey or agave nectar (adjust amount to your sweetness preference)
  • ½ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 cup milk of choice (dairy, almond, coconut, etc. 
  • ¾ cup water


1) Peel and slice avocados.

2) In a food processor, blend avocados until smooth. Add remaining ingredients and blend again.

3) Mix-ins may include chocolate chips, cookie pieces, nuts, etc.

4) Transfer mixture to a storage container and freeze overnight.

5) Serve on its own or with toppings and enjoy!

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