How to: Healthy summer barbecues and potlucks

Is your summer filling up with social engagements that threaten to derail your healthy diet efforts?

Summer barbecues and potlucks are wonderful, but the typical fare – creamy mayonnaise-based salads, high-fat meats like ribs, and baked goods – isn’t exactly optimal for good health and weight management.

Here are my go-to tips for staying on track all summer long.

Snap Pea & Quinoa Salad from
  • Plan ahead: If you bring a dish that is healthy and delicious, you know there will be at least one appropriate choice for you to fill up on at the party. I love whole-grain salads – stir together any type of cooked whole grain (e.g., brown rice, quinoa, barley, wheat berries), a mixture of raw or grilled vegetables, and a tangy vinaigrette, and you have an easy, delicious dish that’s packed with fiber and nutrients. I love this Quinoa & Snap Pea Salad, although I usually grill the onions and mushrooms first. These types of salads taste great at room temperature, making them a convenient option at potlucks.
  • Choose your protein wisely: Avoid higher-fat red meats and instead opt for fish or veggie burgers as your grilled protein. You’ll save on saturated fat, cholesterol, and calories, while gaining heart-healthy omega 3 fats (from the fish) or fiber (from the veggie burgers). Fish also cooks faster than meat, and less time on the grill means fewer carcinogens forming on your food.
  • Rethink dessert: We are lucky to live in Portland, where the farmers’ markets are packed with gorgeous and delicious berries, melons, and stone fruit all summer. Instead of sampling the same old baked goods for dessert, try grilling peaches or nectarines, tossing berries with lightly sweetened yogurt, or just slicing a juicy watermelon for a sweet treat that delivers vitamins, minerals, and fiber with minimal calories.

Do you have a favorite tip serving up a healthy barbecue? Share in the comments below!


Tracy Severson is an outpatient clinical dietitian at OHSU. She moved to Portland from Tucson in 2010, and has worked at OHSU since 2011. Tracy works with the OHSU Surgical Weight Reduction clinic and Cardiac Rehab program, and also provides medical nutrition therapy for General Adult Outpatient Clinics at OHSU.

2 responses to “How to: Healthy summer barbecues and potlucks

  1. Why not think beyond veggie burgers? How about a shish kebob made with marinated tempeh cubes (marinade of 1/2 c. full fat coconut milk, zest and juice of one lime, 2 T. curry powder and 1/4 t. sea salt). Marinade for 2+ hours. Place on skewers with pineapple chunks, cherry tomatoes, artichoke hearts and red onion chunks. Brush with marinade while grilling. Yum! Dessert: Blend one large bag mixed, frozen Oregon berries and four bananas with one cup almond milk.

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