By Dr. Julie T. Chen, M.D.

Traditionally, summer time barbecues and parties involve celebrations with alcohol and foods…which usually tend toward sugary fruits and fat-laden potato salads and fatty foods like hot dogs and such. So how can we make this summer a bit healthier?

I have had this discussion many times with many of my patients…so I think an article devoted to this discussion would be appropriate for this upcoming usually calorie-laden time of year.

A few suggestions for creating a fun-filled summer for you and your friends without the added weight around your waist line would be a good. So, let’s get started…

For drinks, there are options of sparkling water with fruit dropped into the water over night or the morning before the party or event as a fruit infusion option; which would be a healthy option for those not interested in drinking alcohol. For alcoholic beverage options, light beer and sparkling wine tend to be lower caloric beverage options. I usually recommend these options over the hard liquor options such as vodka and soda because with light beer, the hops in the beer is calming and in sparkling wine, there are antioxidants from grapes that make these two choices more optimal in my book than others.

When you think about appetizers, crudités with hummus are a healthy option. But you can also have shrimp cocktail or self-made thinly sliced baked potato chips or baked sweet potato fries. One of my patients suggested corn kernels in brown paper bag with a dash of salt, garlic powder, and herb sprinkles in the bag to make your own herb-seasoned popcorn in your microwave.

For the main dish, taking lean chicken breast and coating them with egg white and seasoning with herbs and corn flake crumbs or whole wheat bread crumbs with some crushed almond slices and baking it would be potential healthier meat dish rather than fried chicken. You can use the same philosophy with fresh wild fish if you prefer. In regards to side dishes, you can have herb-flavored quinoa or home-made baked sweet potato fries as a side. Other healthy side options include olive-oil sautéed vegetables with herb seasoning, baked or broiled vegetables, salad, or mashed cauliflower instead of mashed potato. You can use unsweetened applesauce instead of oil but you can also use olive oil for cooking since it has healthy fats instead of trans fats in it. You can also bake instead of grill meats since the higher temperature cooking methods tend to create a more carcinogenic environment with charred meats.

Finally, when it comes to dessert, I always encourage my patients to look towards fruits for natural sweetness. Berries tend to be high in antioxidants and with appropriate intake of serving sizes, it is a bit lower in the sugar load. You can even drizzle it with dark chocolate for a delicious antioxidant-rich instead of fat-laden dessert option.

So, for this summer, if you want to have your usual celebrations and get-togethers with your friends, I would be fully supportive of the health benefits of having the strong social connection and support of such an event…especially now that you have healthier options for entertaining and neither you nor I would have to worry about unhealthy side effects from such an evening of fun!