Sweet summertime is finally here! With that comes a host of temptations, typically including extra drinks as you’re enjoying the evening sunset or brats and burgers at the family cookout. Many of us struggle during these events, especially if we are trying to be health conscious - I often agonize myself whether I should have a drink or two, if I should go without the bun, or if I should go for the desert or not. At one point in my life I even debated skipping events like these because I didn’t want to have to make hard choices about the food!
I’m excited to share with you that there is a better way - you can still enjoy your favorite foods AND enjoy summertime!. As with anything, it’s important to understand the beast we are trying to tame. In this particular scenario, it’s the nature of summer events. So let’s break them down:
If you’re anything like me, you like going out and finding a patio with a beautiful view, and enjoying a meal with friends. Now let’s look at the nature of these meals - restaurant meals tend to be high fat, high carb and low protein. Protein is the most expensive when it comes to food, so restaurants load your plate with cheaper things like fries or veggies. That’s totally fine! You just have to understand this so you can make better choices when ordering.
First off, look for anything that is going to be high protein. We know protein is the most important macro-nutrient (click here if you don't know what a macro-nutrient is) for us so we want to prioritize it when going out. Second, be conscious of the fat that your meal is going to have. If you are going to order a burger, realize that it isn’t going to be lean (remember, the leaner the meat is the more it costs for the restaurants!) and if there is any cheese or bacon it is only going to add more fat. Fish and chicken tend to be pretty lean so I try to stick to those options when I go out. Lastly, try to be mindful of your starches. I’m not going to tell you that you can’t have them, because hey, we’re all human here. But if you get a bun with your burger, then maybe skip the fries. Restaurants always have a side salad option or delicious, in-season veggies they can grill for you. Take advantage, try something new, and expand your palate a bit!
We also need to be mindful of our drink choices, these can add up big time especially if you are drinking a thick beer or any specialty cocktails. Cocktails tend to have sugars and other additives that rack up the calorie count in a quick way. Stick to light beers, light alcohols, and wines. My personal rule when eating out is to drink a glass of water before I have a drink and then have a glass of water in between each drink. This ensures I’m staying hydrated (important for the next day), and keeps me around 2 or 3 drinks maximum.
When it comes to our summer cookouts, we want to keep the same kind of thoughts in mind! Again, prioritize the protein and be mindful of your fats and starches! They aren’t forbidden, but they add up quickly. When we are looking at typical cookout fare, there are always a lot of pasta salads, potato salads, dips and desserts. All of these things are packed with carbs and fat! So again, look for the low carb options - not because you need to be low carb or anything, but it just happens that over the course of a cookout you are likely going to be eating a lot of carbs.
Here is a great summer salad recipe from Michele Fumagalli, a registered dietitian and owner of Fitplate Nutrition - a Mediterranean Tuna Salad. It’s high protein and lean protein at that, plenty of veggies and not a lot of starch. It’s refreshing and can be enjoyed on crackers or by itself.
When it comes to the drinks, I take the same approach as I outlined before - stick to the light stuff and pace it out. You can even get some carbonated water or alternative soda options like Zevia to change it up a bit as well!
To wrap it up, I just want to re-emphasize the fact that we don’t need to be afraid or stressed out about our nutrition during the summer. Things are going to come up, extra nights out with friends, cookouts with family, like they do every year. Just enjoy yourself. Do your best to be mindful. Look for the quality protein and try to limit the starch and fats. And if you mess up and totally pig out, well guess what, you can get back on track the next day. Just don't worry or stress about it :)