Surprisingly Healthy Barbecue Food

A family standing with plates in front of a grill

So…what is the healthiest barbecue food?

‘Tis the season of summer barbecue classics: burgers, hot dogs, potato salad. And don’t forget the pie, cakes, cookies…and ice cream!

While traditional warmer-weather meals tend to not always be the healthiest for you, you can still dig in without gaining weight.

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What’s the best way to attend a barbecue and actually eat? It’s about making the right satisfying choices, while skipping (or drastically reducing your portion size of) the worst ones.


Bad appetizer: Potato chips with French onion dip. A large handful of chips delivers about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. Add to that 60 calories and 4.5 grams of fat from 2 tablespoons of dip. Tortilla chips and guacamole deliver about the same calories (about 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, plus 50 calories and 4.5 grams of fat in the guac). The problem with these snacks isn’t so much how many calories one serving is…it’s about how hard it is to stop after just one serving!

Best appetizer: Veggies with hummus. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas for 60 calories (0 grams of fat). Add 2 tablespoons of hummus (50 calories, 3 grams of fat) and you have a nice fiber-rich, very filling snack for just a little more than 100 calories.

Main Dish

Bad main dish: A double-cheeseburger. A couple quarter-pound beef burgers with slices of cheese will set you back over 1,000 calories (and over 50 grams of fat). Skipping the cheese will save you about 100 calories. But if you love a good burger, just go for a single patty. It’s still an excellent source of iron.

Best main dish: A hot dog or turkey burger. Either of these options is lower in calories than you might think. Enjoy one on a roll or bun with your favorite toppings (with lower-cal toppings like mustard and relish) and you’ll come out around 300 calories, 17 g fat.

Side Dish

Bad side dish: Potato salad. There’s nothing inherently bad about potatoes: they’re actually a great source of vitamin C and fiber, but they contain more calories than other veggies. Plus, most potato salads are smothered in way too much full-fat mayo and will cost you about 360 calories and 20 or so grams of fat per cup.

Best side dish: Coleslaw can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories (83, with 3 grams of fat per cup). Low-cal cabbage is also a rich source of isothiocyanates, compounds that amp up the body’s natural detoxifying enzymes. Another great option is reduced-fat potato salad.


Bad (alcoholic) drink: Regular margarita. Between the alcohol and mixers, a small 3.5-ounce drink packs about 160 calories (0 grams of fat). Fortunately, there are some reduced-calorie mixers that are better options.

Bad (non-alcoholic) drink: Soda. A 12-ounce can delivers about 150 calories thanks to added sugars. In addition, study after study shows that soda’s other ingredients may increase your risks for certain illness, such as metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

Best (alcoholic) drink: Light beer or wine. A 12-ounce serving generally can have as little as 100 calories.

Best (non-alcoholic) drink: Seltzer water. A zero-calorie flavored seltzer with a slice of fruit in it is the best choice of all.


Bad dessert: Strawberry shortcake. Just because it contains fruit doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest or lowest-calorie choice. Between the cake and the loads of whipped cream that typically tops this summer favorite, you get a lot more calories than you may be bargaining for: about 425 (and around 20-25 grams of fat).

Best dessert: A frozen fruit bar (100 calories, 0 grams of fat). Or, you can also opt for a reduced-fat ice cream bar or a scoop of vanilla ice cream: 140 calories, about 5 grams of fat.