Ten Healthy Alternatives to Popular Summer Staples


Emily Dionne, RD

Emily Dionne, RD

It’s that time of year that all of us in New England have been looking forward to for so long: summer! Barbecues and cookouts are one of the most beloved traditions of summer, but they can derail your healthy eating goals. Most barbeques include lots of unhealthy, high calorie foods. Some of the most popular staples include greasy and loaded-with-fat entrées and sides and super-sweet desserts that are chockfull of sugar.

The good news is that by taking a few simple steps, you can make the traditional, not-so-healthy cookout cuisine a thing of the past. And summer makes it easy to incorporate a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables as many are at the peak of freshness this time of year.

Here are ten healthy alternatives to popular summer staples that I share with my patients:

  1. Change Up Your Cheeseburger
    Frozen, pre-made burgers with processed cheese bring little to the table in regards to nutrition. Instead, treat family and friends to a homemade version using locally grown, lean ground beef and fresh herbs and spices. Or use ground white meat chicken or turkey breast.
  2. Switch Turf for Surf
    Ditch the turf, for some surf! Skip the hot dogs, hamburgers, and sausages and serve grilled salmon, tuna, halibut, or other seafaring protein of choice. Salmon and tuna burgers are tasty crowd-pleasers, and seafood is an excellent source of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids.
  3. Make Your Own Marinade
    Traditional marinades, sauces, and rubs add a ton of extra salt, sugar, and unwanted calories. Experiment with healthier, homemade versions using fresh herbs and spices straight from the garden. If you’re short on time and need to purchase something premade, look for the “sodium free” and “low sugar” versions of these products.
  4. Choose Crudités Instead of Chips
    Toss the chips aside and serve crudités (raw vegetables). Add salsa for a little kick. Mindlessly munching on a few handfuls of chips during a fairly short period of time can add up. Before you know it, you’ve eaten two to three servings and consumed between 320–480 calories. Eating the equivalent amount of fresh, seasonal veggies amounts to a mere 30–50 calories.
  5. Eat Fruit for Dessert
    Skip a trip to the bakery. Instead of the cake, pie, cupcakes, or other baked goods, take advantage of some juicy seasonal strawberries dipped in chocolate! You can never go wrong with chocolate-covered strawberries. Bananas, apples, and raspberries work great too.
  6. Keep the Calories Out of Your Cup
    Drinking pre-sweetened drinks and alcoholic beverages means consuming hundreds of extra calories. In fact, the calories in these drinks are equivalent to an entire meal (sometimes even more). Choose sparkling and/or flavored water or club soda with a hint of flavor or twist of lime. Skip the calorie-packed cocktails and opt for a light beer; or add a bit of club soda to wine for a refreshing summer spritzer.
  7. Skip the Butter on Your Corn on the Cob
    After cooking corn on the cob, squeeze some lemon juice over it and sprinkle with freshly ground black pepper. A delicious heart healthy way to enjoy this summer staple.
  8. Slim Down Your Spuds
    The nutritional benefits of potatoes are frequently overlooked, as they are often served in their greasy form as French fries or potato chips; or baked and loaded with sour cream and butter; or in potato salad loaded with mayonnaise. Potatoes are excellent sources of vitamins B6 and C, potassium, and fiber. Avoid the commercially prepared varieties and create a healthier, tastier version using fresh seasonal produce, herbs, and spices.
  9. Sacrifice Some Starch
    Multiple starchy dishes like potato and pasta salad, baked beans, potato skins, and corn are staples are barbeques. Stick with one or two items like homemade potato salad and corn on the cob or beans and then incorporate lots of non-starchy, veggie-inspired sides. This will save a ton of calories, yet still provide a variety of delicious dishes to choose from.
  10. Go Clean and Green
    Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year for leafy greens and a wide range of fresh, colorful produce. Experiment with different lettuce greens like collards, kale, and arugula. Add some creativity to the meal planning and try making zucchini fries, lettuce wraps, veggie-stuffed stuffed Portobello mushrooms, or use the mushroom caps as buns! This guide to what's in season also includes recipes for a huge selection of seasonal produce.

Looking to Lose Weight This Summer?
South Shore Medical Center offers an ongoing adult weight management program called Weigh to Go. It’s an ongoing program that you can join at any time and is only $100 for eight sessions; morning and evening sessions are available. Some of the things you’ll learn include how to set achievable goals, plan quick and easy nutritious meals, and decipher nutrition labels and packaging claims. You don’t have to be a South Shore Medical Center patient to join. To learn more or sign up, call 781-261-4758.


Learn more about Nutrition at South Shore Health.