19 Ways to Improve Your Barbecue

summer kabobs
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A backyard barbecue is no excuse to serve up foods that will keep you and your guests from stepping onto the beach (or the scale). In fact, every barbecue has room for a few entrees and sides that keep your health-conscious guests happy and your body looking and feeling good. Try the following tips and you'll be sure to wow your guests and keep them asking for more — without them even knowing they're feasting on healthier options.

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2. Clean, Separate, Cook and Chill

The United States Department of Agriculture recommends consumers prevent food-borne illness by remembering to follow these easy steps. 1) Clean hands and surfaces often. Remember to rinse fruits and veggies, but not meat or poultry, by running under tap water. 2) Separate raw, cooked and ready-to-eat foods while shopping, preparing and storing. Be careful not to cross-contaminate these items. 3) Cook foods to safe internal temperatures (see guidelines in this article). 4) Chill food promptly (i.e., don't allow that macaroni salad and side of ribs to sit in the sun for three hours before placing them in the fridge).

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3. Watch Those Portions

You've got plenty of options on the table — meat, sides, salads and dessert — so the meat need not be center stage at your backyard barbecue. Help your guests with portion control by serving better portion sizes. Marin Gilbert, a registered dietitian in Dayton, Ohio, says that three ounces of meat is equal to the size of a palm, deck of cards or a cassette tape. In other words, three ounces of chicken is half a chicken breast or a chicken leg and thigh; three ounces of fish is about the size of a checkbook; a three-ounce hamburger patty is similar in size to a hockey puck.

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4. Preheat the Grill

By preheating the grill, you give it time to get ready to sear your meat, avoid sticking and lock in flavor, but you also make certain that harmful bacteria is killed before placing the raw meat on the grates. Allow a gas grill to preheat for 15 to 20 minutes after turning it on; allow a charcoal grill the same, but wait for the coals to get hot before setting your time.

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5. Get Your Meats to the Right Temperature

When grilling ground beef make sure the internal temperature reaches at least 160 degrees Fahrenheit. When grilling whole cuts (steaks, chops and roasts) of beef, veal or lamb, aim for a minimum of 145 degrees Fahrenheit, and always let the meat rest for three minutes prior to serving. Don't depend on touch or sight to determine the temperature; rely on an instantly read digital thermometer.

Read more: Meet the Women Who Are Changing Health and Wellness

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6. Tips for Poultry Temps

Many cooks like to use bone-in, skin-on cuts for added flavor and moisture, but if you're trying to limit your calories, the simplest way is to remove the crispy skin prior to chowing down. The safe internal temperature for any poultry — be it pieces, ground or the entire bird — is a minimum of 165 degrees Fahrenheit.

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Grilled salmon
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7. Tips for Fish Temps

Fish is a great choice for boosting your barbecue health score. Many fish options (like salmon) are packed with heart-healthy good omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of high cholesterol, hypertension and heart disease. Grill fish to perfection by aiming for an internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit. The flesh should be flaky and opaque as it nears the safe serving temperature. If cooking shellfish like clams, oysters and mussels, look for the shells to open during the cooking.

Read more: 9 Must-Know Indoor Grilling Hacks

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8. Choose the Right Marinade

Sure, marinades offer health benefits, but they can also add extra calories and lots of sodium and sugar! But you can avoid these health pitfalls by using options like citrus juices, Worcestershire sauce, molasses, low-sodium soy sauce, vinaigrettes and even low-sodium vegetable, chicken and beef broths instead of oil. If your marinade recipe calls for sour cream, opt instead for a low-fat plain Greek yogurt.

Read more: 20 Sneaky Sources of Sodium

Gourmet Barbecued Pizza - Mediterranean Style
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9. Think Outside the Bun

Grilling is not just for meat and veggies anymore. Delight your guests with alternatives like grilled quesadillas, frittatas and more. Jenna A. Bell, Ph.D., RD, and co-author of "Energy to Burn" (Wiley 2009), impresses her guests with crispy barbecue pizza. Bell says it's simple: She simply tosses pizza dough on the grill, tops it with fresh veggies and artisanal cheeses and waits until the dough is crisp and the cheese is bubbling.

