Labor Day marks the unofficial end of barbecue season, but before we transition to fall-themed gatherings featuring hot cider and all things pumpkin, enjoy this last-hurrah celebration.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you have to go crazy filling up on enough burgers and potato salad to keep you in a food coma until next summer. These tips will help you keep it real at your Labor Day barbecue so you can enjoy yourself and still hit the ground running Tuesday morning.
Don’t show up starving.
You’re more likely to overdo it if you arrive at the BBQ ravenous. Have a balanced breakfast before you go to help you stay satisfied and clear-headed. Protein-rich foods such as eggs, Greek yogurt, or nuts will help you keep from attacking the chips when you walk in the door. Add some vegetables or fruit to start your day off with filling fiber and a mix of vitamins and minerals. Or whip up a green smoothie with coconut water, fruit, spinach, and your favorite protein powder.
Scope out the offerings before piling up your plate. If your burger feels incomplete without a bun, skip the chips and potato salad. If you’re eyeing the ribs or pulled pork, go slow on the higher-fat items, such as cheese, mayo-based dips and dressings, and fries, along with sugar-filled condiments such as ketchup. If you know you’re going to want dessert, skip any sugary mixed drinks or split a glass with a friend.
Avoid eating foods you don’t love just because they’re there or because someone says you absolutely have to try it. They’ll get over it if you don’t have some—unless it’s your mother-in-law talking, in which case, you might want to have a polite nibble.
Make healthy swaps.
If you’re the cook, take advantage of the opportunity to give classic recipes a makeover by subbing in some healthier ingredients. That way, you can lighten things up without sacrificing taste. Here are a few ideas:
- Select leaner meats (95% lean beef for burgers or chicken breast instead of thighs)
- Use lower sodium versions of sauces and spreads.
- Cut calories and fat by replacing some of the mayo in creamy dips and salad with plain Greek yogurt.
- Prepare a variety of vegetables. Grill up some peppers and onions, toss a salad, and lay out a colorful crudité plate.
- Instead of a beef burger, try a lean turkey or veggie burger.
- Try chicken sausage instead of pork or beef.
- Think beyond burgers and hot dogs by making grilled chicken, shrimp, or fish. If you’re cooking for vegetarians, marinated tofu is great on the grill.
Not sure what will be on the menu? Bring a vegetable platter, a garden salad, or some vegetables to grill so at least you know you can pile your plate with some color. Bonus: The fiber and water in the veggies will fill you up on fewer calories.
Balance your plate.
Pick a protein, a carb, and pile on the vegetables and keep the 80/20 rule in mind: 80 percent of your plate should be filled with good-for-you foods and 20 percent with whatever you want. So fill half the plate with vegetables, a quarter with protein, and a quarter with a grain or starchy vegetable such as corn or potato. Choose one high-calorie side to enjoy a little of. If that’s just not realistic with too many tempting options, then enjoy a small portion of a second high-calorie side and balance that out by prioritizing lean protein and vegetables at your next meal, along with drinking plenty of water.
Abide by the “one plate rule.”
Enjoy one plate of food each during the cocktails and appetizers hour, the main meal, and dessert. Take your time to enjoy it. If you think you’re still hungry, sip some water and wait 15 minutes rather than automatically going back for seconds. If you don’t feel satisfied, then get another small helping. The key is to eat until you’re satisfied — not stuffed.
Keep an eye on the alcohol. Aside from providing empty calories and lowering you inhibitions, it can be dehydrating — not fun if you’re outside on a hot day. If sticking to one alcoholic beverage isn’t going to happen, sip water between each boozy drink. Want something more interesting that water? Try seltzer or club soda with lemon or lime.