7 Barbecue Indulging Strategies That Won't Break Your Diet

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Barbecues don’t have to be a diet nightmare, despite the all-day grazing on fatty foods washed down with cool, calorie-laden cocktails. If you capitalize on summer’s fresh fruits and veggies and smarten up the grilled foods you choose, you can turn a barbecue into one of the easiest food-focused social events to enjoy. Here, your best strategies:

Plan ahead
When you accept an invitation to a summer barbecue, ask the host what will be served and what you can bring. This way, you can make a game plan about which foods you’ll indulge in. It also gives you the opportunity to bring something healthy, (we love these 10 Slaw Side Dishes That Put Coleslaw to Shame).

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At the party, look at everything that’s being offered first, then just have the few items that look too good to pass up. If potato salad is your thing, take a scoop and enjoy it, then skip the less appealing-to-you macaroni salad. Don’t waste calories on so-so sweets or treats you can get any time of year.

Get a little more protein
“Dietary protein helps control appetite, which ultimately keeps weight in check,” explains Susan Kleiner, Ph.D., R.D., author of Power Eating. Look for lean proteins such as grilled chicken breast or shrimp or three-bean salad, which gets an extra make-you-full boost from fiber. Make sure to fill about one-quarter of your plate with lean protein.

Pile on the produce
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You should be eating nine servings of vitamin-packed fruits and vegetables daily, says Kleiner. That’s easy at a barbecue, as long as you focus on summer salads, grilled vegetables, and prepared fruit plates. Load up on naturally low-calorie, low-fat produce; it should take up at least half your plate. (Or serve up these Fruit-Centric Grill Recipes for a Sweeter Cookout.)

Be smart about alcohol
When drinking alcohol, alternate lower-cal libations with water. You’ll pace yourself and cut down on all the empty calories and sugar that tend to be in summer cocktails. (Try one of 8 Infused Water Recipes to Upgrade Your H2O.)

Take a seat
Rather then picking and grazing, head over to a picnic table or sit down in the grass when you eat. “Practice mindful eating,” says Sue Cummings, R.D., clinical program coordinator at Massachusetts General Hospital Weight Center in Boston. “If you eat something distractedly, it doesn’t register,” she adds, so you’ll be less satisfied and you’ll reach for more.

Relax a little!
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Shooting for all healthy, all the time is a great way to fail. Allow yourself some leeway, and you’re guaranteed to have more fun and feel better. “Eighty percent of the time, do 80 percent of the things that are healthy for you,” says Janet R. Laubgross, Ph.D., a Fairfax, VA-based clinical psychologist specializing in weight management. “During the other 20 percent, let go a little and enjoy a small portion of your favorite foods.”

By  Shape Editors