Party healthy at BBQs, BYOs and more this summer

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When sunshine warms our days and stretches late into the evening, you know it’s prime season for barbecues, block parties, potlucks, birthdays, weddings and all manner of al fresco social gatherings.

As you gather with family, friends and neighbors this summer, UW Medicine registered dietitians offer tips to bring a variety of color, nutrients and balance to your plate.

BYO beverages and side dishes

Potlucks and barbecues are the perfect place to share with others. To ensure there are healthy options for your family and everyone in attendance, offer to bring a few healthy side dishes. This will add variety to your plate and provide nutritional balance to offset — and eat less of — the richer, more calorie-dense options that may tempt you at your next gathering.

You might also consider bringing your own beverages. Alcohol and celebrations often go hand-in-hand. Enjoy yourself, but remember to drink responsibly — especially when it’s hot outside. Take on lots of water alongside any adult beverages. And if you are looking to reduce your alcohol intake, create your own “mocktail” or other refreshing and interesting non-alcoholic drink.

Looking to try something new? You can find great ideas in cookbooks and on social media, food blogs, the New York Times Cooking site… or try our recipes below.

Mindful eating

No matter your choice of cuisine, diet or eating style, filling your plate with all the yummy choices on the buffet table every now and then is not going to derail your health. But incorporating mindful eating practice can help you refrain from overindulging at your next gatherings. As a bonus, it can also help reduce some immediate side effects, such as heartburn, tummy ache or other gastrointestinal issues.

These tips can guide you to more mindful social eating:

1. Eat prior to the event. Do not arrive at the party famished. Eating healthfully prior to events will help reduce your appetite and help you to make more mindful choices.

2. Do a walk-through. Take a few moments to see what food offerings are available and choose your very favorites. Balance rich or tempting foods with those full of vitamins and nutrients like fruits and vegetables, plant-based proteins, lean meat, poultry and seafood. But don’t restrict yourself from sampling whatever looks good!

3. Consider portion size. Allow yourself to eat what you enjoy. Just be mindful of foods that don’t make you feel the best or that have little nutritional benefit. This will help you choose a reasonable portion size.

4. Stand up. Interestingly, people tend to over-consume when they are sitting down versus standing and eating. If you’re hoping to avoid feeling too full, try standing while you enjoy your plate. As a bonus, standing is more conducive to socializing.

5. Savor. Take a few moments to enjoy your food visually and aromatically before you dig in.

6. Slow down. Chew slowly and thoroughly, giving yourself time to enjoy the flavors.

7. Stay in the moment. Resting your utensils between bites and/or bits of conversation can help you be more mindful of intake and really help to savor the food. Plus, a pause in eating allows you to give others your undivided attention.

8. Stay hydrated. Warmer weather dehydrates you quickly. And often what your body interprets as hunger is actually thirst. At a party, you may be tempted to drink only alcoholic drinks. But to avoid dehydration — and a nasty hangover — make sure you are drinking water throughout your gathering.

Give yourself room to indulge

A balanced diet and exercise routine has a cumulative effect. Eating well and maintaining your fitness feed your body and mind.

But there is nothing wrong with indulging on social or special occasions. Everyone deserves to kick back and enjoy themselves sometimes.

Your choices at a backyard barbecue or neighborhood potluck or wedding reception are not going to make or break your efforts to lead a healthy lifestyle. But approaching your plate with a variety of foods and moderating your drinking will help you feel great all summer long. It is possible to have your cake — and ice cream and short ribs and tater tots — and eat it, too… with a little forethought and mindfulness.

Eat well for your wellness

To help you find balance and nutrition on your potluck plate, The Whole U offers many resources. Start with our collection of simple locally sourced summer recipes. Level up your salad game with mix-and-match salad recipes. And learn how to grill fruits and vegetables.

To stock up on the freshest seasonal ingredients, consult our guide to neighborhood farmers markets. Or, maybe you’d like to grow your own. If so, find our collection of resources for cultivating an urban vegetable garden.

And, by all means, download The Whole U’s UW Dietitian Cookbook.

To get your creative juices flowing, here are recipes for a couple of colorful summer salads that couldn’t be simpler and a mocktail so refreshing you won’t even miss the booze.

Red, white and blue Caprese salad

Packed with antioxidants, fresh colors and in-season produce, you can’t go wrong with a Caprese salad over the summer. It’s your ode to the Mediterranean right here in Washington.

When tomatoes are in season, don’t hold back. You can make this recipe with equal parts tomato, mozzarella, and blueberry. Mix in herbs as a garnish.

  • Start with locally grown cherry tomatoes (a mix of varieties and colors is fun)
  • Add Washington summer blueberries for extra flavor (did you know Washington grows the most in the nation?)
  • Add fresh mozzarella, in small chunks (Try cutting out into seasonal shapes)
  • Add fresh basil (or mint, if you want to mix it up).
  • Dress to your taste with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper

Corn & bean salad

Seasonal sweet corn and beans are natural mates. This hearty salad is easy to make and you can make a big batch to share or to eat all week long.

Chop base ingredients:

  • 1 cucumber, diced (keep the peel for extra flavor and health benefits!)
  • 1 bell pepper, diced (I love to use half red and half orange)
  • 2 ears sweet corn, blanched 3 mins and cooled, sliced off rind
  • ½ Red onion, diced

Combine in large serving bowl with proteins:

  • 1 can black beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained (or just use 2 cans black beans if you don’t like chickpeas)

In separate containers, prep your finishers — halved cherry tomatoes, crumbled feta, chopped cilantro, diced avocado — and mix light, savory dressing:

  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • ¼ cup lime juice
  • 2 teaspoons honey or agave
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon chili powder
  • Salt to taste

Set aside each component until you are ready to eat. Combine in large serving bowl (in desired portion size) and drizzle dressing, mixing gently. Serve and enjoy!

mojito cocktail, with mint and lime slices, on wooden table top

Non-alcoholic Mojito

So fresh and green and bright. Like summer in a glass.

Prep your ingredients:

  • 1 lime, cut in wedges
  • 20 fresh mint leaves
  • 2/3 cup soda water (or lime sparkling water)
  • Crushed ice

Squeeze the lime juice into a highball glass. Muddle together mint and lime wedges. Add crushed ice, mix and top with soda water. Add a straw, garnish with a mint leaf and enjoy immediately.