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Tips for resisting temptation and making healthy choices at barbeques

By Jennifer Motl, Women’s Heart Secrets Program Dietitian,


Summer is here! J.G., a Women’s Heart Secrets participant, asked about ideas for eating in the summer months when tantalizing food, like burgers, brats, s’mores, lemonade and alcohol, is surrounding us. She tries to stay away from most red meats but exclaims, “A cookout isn’t a cookout without a burger or brat. Any substitutions or ideas of what to say when barbecuing at friends’ houses?” 

J.G. is not alone. Even this dietitian loves brats—I grew up in Wisconsin too, after all.

Barbecues are a challenge for many. I’ve said it before: Nearly half of Americans have pre-diabetes and high cholesterol, and most develop high blood pressure by middle age. And that's not even including those who already have heart disease. Here are five ways to brave the barbecue:

Relax and eat often

It’s OK to eat a brat now and then, despite the fat and salt. It’s only a problem if you overdo it. You can reduce the urge to overeat by scheduling meals or snacks at least every four to five hours. Starving yourself pre-picnic is risky. Think about times in the past that you’ve been ravenously hungry. At those times, did you crave burgers or salad? For most of us, it’s easier to make healthy choices when we’re not hungry.

Step away from the grill 
If the aroma of grilled meat tempts you to eat even after you’re full, then think about moving upwind of the grill. Also, consider leaving the table after you’re finished eating. You might stroll around the yard with a friend—it’s a great chance to catch up! Or, play kickball or Frisbee; chase  the kids; whatever seems fun!


Speak up
If your friends or relatives regularly tempt you with junk foods, consider pleading for understanding: "My doctor wants me to watch my cholesterol/blood pressure/blood sugar. I love brats, and I also discovered these delicious chicken Italian sausages. You’re welcome to try them if you want."

The key is to be clear that you’re not trying to change what others eat—you’re merely adding healthy options to the picnic table.

Bring healthy goodies
A barbecue lends itself to healthy dishes:

  • Gourmet sausages: Milwaukee favorite Usinger’s makes delicious chicken sausages that are significantly lower in fat, and they come in lots of great flavors. You also can find other brands that are lower in fat as well. Most sausages are still high in sodium though, so don’t overdo it.
  • Burgers: Try turkey burgers, salmon burgers (sounds weird, but they taste delicious) and veggie burgers such as black bean burgers.
  • Fresh lettuce, sliced tomatoes and chopped onions are juicy, delicious condiments that are packed with vitamins.
  • Guacamole makes a healthier substitute for cheese or mayo.
  • Fresh salsa—made by chopping tomatoes, green peppers, onions and cilantro—is so flavorful that it doesn’t require salt.
  • Instead of chips and dip, try baby carrots, celery sticks and cherry tomatoes with hummus or low-fat ranch dressing.
  • Corn on the cob counts as a whole grain! No need to waste time soaking it in saltwater. Just peel back the top of the husk partway, pull out the silky tassels and close the husk. Throw the cob on the grill, turning occasionally with tongs. Grill until tender. Then peel back the charred husk before serving.
  • Veggie kabobs are fun, too. Skewer cherry tomatoes, mushrooms and slices of green bell pepper or onion. Brush with Italian dressing and grill until tender.
  • Fruit salad with strawberries, peaches, or whatever’s in season, is colorful and sweet.
  • Watermelon can be sliced prior to the picnic or on site. Nothing feels more like summer than watermelon juice trickling down your chin.
  • Sugar-free lemonade tastes great. Serve it in a pitcher, and most can’t taste the difference.
  • A beer or sangria is fine, but don’t overindulge. Try alternating these high-calorie drinks with water or seltzer.
  • Spa water looks fancy but is easy to make. Fill a pretty pitcher with ice water and add two or three round slices of lemon and cucumber. Subtle yet refreshing!
  • If you crave iced tea, consider making an unsweetened pitcher. Bring sugar and sugar-free sweetener, so everyone can sweeten to their own taste.

Climb out of the rut
While it’s natural and good for families and friends to share meals together, don’t fall into a rut where eating and drinking is the only entertainment. Consider hosting a barbecue at one of the beautiful local parks—many have picnic shelters, public pools, lagoons with paddle boats, tennis courts, soccer fields, paved paths for walking and biking, nature trails, swing sets and all kinds of fun things to do before and after the meal.

For information about the Women’s Heart Secrets Program, call (414) 961-3600 or visit


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