8 Quick Food Swaps for a Healthier BBQ Menu

Cut hundreds of calories by making these simple food swaps.

May 15, 2017
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A hamburger isn't your waistline's worst enemy at a cookout. The mayonnaise-coated macaroni salad and sour-cream-based chip dip can do far greater damage to your diet, according to Melissa O'Shea, RD, national director of nutrition at Exhale Spa. But with these healthy recipe twists, you can enjoy traditional barbecue foods without the guilt. 

More: 20 Side Dishes for Your Summer Grilling

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Instead of traditional potato salad…

"Focus on recipes that use dressings made with olive oil and vinegar instead of mayonnaise," O'Shea says. If creaminess is a must, substitute Greek yogurt for up to half the mayonnaise in the recipe and you shouldn't be able to taste the difference.

More: Sweet Potato & Pumpkin Seed Salad

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Instead of coleslaw…

Swap cabbage for broccoli, which has more than twice as much vitamin C and three times as much protein as a serving of cabbage. Just make sure you choose a slaw recipe without mayonnaise for the best results. 

More: No-Mayo Coleslaw

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Instead of macaroni salad…

Trade this dish for a quinoa and vegetable salad. A cup of the ancient grain has 8 grams of protein and 5 grams of fiber. Plus you'll get a healthy dose of manganese, magnesium, and folate to boot. Not ready to give up pasta completely? Opt for whole-wheat varieties instead of ones made with white flour.

More: Warm Chickpea-Quinoa Salad

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Instead of bottled marinades…

"Packaged marinades and dressings can carry more than 20 percent of your recommended daily sodium intake in a single serving. Fresh herbs like basil, parsley, mint, and rosemary pack flavor without weighing down your dish with additional fat, sodium, or calories," O'Shea says. "Plus many herbs actually serve up antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals."

More: 7 Picks for Healthier Condiments

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Instead of sugary soda and alcohol mixers…

If you're planning on indulging in a cocktail, skip the soda and brightly colored juices. "Use your calories on your meat and side dish; don't also spend them on liquid calories," O'Shea says. Try water with lemon and cucumber, an herbal iced tea with lemon and mint, or sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice.

More: 5 Naturally Flavored Water Recipes

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Instead of potato chips…

For an even healthier dunkable snack, station chopped carrots and peppers near the chips and dip, which will encourage you and your guests to grab for nutrient-rich veggies instead of fat-filled chips.

More: 10 Guilt-Free Veggie Chip Recipes

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Instead of creamy chip dips…

Replace sour cream and mayonnaise-based dips with homemade salsa, guacamole, or Greek yogurt mixed with herbs. Two tablespoons of chip dip runs at about 60 calories and 5 grams of fat, where salsa carries only 35 calories per half cup and no fat. Likewise, guacamole, in moderation fills you with healthy fats and at 40 calories for two tablespoons.

More: 25 Easy Crowd-Pleasing Dip Recipes for Your Next Party

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Instead of pie…

A seasonal solution to your sweet tooth: grilled fruit. Throw peaches and pineapple on the grill, and serve them with one small scoop of ice cream. A slice of peach pie can set you back more than 300 calories, where a serving of grilled peaches and a scoop of fat-free frozen yogurt comes to only about 160.

More: The Best Fruits for Your Grill