By Juliette Kellow
Last week, I enjoyed my ninth barbecue of the year. To be fair, we started early with our first one on a very chilly and windy February afternoon (new kitchen, loads of people for Sunday lunch – and no electricity! You get the picture). But, I’m not alone in my love of the griddle. Apparently, Brits hold more barbies than any other European country, with the average family hosting nine each year.
And it’s not surprising that we love them so much – they’re the perfect opportunity for relaxing and enjoying sunny days with family and friends. But at the risk of having a burger or two thrown at me, if you want to stay looking good in your swimsuit, it’s time for a waistline warning.
A study carried out three years ago revealed the average person consumes around 3,000 calories at a barbecue – one and a half times what a woman needs in a day; twice the amount if she’s trying to lose weight. On average, we munch our way through two sausages, one and half burgers, two chicken drumsticks, one-and-a-half meat skewers, a small piece of fish, a small jacket potato, green salad, pasta salad and two spoonfuls of mayo, all rounded off with double dessert. And that’s without any booze!
So how can you cut calories without cutting enjoyment? To start with, it’s usually the sheer abundance of food and drink that makes it so easy to overindulge – as the aforementioned study showed. My advice: if you’re holding a BBQ, buy the same amount of food as you would for a dinner party and fire up the barbie just once; if you’re at a BBQ, fill your plate just once, then step away from the trays of cooked food that are constantly being added to.
Most BBQs are a meat feast, so swap fatty burgers and sausages for low-fat versions (or make your own burgers with lean beef or turkey mince). Try chicken, turkey, lean pork, salmon, mackerel, fresh sardines, white fish, prawns or tofu as alternatives – and keep portions small. A serving should be about the size of a deck of cards (see the September Healthy Food Guide magazine, out now, for my guide to portion sizes). Alternating chunks of meat with veg on skewers makes a small amount of meat go a long way. And fill the grill – and your plate – with low-cal, antioxidant-rich veggies like aubergines, courgettes, peppers, asparagus, corn on the cob and mushrooms.
White rolls and French bread are low in nutrients and fibre. Instead, I make a ‘healthier’ potato salad – new potatoes in their skins, low-fat Greek yogurt, reduced-fat soured cream, spring onions, chives and lots of black pepper. For the kids, I cook jacket potatoes – and for burger lovers, I buy granary rolls. Bowls of green leaves usually end up in the bin so I make a Greek salad with cucumber, tomatoes, green peppers, reduced-fat feta and olives. Olive oil and white wine vinegar are on the side if anyone wants to add them. The mayo stays in the supermarket.
Chips and dips can be a calorie disaster, so I buy just one or two bags of crisps (depending on how many people there are) – once they’re gone, they’re gone – and put out carrot and pepper sticks with reduced-fat hummus, tzatziki and salsa, which are lower in calories than creamy or mayo-based dips.
Finally, it’s worth remembering booze calories aren’t even included in the average 3,000 calories we consume at a barbecue. Plus large amounts of alcohol can give us the munchies so we eat even more (and forget just how much we’ve eaten). If you’re heading to a barbie, offering to drive means you can stick to alcohol- and calorie-free drinks. And if you’re hosting, stock up on soda water, diet lemonade, slimline tonic and plenty of ice – great calorie-free ways to dilute the booze.