Get Ready for Summer Picnics and Barbeques

From graduation parties, to Fourth of July picnics, to good old-fashioned backyard barbeques – it’s likely that you already have several events on the calendar where you’ll be celebrating the summer season. While these social gatherings usually offer great company and fun, they may not always offer the best food choices. This month, we’ll reveal the best and worst picnic foods so you can stay on track with your healthy eating plan and still enjoy the party.

Keep Portions in Perspective

It’s important to fill your plate with the best food choices available at any picnic or barbeque, but you still need to be mindful of portion size. In many situations, we sabotage our health efforts because we simply take and eat too much. To avoid overeating, we recommend using the Diabetes Plate Method.  It’s a simple guide to filling your plate with the best foods and it will also help you keep portions in perspective. What’s more - you can use anywhere, and it’s perfect for serve-yourself situations like picnics and barbecues.

Just aim to fill ½ of a 9-inch plate with non-starchy vegetables, ¼ of it with a lean protein option, and the last ¼ with a starchy food (like a whole grain, beans, or starchy vegetable). Then, add a side of fruit and a glass of low-fat milk, if desired. Pile your food no more than ½ inch high.

You’ll see that the Diabetes Plate Method still allows you to enjoy many of your favorite summer foods. Here are some additional helpful tips to avoid overeating:

  • Have a plan for something to do once you are finished eating to keep you from going back for second helpings. Good ideas are going for a walk with a friend, helping the host with dishes, or starting a game of softball or bocce with other guests.
  • Check out all of the food before you start to fill your plate and weigh your options. What do you absolutely have to try and what are you willing to pass on?

The Best and Worst Choices

Some picnic fare can be high in calories, unhealthy fats, sodium, and added sugars. Below is a list of which foods to limit, along with some good substitutions for them. Look for these better choices at your next summer party.

From the Snack Table

Chips, pretzels, crackers, and heavy dips like spinach artichoke dip and French onion dip are hot items at many barbeques and picnics. It’s easy to stake out a spot next to the snack table and graze on a bottomless bowl of potato chips. But research has shown that we tend to eat more when we eat directly large or bulk-size containers. So, make sure you grab a small plate or napkin, take a portion of snacks, and then put some distance between you and the snack table. You’ll want to save room for the main course anyway!

Salty snacks like chips and pretzels don’t have much nutritional value. Some better choices to look for that will provide you with fiber and important other nutrients are:

  • Fresh veggies with a few tablespoons of hummus, guacamole, or light ranch dressing
  • Black bean dip or salsa with a handful of baked tortilla chips or pita chips
  • Fresh fruit with a 3-4 small cheese cubes
  • ¼ cup trail mix or mixed nuts

From the Grill

Processed and breaded meats such as hot dogs, bratwursts, and fried chicken are typical barbeque entrees. Burgers are another popular choice and are often made with high-fat ground beef. These are all high in unhealthy saturated fats  and calories. The more processed a meat is, the more sodium  it will have as well. Instead of opting for one of these, keep an eye out for leaner options such as:

  • Grilled chicken or turkey (without the skin)
  • Burgers made with lean ground turkey or lean ground beef (meat should be at least 90% lean)
  • Kabobs made with peppers, onions, mushrooms, or other vegetables plus chicken, shrimp, or scallops
  • Grilled salmon or other grilled fish filets
  • Veggie or black bean burgers

From the Garden - Picnic Salads

When you are at a picnic, you’ll find all sorts of salads. But not all salads fall into the healthy category. Be wary of heavy macaroni salads, potato salads, and creamy coleslaw. These dishes are usually heavily coated in dressing, which makes them high calories. It’s not that you can’t enjoy your favorite potato salad, just keep portions in perspective.

Cooking Tip: The dressing for these creamy salads is usually made with a fair amount of mayonnaise. Lighten them up by using light mayonnaise and replacing half it with non-fat plain yogurt.

In addition to these heavier salads, look for colorful vegetable salads and side dishes in the summer. Focus on filling at least half of your plate with these lighter, more nutritious options:

  • Green salads with other fresh non-starchy vegetables
  • Cucumber and tomato salad
  • Slaw salad that’s light on the dressing or made with a vinaigrette
  • Vegetable kabobs
  • Grilled vegetables like bell peppers, eggplant, and summer squash
  • Broccoli or other summer vegetable side dishes like our Southern Broccoli Salad

These are also good foods to look for, but they will be a bit higher in calories and carbohydrates than the foods listed above. So, keep portions in perspective and be sure to count them in your meal plan if you have diabetes

  • Bean salads
  • Fruit salad, watermelon slices or grilled fruit
  • Whole grain salads like tabouleh, barley salad, or quinoa salads
  • Grilled corn on the cob

From the Sweets Table

What’s a party without dessert? One of the most important tips you’ll get when it comes to dessert is to keep portion sizes small. We recommend choosing fresh fruit or a fruit-based dessert to round out your meal and curb your sweet tooth.

From the Fountain

The coolers at these events are often full of soda, lemonade, and fruit punch. Instead of drinking your calories, opt for zero calorie beverages like:

  • Water
  • Diet soda and other diet drinks
  • Unsweetened tea

Looking for Recipes?

Below is a list of recipes that you can bring to your next summer gathering. Many of these are lighter versions of traditional picnic foods, but they still taste like the real thing!

Tasty Starters and Snacks

Healthy Taco Dip
Spinach Artichoke Dip
Cowboy Bean Fritters

Vegetable Sides

Antipasto Salad
Asian Kale Slaw
Southern Broccoli Salad
Grilled Cheesy Eggplant

Starchy Salads

Budget-Friendly Tuna Pasta Salad
Herb Potato Salad
Plantation Sweet Potato Salad
Black Bean and Corn Salad

Main Dishes

Mexican Sliders
Grilled Mango Chicken


Berry Crisp
Grilled Fruit Salad with Chocolate Drizzle

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