Read more: 11 Food-Safety Mistakes You Don't Know You're Making

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Fresh coleslaw salad for summer
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10. Amp Up the Veggies

There's always room for splurges in life, so why not make those treats really count? Dr. Jenna A. Bell, RD enjoys the occasional hotdog, but adds Asian-inspired coleslaw of green and purple cabbage to increase her vegetable consumption while still splurging. Smother a chicken breast or cut of beef with green peppers and onions for a backyard Philly. One rule of thumb: Increase the veggies while decreasing the size of the meat. You can also simply toss tougher vegetables like summer squash, eggplant, asparagus and portabella mushrooms with heart-healthy oil and some fresh seasonings and grill just until the veggies are tender.

Read more: Cut Calories With These 9 "Pasta Poser" Recipes

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11. Not Your Mama’s Pasta Salad

When serving pasta salad, pack it with fresh, chopped vegetables and crumbled flavorful cheeses that are lower in fat than cheddar or Swiss. Try goat cheese, feta or fresh Parmesan for instance. Toss the pasta with a low-fat vinaigrette or a tomato-based sauce rather than a heavy, creamy sauce. For even more health benefits, choose a base of whole-grain pasta rather than the usual refined option.

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potato salad made with new red potatoes and turkey bacon
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12. Skip the Potato Salad

Jennifer Sharp, a stay-at-home mom from Akron, Ohio, who entertains frequently, says that instead of serving heavy, creamy potato salad, she simply slices some potatoes — leaving the skin on — tosses them in extra-virgin olive oil, tops with fresh herbs and some sea salt and places on the grill until the potatoes are fluffy on the inside and crisp on the outside.

Read more: What Nutritionists Really Eat at a BBQ

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Homemade Green Kale Chips
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13. Skip the Chips

Tired potato chips are off this years' menus, replaced by healthier alternatives like sweet potato chips (high in vitamin A) or whole-grain varieties. Another option? Serve up some kale chips. Simply wash, trim and dry kale leaves, coat lightly with olive oil, kosher salt and pepper and roast in the oven or on the grill until crispy and toasted.

Read more: 9 Better-for-You Potato Chip Swaps

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14. Tips for Dips

This year, creamy, mayo-based dips are out and healthier alternatives are in. Instead of ranch dressing or cream-cheese dip for vegetables, why not serve up some homemade guacamole (still high in calories, but packed with heart-healthy fat), fresh salsa or hummus? If creamy dips are a necessity, make yours with a base of plain Greek yogurt.

Read more: 10 Good-for-You Dips and Spreads

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15. Think Outside the (Condiment) Box

Offer your guests a new flavor sensation by offering new-and-improved condiments like gourmet mustards, salsas, sliced veggies and light, herb-infused spreads that offer a multitude of flavors without the calories. Added bonus? Herbs, vegetables and salsas offer vitamins and antioxidants while omitting excess sodium!

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16. Remember the Sweet Stuff — Fruit!

Fruit for dessert may be a dietitian's dream, but the rest of your guests are likely to appreciate fresh fruit as an accompaniment to their main dish. Get fancy by serving fruit kabobs, or take it easy and slice some fresh fruit, toss with lemon juice (to prevent browning) and serve!

Read more: 20 Foods to ALWAYS Buy Organic - Even If You're on a Budget!

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17. Time for Dessert

Marin Gilbert, RD, recommends hosts keep the party light by serving refreshing options like sorbet and gelato rather than traditional ice cream or cobblers. Or offer up fruit-based desserts as opposed to heavier chocolate and creamy ones.

Read more: 10 Desserts That Won't Derail Your Diet

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Group Of Friends Having Outdoor Barbeque At Home
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18. Keep Cool With Cold Bevvies

When it's hot out, guests are certain to be thirsty, but help them keep their waistlines in check by offering lighter options like light beer, sangria (with fresh fruit and club soda) and cocktails made with low-calorie additions instead of sugary, high-calorie daiquiris and pina coladas. Remember to keep plenty of low-calorie, alcohol-free options on hand for all of your guests.

Read more: 9 Cocktails You Won't Regret in the Morning

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couple enjoying summer
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19. Enjoy the Party!

Sure, you may know it's lighter fare, but let that remain your own private secret. There's no need to announce it. Simply sit back and watch your guests enjoy their meals and time together.

Read more: Meghan Markle's Favorite Wine and Other Celebrities' Drink Choices

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