Labor Day barbecues can be murder on your diet, not just for the fatty steaks, burgers, and hotdogs on the grill, but also because you're leisurely socializing outside—most likely with a drink in your hand, for the entire afternoon. Americans have increased their daily caloric intake by nearly 200 calories a day over the past 20 years, and half of those come from drinks, says Benjamin Caballero, M.D., Ph.D., professor of nutrition at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Whether you’re hosting a barbecue or just attending one, watch what you drink along with what you eat. Here are a couple of tips:
1. Choose beer or wine over cocktails
Beer has a lower number of calories per ounce (13) than either wine (24) or liquor (64). Avoid cocktails that blend liquor with sugary mixes or sodas, upping the calorie count even more. When it comes to wine and beer, drink whichever you think you’ll consume in lower quantities. Even though beer has fewer calories per ounce, a can or bottle contains 12 ounces, whereas a serving of wine can vary anywhere from 5 to 8 ounces, depending on who’s pouring. You’ll keep calories to a minimum. And the less you drink, the less likely you’ll be to wind up too inebriated to drive.
2. Keep water handy—and flavored
Water is healthy, and if it happens to be hot and humid for your barbecue, you’ll need lots on hand to stay hydrated. Make it attractive to your guests by flavoring it with fresh or frozen fruit, herbs, or even vegetables, as Rodale.com's Nickel Pincher columnist Jean Nick suggests. And stick with the tap; bottled water wastes money, and those plastic bottles are no friend to the planet.
3. Make fruit juices from real fruit
Rather than stock up on sugary sodas and bottled fruit juices, offer guests a creative twist on an old standard. Berry Lemonade can be made with the last of the season’s blueberries or other stored frozen berries from the freezer.
1 cup fresh or thawed frozen berries (blueberries, blackberries, strawberries, or raspberries will work)
6 cups cold water
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup fresh lemon juice (from 6 lemons)
1. Combine the strawberries, 1 cup water, and sugar in a blender and puree until smooth, about 1 minute. Strain the puree through a fine-mesh sieve to remove seeds (optional).
2. In a tall pitcher, combine the puree with lemon juice and remaining 5 cups water.
3. Add additional sugar, if desired, and serve over ice. Makes 7 servings.
4. Offer other brews
Iced tea is easy and popular, and you can make it a little more interesting by using antioxidant-laden green tea rather than the standard black leaves. Each serving has only 22 calories.
8 cups water
4 green tea bags
4 mint tea bags
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lime juice (about 1 lime)
12 sprigs fresh mint (3–4 inches)
1 lime, cut into 6 rounds
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1. Bring water just to a boil. Place tea bags in large pitcher or measuring cup and pour water over top.
2. Let steep 8 minutes before removing tea bags, and cool tea to room temperature.
3. Add lime juice and half the mint sprigs. Chill at least 1 hour, or overnight.
4. Sweeten with agave nectar (adding more to taste).
5. Fill 6 glasses with ice. Strain in tea.
6. Garnish with lime and remaining mint.
Keep some extra agave nectar out for folks who like their tea a little sweeter. The sweetener dissolves rapidly in cold liquids, and when you add it at drinking temperature, you can judge better how much you need.
5. Go local
If you do decide to offer your guests a high-calorie cocktail, do your very best to make it local. Search online for local distilleries that brew whiskey, vodka, or gin out of ingredients grown nearby, like Green Mountain Distilleries in Vermont, with its locally grown, organic grain vodka, and Harvest Spirits in New York, which makes apple vodka from local family-farmed apples. Make a "100-Mile Cocktail" with homemade seltzer water and fruit that comes from farms in your area. If you have to cheat and buy nonlocal lemons or sugar, it’s okay.