10 Ways to Make Your Labor Day Cookout Healthier

Photo by Zach DeSartPhoto by Zach DeSartBy Danielle Walsh, Bon Appétit

Living it up in your flip flops, listening to Bruce Springsteen (ironically, of course), and crushing up potato chips on top of your second hot dog is how Labor Day is supposed to go down. But in case you're trying to keep those healthy eating habits from going completely out the window this holiday, we've come up with a few tips. Here are ten popular barbecue dishes that should raise a warning flag in your head--plus how to enjoy them without packing on the pounds.




A Sliced Tomato Salad is a healthy alternative to heavy cookout fare.


1. Mayo-Based Salads

Pasta salad, potato salad, and coleslaw are summer side staples, but people don't realize how much mayonnaise actually goes into them. Mayo is full of saturated fat and tacks on a significant amount of calories (especially if you like your salad extra creamy).
Calories: ~300-400 per serving (about 1 cup)

The solution:
Make a vinegar-based salad like our Oil and Vinegar Potato Salad or Orzo, Feta, and Tomato Salad with Marjoram Vinaigrette; substitute yogurt for mayo like in our Coleslaw with Apple and Yogurt Dressing; or just use a lighter touch with the real thing. If you're really ambitious, make your own mayo--it's less processed and much more flavorful, so you don't need to pile it on.
Calories: ~150-200 per serving (1 cup)

2. Hot Dogs
Those doggies are full of nitrates, salt, and saturated fat. The real problem is that you'll probably want to eat more than one and maybe even throw in a hamburger, too (that's called a Double Dinner).
Calories: 400-550 with bun, condiments etc

The solution:

Have a hot dog once or twice over the summer. And when you do decide to go for it, buy organic or freshly-made franks from your local butcher or farmers' market. If you can find them (or are willing to eat them), chicken or turkey dogs are healthier options--they're much lower in fat.
Calories: turkey/chicken dog - about half the fat content. Closer to 250-300 with bun, condiments

3. Dip
French onion dip, crab dip, and 7-layer dip are delicious, but like most very delicious foods, they can be killer in the calorie department. These creamy dips are more often than not packed with fatty sour cream, mayo, and cheese. And it's way too easy to mindlessly gorge on them while chatting with friends.
Calories: average 300 calories for a serving - which when not plating it, can easily be upwards of ½ cup

The solution:

Put a small amount of dip on on your plate, then step away from the bowl. Do not return to the dip. Calories: Closer to 150 most likely. Much more doable!

Read More: Junk Food Makeover: Tater Tots


4. Chips
Chips and dip are partners in crime. The former is the vehicle for the latter, which we've already discussed, but even when snacked on alone, chips are full of saturated fat and salt.

The solution:

Skip the high fat and salt content in store-bought potato chips and make your own; or get multigrain or blue corn tortilla chips, which are higher in fiber than the standard corn variety. We like all the healthy varieties from Food Should Taste Good.
Calories: 320 for 30 potato chips. And seriously, who has only 30 over the course of an entire bbq?

5. Loaded Hamburgers
The size of your hamburger--and what you put on it--counts. The calories keep climbing with the additions of cheese, mayonnaise, bacon, barbecue sauce, and whatever else you decide to put on your patty.
Calories: easily upwards of 700 calories

The solution:

Be smart with your condiments and your calories. If you're dying for a cheeseburger, fill the rest of your plate with vegetables. Use a flavor-packed mustard instead of ketchup and mayo, or substitute cheese with avocado or a naturally low-fat cheese like goat cheese.

6. Frozen Margarita or Daiquiri Mixes
These pre-made drink mixes are notoriously packed with sugar, and they're easy to gulp down.
Calories: Fill a Solo cup with one of these concoctions and you're looking at upwards of 500-700 calories.

The solution:
Serve cocktails on the rocks and with fresh fruit, like our Agave Margarita. And make sure you can taste that liquor--that way one or two drinks will likely be enough.
Calories: closer to 200-250 easily when on the rocks with a touch of agave and lime juice/fresh fruit.

Read More: The Best New Restaurants of 2012


7. Baked Beans
This cookout classic can be high in sugar, especially if you go with the canned variety.
Calories for canned: 300-400 for 1 cup

The solution:
Ditch the can (especially the ones that contain salty, fatty bacon) and make your own. Try our Root Beer Baked Beans.
Calories: 250 for 1 cup

8. Ice Cream

Who doesn't love a massive bowl of ice cream at the end of the meal? One scoop (1/2 cup) of Ben & Jerry's Vanilla is 230 calories. And let's be real--you're not going to have one scoop. Calories: 450-600 for 1 cup

The solution:
A frozen fruit bar or homemade ice pop. Or, stick with that one scoop and add some fruit on top. Calories: closer to 150-250

9. Fried Chicken
We love us some fried chicken, but it's chock-full of calories and saturated fat from the deep-fryer.

The solution:

Really, all you have to do is keep it to one piece. We are never going to tell you not to eat fried chicken because that's not our style. But if you're really watching your health, opt for grilled chicken with homemade barbecue sauce.
Calories: 1 piece fried chicken - 300-350

10. Fruit Pie
We know, we know: nothing says summer like a fruit pie. But that double crust is filled with sugar and often served with scoop of ice cream on top, which can easily add up to 500 calories a plate.

The solution:

Try a tart, cobbler, or crumble with only one layer of crust or topping.
Calories: closer to 200-300 per piece

More from Bon Appétit:

How to Build a Better Burger
10 Kitchen Upgrades for Under $50
The Best Store-Bought Ice Cream
10 Snacks You Thought Were Healthy But Really Aren't