Summer brings on a welcome array of fresh flavors and foods to savor. After all, it is grilling season and who doesn’t love warm weather and a BBQ? To enjoy family and friends while firing up the grill in the back yard and eating outdoors without worrying about your weight, follow some simple rules for smart eating during summer gatherings.

Be Mindful of Portions

It is so easy to lower our inhibitions when we are relaxed among friends and family while sitting in front of a huge spread on the picnic table. Unfortunately, calories eaten outdoors still count! So go ahead and indulge while keeping quantities in check. One meat protein serving (i.e. chicken, fish, or beef) is about three ounces. Keep side dishes to about a half cup and no more than a cup depending on the item. Make second helpings about fruits and vegetables.

One strategy to keep portions in check is to eat a small snack before attending a get-together and avoid skipping meals during the day to make overeating less of a temptation.

Take Inventory

Check out the spread before you fill your plate. Decide what you really want to enjoy. The more variety on your plate, the more you will eat. That’s because food variety stimulates the appetite. So be choosy with your calories and limit the items on your plate. Look at all the foods available on the buffet to choose the ones that are worth eating before diving in. Don’t waste calories on foods you don’t enjoy or that are always available to you. For instance, skip the chips, and get in line at the grill! Start with low calorie foods first, such as filling up with fruits and vegetables. Starting with a salad is a simple way to get in nutrition and keep you from overeating. Opt for olive oil and vinegar over creamy dressings. Cut out the extras and appetizers so that you can enjoy your faves without racking up the calories.


Always balance your meals with a carbohydrate, protein, and healthy fat for greater satiety and nutrient density. If you are craving a grilled hamburger on a soft potato bun, go for it while keeping the balance in mind. Perhaps you will skip Suzie’s famous pasta salad to enjoy your special treat. If there is a whole grain bun option, you can get in some extra fiber as part of your meal. Again, the idea is to keep portions in check and even out nutrient distribution. Don’t feel pressured by family or friends into eating seconds or foods that you don’t want. It really is OK to respectfully say no.

Bring Your Own

Offer to bring your favorite healthy dish. At least you know you will have something nutritious, no matter how decadent the other offerings appear. Share healthy fare, such as a salad, a whole-grain side dish, vegetable or protein dish, or even a healthier dessert. Maybe you can be the one who brings the whole grain buns or breads to up the fiber content. You can replace the standard chips and salsa with a light avocado, cucumber and tomato salad dressed with extra virgin olive oil, cold balsamic glaze, and a little lemon. The point is to use all the wonderful offerings of summer: pick ingredients from your garden, buy local, and take advantage of all the great foods that are readily available and in season.


Make sure you are drinking water. It’s fun to infuse it with your favorite fruits to give it a little flavor and avoid some of the empty calorie options out there. Some infusion suggestions are lemon, mint, blueberries, cucumber, strawberries, and oranges. Stay away from the sugary drinks and watch the alcohol intake. Not only are alcohol calories considered “empty calories” (calorie dense and not nutrient dense), but they can also increase the temptation to overeat.

Get out and play

Summer is synonymous with the outdoors, carefree times, and good fun. Make sure you get out and burn off some energy (i.e. calories). Toss a ball, play a game, run around with your kids, or take a walk. Pick something you like to do outside and do it.

Get the most out of the season while not sabotaging all your efforts for good nutrition and weight management throughout the year. Remember to keep an eye on portions, cut out the extras, and always balance your meals with lean proteins, complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats, most of the time. When you are at an event, pace yourself and eat until satisfied, not stuffed. That way you will be able to enjoy special treats and occasions without expanding your waistline.

Lela Iliopoulos is a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Educator and an expert in nutrition therapy, health promotion, and education. She is passionate about impacting nutritional health through the practical application of science-based information