The Fourth of July marks another of the many installments of barbecues you’ll probably be attending this summer. Maybe you’ve just started making progress on your summer body, are ready to show it off in some daisy dukes and a crop top, and now all you have to do is get through the minefield that is that barbecue spread. Between the coolers full of beer, the pitchers of sugary sangria, the many bowls of chips and dips (I mean really, how many do we need?!), the burgers, the hotdogs, and those trays of brownies and cookies, there’s a lot to unpack. Hmmm. That’s not quite conducive to keeping your abs looking taught in that crop top. You can already feel yourself needing to unbutton a button in your shorts in preparation for the incoming bloat. It’s okay. There are ways around this. You just have to know which barbecue foods will leave you feeling bloated, and which ones will leave you feeling nice and light.
Avoid: all the buns
Between the bratwurst, traditional hotdogs, beef burgers, and chicken breasts, there are a lot of things you want to put between two buns, slathered with barbecue sauce and mayonnaise. The grilled meats are actually excellent sources of protein, but if you make a burger or sandwich out of each serving, you’re just adding tons of empty calories in those all-white buns (that turn directly into sugar).
Try instead: lettuce wraps or scooped buns
Try lettuce-wrapping your protein sources, or just eating them a-la-carte with a fork and knife, dipping each bite into your preferred sauces (on that note, think brown mustards and salsas rather than sugary BBQ sauce and mayo.) Or, you can use the buns, but scoop the majority of the fluffy bread out, so you mostly just have the shell to hold your meat.
Avoid: empty veggie burgers
Grabbing the veggie burger may seem like a healthy idea, but first check just what sort of veggie burger it is. Most frozen varieties one picks up at a chain supermarket are just empty calories, made mostly from brown rice and peas, and boasting very little protein. So they’ll just leave you feeling hungry later.
Try instead: one of these burgers
If the veggie burgers are black bean-based, those are good, protein-rich options. Should the BBQ master have some Beyond Burgers on hand, those will also fill you up. Otherwise, try having a lean turkey burger. The protein will fill you up so you aren’t reaching for extra patties.
Avoid: potato salad
Though it can be hard to pass up this nostalgic food, try to remember that it is loaded with calories from the mayonnaise. Just because something has the word “salad” in its title doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
Try instead: a baked potato
Get your potato fix through a simple baked potato. Instead of the usual shredded cheese and sour cream fixin’s (too high in calories), try drizzling it with olive oil, salt, and pepper.
Avoid: watermelon margaritas
Or pomegranate, melon, strawberry—you get the idea. These slushy drinks may seem refreshing on a hot day, but they’re loaded with sugar and calories. They also mask the taste of alcohol so well that you wind up drinking too many and getting tanked long before the fireworks kick off.
Try instead: this concoction
If you want a refreshing summer beverage, try this instead: fill a cup halfway with watermelon juice, fill another quarter of it with sparkling water and the final quarter with your tequila of choice. Add a splash of lime juice and ice cubes. Watermelon juice is naturally hydrating, as is the sparkling water, and both are low in calories and sugar.
Avoid: the baked goods
The brownies. The sticky toffee pudding. The cookies. The rice krispie treats. Once you start snacking on these, it’s hard to stop, and you’ll undo all your hard work from those lean turkey burgers and baked potatoes.
Try instead: fruit with fresh whipped cream
Bring a big fruit salad with tons of berries (these are some of the lowest sugar fruit) and top it off with freshly made, homemade (the canned variety is full of sugar) whipped cream. It’s nearly impossible to overeat this stuff.
Avoid: cheesy mac and cheese
The four-cheese baked mac and cheese or the mac and cheese salad. These are some all-American foods and hard to pass up on such an American holiday. They’re also all cheese, butter, empty carbs, and trouble.
Try instead: a veggie pasta salad
Make a healthy veggie pasta. Use brown rice pasta for a protein and fiber boost. Add some chopped olives, bell peppers, green onions, carrots, feta cheese, a little olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, and you’ll have a nutritious pasta dish you can feel good about.
Avoid: the snack table
This is where you’ll find the tortilla chips and guacamole, the potato chips and onion dip, the pretzels and mustard dip, and the kettle popcorn. It’s not a safe place. It has nothing that you need. Just don’t stand around it, because you’ll inevitably start picking food off of it.
Try instead: accompanying the grill master
The grill master is working hard over there while everyone else is enjoying themselves. So keep your friend who is manning the grill company. It’s the polite thing to do, since she’s hosting you, and it keeps you far away from the greasy chips and closer to the healthy grilled meats and corn on the cob.
Avoid: the lemonade
Though lemonade seems like the perfect non-alcoholic drink to accompany your hot dog and potato chips, it’s likely loaded with sugar. It’s also so tart and sweet that it leaves you feeling thirsty rather than refreshed.
Try instead: this mixture
If you want a citrusy pick-me-up, mix a little orange juice and sparkling water with a splash of lime juice and grenadine together. You can really make this mixture with any of your preferred juices, just make sure your cup is at least half sparkling water to cut calories.