How to Stay Healthy at Summer Barbecues

Most experienced dieters know the basics of navigating a cookout — fruit salad, yes; potato salad, no — but even the most diligent calorie counter can overlook a slather of mayo here, a triple squirt of ketchup there. "People think that if they just have a dab of something and eat it standing up it doesn't count," says Mollie Katzen, author of The Moosewood Cookbook.

Regrettably, that's not the case — and especially during bikini season, it's better to get your fill from what's inside the bun, not what's spread on it. The good news: "You can add so much flavor to your food for practically no calories," Katzen says. Here's a quick guide to everything you need to know about solving the condiment conundrum.


"You basically can't blow it with mustard," says Julie Upton, M.S., R.D., author of Energy to Burn. There are plenty of zero-calorie varieties to choose from, and even honey mustard, with its marginal amount of sugar, has just five calories per teaspoon.

Ketchup and Barbecue Sauce

They don't pack an alarming number of calories — ketchup has 15 per tablespoon; BBQ sauce has 20 — but they make up for it in volume. "If you like them, you tend to use a lot," says Maureen Callahan, R.D. Try topping a burger or a hot dog with salsa instead; even canned varieties are lower in sugar and salt than ketchup. If you can't pass up the original, squirt a dollop no bigger than a half-dollar onto your plate for dipping. You'll use less than you would going squeeze-happy with the bottle.

Stay away from these super-fatty, high sugar foods.

Salad Dressing

Most creamy dressings, even the ones labeled "light," have 45 to 70 calories per tablespoon (and people tend to dump several onto their salad). Stick with balsamic vinaigrette, says Katzen, or try making your own dressing using a generous drizzle of olive oil with lemon juice, vinegar, or hot sauce.


Regular mayo is around 100 calories per tablespoon, and low-fat versions are poor substitutes. That doesn't mean you have to choke on a dry bun. Mix a half teaspoon of mayo with mustard, and spread it thinly. Or try Spectrum Naturals Light Canola Mayo, which has one-third the calories and fat of regular but is surprisingly tasty, Katzen says. Another option: Skip the spread and pile on a third cup to a half cup of coleslaw made with vinaigrette. "It adds a lot of flavor, texture, and satisfaction."

Ranch Dip

Steer clear of this calorie bomb (75 or more calories per tablespoon!) in favor of hummus or bean dip. Both are high in fiber and lower in saturated fat and calories, and they pair equally well with chips and veggies. Any dip adds up, though, so measure roughly a tablespoon onto your plate to avoid OD'ing (over-dipping).

Pickles and Relish

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Some relishes have a small amount of added sugar, but in general, go to town — pickles are virtually calorie-free. And sliced bread-and-butter pickles are a great alternative to potato chips, Callahan says. Both are salty and crunchy, but you'd have to pile on 22 pickles to consume the same number of calories that are in about 10 potato chips.


To avoid the corn-on-the-cob fat trap, try this alternative: Throw your cob on the grill, then squeeze on a little lime juice and sprinkle it with chili powder or salt and pepper. "That's a popular way to eat it in Mexico," Katzen says. "It's delicious."

Tartar and Cocktail Sauces

Cocktail sauce is made with high fructose corn syrup; tartar is high in fat and sugar. Instead, go for a simple squeeze of fresh lemon juice and some garlic powder. "Those are intense flavors, so you only need a little," Callahan says. It's easy, tasty, and won't go straight to your hips — everything you're looking for in a summer sauce.

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