Control calories during grill season picnics

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It's tough to control calories during grilling season. Nutritionists at UT Southwestern Medical Center have cooked up a few tips to keep calorie counts in control.

"There are plenty of tricks and tips that offer alternatives to full-throttle calorie binging," says Lona Sandon, a clinical nutritionist at UT Southwestern.

Among the best tips for controlling the calorie count:

? Eat a lower-calorie meal just before going or a salad prior to higher-calorie selections so you already feel full.

? Drink water instead of other drinks to help you feel full during the party. Add a little flavor with a squeeze of lime, lemon, or orange.

? Drink water instead of beer when eating salty foods. Remember moderation when it comes to alcohol: one drink for women, two drinks for men. One 12-ounce beer equals one drink.

? Eat smaller portions of favorite foods Instead of depriving yourself. You're less likely to binge eat if you don't feel deprived. Wait 15 to 20 minutes before going back for seconds or dessert. Ask yourself if you are still hungry.

? Think Tapas. Take a small sampling of the items you would like to taste.

? Make your selections, then move away from the serving table rather than stand nearby and eat continuously without thinking.

? Ask for a smaller plate, allow yourself one serving. Don't pile on more food than fits on the smaller plate. If going back for seconds, pick the veggies: grape tomatoes, celery sticks, red pepper sticks, baby carrots.

Nutritional trade-offs for grilling season feasts

There are plenty of options for cutting calories as well as substitutes for some of the more high-calorie options.

"Not everyone is going to be satisfied with the salad bowl," says Sandon. "If you're not ready to replace your entire plate with healthy alternatives, you can still significantly cut down on calories and fats by blending your favorites with some lower-calorie options and alternatives."

Be realistic, she added. Fat free does not necessarily equate to lower calorie intake and the lack of flavor of some substitutes might actually lead people to want to eat more.

Offer taco salad bowls instead of burgers, substitute lean ground turkey and beans for beef or cold cuts, offer subs with lots salad-style fixings and use less cold cuts, or grill some vegetables to help fill the plate. In addition, pay attention to how much and how many portions you're taking.

Below are some nutritional alternatives:

? Dip: Try salsas, low-fat sour cream dips or yogurt instead of traditional chip and vegetable dips, or low-fat versions of dressing instead of traditional ranch dressing. Substitute fat-free or lower-calorie ingredients such as vegetarian-style refried beans or whole beans, sour creams, low-fat cheeses and ground turkey to reduce calories for 7-layer dip.

? Pizza: If selecting more than one slice, substitute a slice of thin crust, veggie pizza for a slice of three-meat pizza. Or make homemade pizzas substituting lean ground turkey instead of hamburger or sausage and use low-fat cheese and wheat pizza doughs.

? Wings: For chicken wings, take the skin off, bake or grill instead of deep frying. Consider grilling chicken pieces instead of traditional wings. Make your own hot sauce without the butter and use low-fat versions of cream cheese, sour cream, and blue cheese or substitute plain Greek yogurt.

? Nachos: Cut calories with baked tortilla chips, vegetarian refried beans or mashed black beans, low-fat cheese, peppers and tomatoes, fat-free sour cream, and lean ground turkey or ground soy.

? BBQ: Try vinegar-based sauces instead of those with high brown-sugar content. Mix chicken and beef on your plate to help lower overall calories. Offer kabobs mixed with vegetables instead of traditional steak.

? Ribs: Try leaner beef ribs instead of pork ribs, which are usually fatter. Try baby back instead of normal ribs. Consider brisket instead because you're likely to eat less.

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