Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right’s Cookout Tips

The average BBQ meal contains 3,500 calories, but don’t let that stop you from hitting up a slew of BBQs, backyard cookouts, and pool parties this summer. Even though BBQs can be packed with fattening foods, there’s usually a ton of delicious, good-for-you food choices there, too.

Check out Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right’s top cookout tips :

1. Drink water. When you get dehydrated, not only does your energy drop (not ideal at a party), but you also become more likely to eat when you’re just thirsty and make not-so-smart food decisions. Remember to drink before your thirsty; by the time you are feeling thirsty, you are already past the point of being adequately hydrated.

2. The “Grill” of Victory- Grilling makes practically everything taste great, and it keeps added fat to a minimum. As long as the food isn’t drowned in oil beforehand, you’re pretty much good to go. Grill lean protein, fruit, and veggies. Some best on-the-grill bets include: fish, veggie burgers and bison, fat-free franks, and grilled chicken breast. Then go condiment crazy with these low-cal choices, such as, ketchup, pickles, salsa, mustard, and hot sauce. Foil packs and skewers are also good ways to secure smaller bits of lean protein and veggies.
The best type of meat to consume is sustainably raised, ie: pasture-raised, grass-fed beef, and free-range. When the animals are raised in their natural environment (roaming in the pasture, feeding off the grass, exposed to the sun) they are the healthiest and therefore have more nutrients and are better for us. By consuming sustainably raised animals you will also be avoiding the negative effects of excess hormones and antibiotics. This plus the moral and environmental considerations makes this one of the most important steps toward eating healthier and more sustainably. For fish, look for wild or organic farm-raised fish. Try to minimize swordfish and tuna, which have a higher concentration of mercury, and focus on fish like cod or salmon, which are higher in healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

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3. Slender Side Dishes- Pair your choice of lean protein with crisp veggies and salad. Try corn on the cob, asparagus and onions, which are awesome when grilled, and they’ll fill you up. Also, remember to avoid mayo-laden side dishes, such as cole slaw, macaroni salad, and potato salad. Even a relatively demure 2/3-cup serving of ordinary potato salad can have close to 20 grams of fat… which makes eating it especially silly considering how many other fun things there are to chew. But slaw can be saved! If you can get to a sink, rinse your coleslaw (until the water runs clear) to wash calories and fat grams down the drain. 

4. Find guilt-free frozen treats. Stick to fruit pops and fruit bars instead of standard ice cream treats. You get the cool refreshment without the extra fat.

5. Alter you cooking methods. The temperature at which you cook your meat and the way you eat it — i.e., well-done, rare, medium-rare, etc. — is also extremely important to focus on. You should avoid cooking your meat at a very high temperature over long periods of time. Hazards with overcooking meats at high temperatures include an increased risk of cancers due to chemicals called HCAs. Try cooking the meats medium-rare and removing any blackened or charred pieces, the worst parts for you. You can cook the meat partially in the oven before putting it on the grill to cut down cooking time, which gives the HCAs less time to form. Or cook smaller pieces, which cook more quickly.

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Although it’s fine to splurge on occasion, go out of your way to use these tips at your next summer feast.

About this author

PhotobucketJoanna Dolgoff, M.D. is a Pediatrician, Child Obesity Expert, and Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right (Rodale, 2009). Dr. Dolgoff’s child and adolescent weight loss program ( has been featured on WABC News, WNBC News, Fox 5 Morning Show, My9 News, and WPIX News. She has also filmed pieces with The Today Show and Extra, is an official blogger for the Huffington Post, and is the official doctor for Camp Shane, the nation’s largest weight loss camp. Children from 45 different states are losing weight with Dr. Dolgoff’s online weight loss program (
Dr. Dolgoff attended Princeton University and the NYU School of Medicine and completed her Pediatric Residency at the Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital of New York. She is a Board-Certified Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a former certified fitness instructor. Dr. Dolgoff resides in Roslyn, NY with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 7.

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