MILWAUKEE - The smell of meat on the grill is a sure sign that it's summer. Cookouts, and their accompanying foods, are popular, but they can pose a formidable challenge to somebody trying to lose or maintain weight.
TOPS Club, Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly), the nonprofit weight-loss support organization, provides advice for eating healthy at cookouts, whether you're celebrating a special occasion or simply enjoying the sunshine.
Eat Before You Go
Just because you're not in control of the food being served doesn't mean you have to make unhealthy choices. If you're attending a cookout somewhere other than your own home, it's a good idea to eat a nutritious snack before you go. Eating beforehand will help fill you up and make you less tempted to overindulge later.
Assess the Situation and Make a Plan
Crafting a plan before any meal is important for making smart choices. When you arrive, take a look at all of the food and try to identify the healthiest options available. Note exactly what you're going to eat, and then stick to your plan.
Go for the Lean Protein
Instead of high-fat hamburgers and hot dogs, choose lower-fat proteins like grilled chicken, turkey, or fish. If you can't say no to a burger, avoid high calorie toppings like cheese or bacon, and eat it with a whole-grain bun or no bun at all. Veggie burgers and turkey or chicken burgers are a few other healthy substitutes for your favorite sandwich.
Avoid Creamy Dressings
Side dishes like coleslaw, potato salad and pasta salad are found everywhere throughout the season, but the high-fat, creamy dressings in these dishes are particular calorie bombs. Substitute a vinaigrette dressing for a tasty, lighter option. If you must have a creamy dressing, use light mayo or light sour cream when preparing the dishes. Increase your satiety and the nutritional profile of these dishes by adding grilled or roasted vegetables.
Ditch the Chips
Substitute fresh veggies for high-fat potato chips for a healthier route to enjoying your family's famous dip recipe. Make sure you also have other "popable" options for snacking available, like a bowl of freshly-cut fruit.
Choose Light, Refreshing Drinks
Sugary drinks like soda and juice provide empty calories that you simply don't need. Choose ice water with a lemon or cucumber slice instead or add a dash of 100 percent fruit juice to sparkling water. Fresh-squeezed lemonade can be delicious, but be mindful to only include a very small amount of sugar.
Control Your Portions
This tip applies to every meal, but it's especially important when there are unhealthy foods on the menu and you're in a more relaxed environment. Try to follow the one plate rule. Fill up your plate one time, being mindful of the food you decide to eat, and then relinquish your plate. Take your time eating your food, and one plate will be plenty.
Enjoy the company of your friends and family. The social aspect not the food at cookouts should be the center of your attention. Focus on enjoying the people around you, and it will help you avoid temptation, without feeling guilty afterwards.
TOPS Club Inc. (Take Off Pounds Sensibly) is the original weight-loss support and wellness education organization. TOPS has about 150,000 members male and female, age seven and older in thousands of chapters throughout the United States and Canada.
Visitors are welcome to attend their first TOPS meeting free of charge. Membership is affordable at just $28 per year in the U.S. and $32 per year in Canada, plus nominal chapter fees. To find a local chapter, view www.tops.org or call (800) 932-8677.