The Healthy Eater’s Guide to Eating BBQ

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Barbecues are synonymous with summer fun… unless brats, steaks, and hot dogs aren't your thing. But, says registered dietitian nutritionist McKel Hill, there's a way to make cookouts deliciously healthy no matter how you like to eat. Here, the Well+Good Council member shares her best tips for making your next barbecue one to savor. Literally.

Besides pool parties, relaxing days, and sunshine beaming on your skin (hello, vitamin D!), one of the best things about summer is barbecue parties with family and friends! But wait—what do you actually eat at barbecues to maintain your health flow, feeling your best, and most confident (buh-bye, belly bloat)?

I’ve rounded up key recipes I personally bring to barbecues (or any summer shindig, for that matter) that sneak in vegetables, keep me full, energize me, and sharpen my mind while I'm enjoying really delicious food. You can make these, too!

It’s always best to contribute to the barbecue by bringing something you’ve made.

First things first: It’s always best to contribute to the barbecue by bringing something you’ve made. This is also a way to ensure you have at least one healthy option you can rely on in case there’s slim pickings at the party.

If you bring a dip, bring some fresh vegetables. Roasted vegetable skewers can be the vehicle for these whole-food dips, which are rich in healthy fats and fiber. Try some of these: Lemon Lime Guacamole, Salsa three ways, hummus, Dill Cream from my cookbook, and the crowd-pleasing Classic Cashew Cheese.

To navigate a social event where you don’t have full control of the food selections, do the following.

healthy bbq
Photo: Courtesy of McKel Hill

Don’t go super hungry

Have a little snack—even a great plant-based protein shake or a handful of nuts—to keep your energy and blood sugars humming along nicely. This also sets you up for success because hormones always win, and when you’re hungry, you’ll eat anything around you.

Stay hydrated

Whether you drink alcohol or not, stay hydrated! You can do this with water, sparkling water, kombucha, unsweetened iced tea, and so forth. If you drink alcohol, go for something like a rosé spritzer: half glass of rosé, half sparkling water like Spindrift, and a little lemon.

Enjoy it

Don't overanalyze or micromanage one event in the entire scope of your week of healthy habits—it’s only one meal! Food is so much more than just eating healthy; it’s about connection, tradition, and pleasure. So enjoy it while you’re choosing the best options that make you feel your best.

Contribute in a big way

The more you contribute to bringing healthy recipes or snacks, the more options selfishly you have to choose from—but also, you’re sharing healthy options with the people you love. Some of these foods might be new to your friends and family, and what better way to share healthier choices than to enjoy food together. When in doubt, here are some crowd pleasers: Best Cauliflower Salad, Avocado Grapefruit Ceviche (above), No-Bake Chocolate Donut Holes, and Crunchy Cucumber Tomato Salad.

So fire up the grill, gather your friends, and squeeze in as many barbecues as you can—because while healthy food habits can last forever, summer won't.

mckel hill McKel Hill, RDN, is a registered dietician nutritionist and the founder of Nutrition Stripped, which treats healthy food as more than just fuel—and gives expert advice on using its nutrients and flavors to make you feel amazing.

What should McKel write about next? Send your questions and suggestions to

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