It’s spring, which pretty much means three things. 1. Allllll the fro yo, 2. All the outdoor music festivals we can handle and 3. Barbecue season is on the horizon! But healthy eating can be especially hard at social functions. Especially when you’re loading up a plate with countless goodies and going back for seconds is highly encouraged. Add a beer or ladle of punch or two to the occasion, and it’s no wonder that barbecues can be notorious landmines for bad-for-you grub. No more! Here are the best and worst fare for you to dig into at barbecues, according to dietitians.


The 5 Worst Things to Eat at Barbecues

1. Barbecue Sauce. “BBQ sauce is typically loaded with high-fructose corn syrup and sugar,” comments Rebecca Lewis, RD for HelloFresh, a leading healthy meal delivery kit company available nationwide. Just a tablespoon or two of the stuff can clock in with an alarmingly high amount of sugar.

2. Pulled Pork Sandwiches. “This traditional favorite is loaded in sodium. One serving has more sodium than recommended for the entire day! Depending on the sauce used, this can also be full of added sugar, in addition to being extremely high in calories,” cautions Lisa Hayim, New York City-based registered dietitian and founder of The Well Necessities.

3. Cheese Burgers. We know, it’s not news we loved hearing either. “The meat alone is loaded in calories and saturated fat. With added gooey cheese, which is usually processed, you’re adding more calories, saturated fat and sodium,” says Hayim. What’s more: “Cooking meats at high temperatures increases their toxin load,” warns Julieanna Hever, MS, RD, CPT, a plant-based dietitian and author of The Vegiterranean Diet and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Plant-Based Nutrition. “Compounds such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons and heterocyclic amines are carcinogenic (cancer-promoting) and instigate inflammation. Opt for plant-based alternatives when grilling.” Veggie burgers? How about 19 of ’em?

4. Coleslaw. The traditional kind is as bad news as that Bumble date you were kinda-sorta, okay absolutely dreading. “Drenched in mayonnaise, this otherwise would-have-been healthy cabbage side dish is loaded in saturated fat and calories,” offers Hayim. “Just a small amount can put you over your caloric limit before you even make your way to entrees.”

5. Hot Dogs. Hot diggity… no doggone way. “Hot dogs are heavily processed, constructed of all the ‘extra’ bits we don’t want to talk about and pumped full of sodium,” says Lewis. Do your best to avoid them. If you’re really craving the hot dog experience, go for a bun loaded with a bunch of veggies and a scoop of bean or corn salad side wedged inside.

The 5 Best Things to Eat at a Barbecue


1. Corn on the Cob: All hail this summertime staple! “If made without butter, this delicious summer treat can be satisfying without breaking the caloric budget,” says Hayim. “It’s also a starchy carbohydrate that’s high in fiber, so it will leave you full and satisfied.” Serve with a side of lemon or lime and sprinkle with red chili pepper flakes.

2. Vinegar-Dressed Coleslaw: “Replace the calorically-dense and fat-heavy mayo with light and punchy vinegars instead,” advises Lewis. Got leftover slaw? Try one of these 14 fresh slaw recipes to add crunch to your lunch.

3. Veggie Kebabs: You can happily indulge in this delectable dish: “Veggies, unlike, meat, do not create the same chemical change that meats undergo when put under high heat. They are a great source of vitamins and minerals, and [you’ll still get] that BBQ flavor without the calories and fat of traditional choices,” says Hayim.

4. Grilled Chicken or Fish: “Fish and marinated, skinless chicken are great on the grill and much leaner than traditional BBQ red meat,” says Hayim. Try serving with a wedge of fresh lemon and herbs for a bright, clean flavor.

5. Grilled Fruit: It’s a dessert as simple as it is tasty and nutrient-dense. “Grilled watermelon packs in hydration and flavor with this delicious, surprising flavor. It is also rich in vitamin C and lycopene, and made up of mostly water,” advises Hayim. Get creative and try grilling peach and pineapple too.

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(Photos via Getty)