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Re-Do Your Family Barbeque

Celebrate Independence Day while reducing your cancer risks

Focused on Health - July 2009

By Rachel Winters

Summer is in full swing, and the July 4th holiday is upon us. Barbequing at home is a perfect way to relax, celebrate the season and spend time with family and friends. Before enjoying the delicious taste of grilled food, there are a few things that can help you and your family stay healthy. 

M. D. Anderson dietitian, Vicki Piper, R.D., L.D., encourages cookout fans to grill plenty of fruits and vegetables, and less meat. Diets high in plant foods can lower your chances of developing several cancers. Experts suggest limiting cooked red meat (beef, lamb and pork) to 18 oz. total per week. Keep each serving size small. A serving of cooked meat the size of a deck of cards is approximately three ounces. You also should avoid processed meats, such as bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs and pepperoni.

“You can still have a barbeque without letting your health go up in flames,” Piper says. “Aim for a meal made up of two-thirds vegetables, fruits, whole grains or beans, and one-third animal protein. Grilling vegetables and fruits does not create carcinogens (sources that cause cancer) so there is no cancer risk. My family favorites are grilled onions, zucchini, asparagus and pineapple. My husband is a 'meat lover' but is just fine with only an occasional steak or hamburger!”

Don’t just think about the food you’re making and how you cook it; also consider how much you’re eating. Control your families’ portions by serving smaller amounts of food first. Then encourage everyone to ask for more only if they’re still hungry. Punishing your kids, or criticizing your guests or spouse, for not finishing what’s on their plate is a bad idea. This year, keep belly bloat and Pepto Bismol® off of the menu.

Nutritious grilled foods and side dishes should be kid friendly

When planning your family barbeque, remember to make healthy dishes that you and your kids will enjoy.

“Parents, and even grandparents, have a powerful influence on the eating environment of their children,” Piper says. “Proper nutrition in childhood will build good eating habits that will contribute to your children’s health and will last a lifetime. Habits and tastes develop when kids are young, so continue vegetables and fruits after the baby food days are gone. Some children may need to be exposed to  a food eight to 15 times before they accept it.”

Although getting your kids to avoid junk food can be difficult, careful planning and thoughts about what they might like will keep everyone on track. Here are some great ways to get your kids involved in the meal and excited about cooking healthy:

  • Involve your children in deciding what they would like to eat and what recipes to make. This will give them ownership over the meal.
  • Bring your kids the grocery store, a farm or local farmers market. Consider starting a small vegetable garden. This will inspire their curiosity in foods and give you an opportunity to talk to them about the nutrition of the foods you buy or grow.
  • Grill “finger foods” that your kids can eat with their hands to help them more fun.
  • Give your kids some "messy" projects as part of preparing for a barbeque. For example, shucking corn, crushing whole canned tomatoes, and scooping the seeds out of squash or melon can be fun for kids.
  • Create a do-it-yourself salad bar and let them get creative. They might be more likely to eat salad as a side dish if assembly is required.

Another great way to help keep your kids from overeating sweets and junk food is to throw some fruit on the grill!  Fruit is a surprising summer alternative to sweets on or off the grill. It is lower in calories and higher in nutrients than most desserts. Grilling fruit caramelizes its sugars, which tastes delicious to little mouths, especially if you add a touch of cinnamon or honey.  Try grilling nectarines as a dessert for your family at your next barbeque.

Finally, keeping your kids away from sugary drinks and sodas at a party is difficult because you want them to stay hydrated while running around. Water is always the best option, but you also can keep them hydrated by whipping up a batch of fruity, low-sugar smoothies. This chilly alternative is low in sugar and packs a nutritive punch. Try this recipe from the American Institute for Cancer Research:  Honeydew Kiwi Smoothie.

Grilling plant-based foods

 “Eating a mostly plant-based diet is a great strategy to help prevent cancer and/or a cancer recurrence,” says Piper. “Try a new vegetable every week, one that you have not tried in many years. Eating mostly plant-based foods provides a range of nutrients that protect your body from cancer. It also is a great way to manage your weight, which is important because there is evidence that body fat increases cancer risks.”

Use a light brushing of canola or olive oil on vegetables and fruits to help prevent sticking to the grill. Sprinkle vegetables with pepper, a small amount of salt and vinegar to bring out their taste. Using non-stick grates, foil packets or a grilling basket lightly coated with oil also can be helpful when grilling plant-based foods.

As a general rule, don’t peel vegetables before grilling. You’ll get more nutrients and enjoy a smokier flavor if they aren’t peeled. Although corn is higher in calories than other vegetables, it has gotten a bad rap. Corn is full of folate and fiber, and a great addition to your barbeque. Discard the silk, but leave the husk on corn when grilling because it will act as a natural insulator, keeping the steam in and preventing the corn from drying out.

Looking for some excellent recipe ideas for plant based foods? Try making Grilled Fruit with Strawberry Dip or Grilled Summer Squash.

What’s on the side?

Knowing how to prepare healthy grilled food is only part of redoing your family barbeque. The next step is making sure that your side dishes are not loaded with fat and empty calories. Pasta and potato salad are all-American cookout favorites. Make them healthier by using low-fat mayonnaise, lite salad dressings and whole-wheat pasta.  Try these recipes for something different:

  • Mixed Vegetable Pasta Salad: A healthy addition to your barbeque, this side dish contains variety of vegetables and whole-wheat pasta.
  • Garden Potato SaladLow in calories but not in taste. Substitute this recipe for traditional potato salad.
  • Zucchini BitesPerfect for the summer, this is a healthy alternative to coleslaw and goes well with any dish.  

There is another important side dish to think about when planning your family gathering, but this one isn’t about eating. Be sure to include some kind of exercise or activity in your next barbeque that will get everyone moving. This year, make a frisbee and kickball game a part of your Fourth of July spread, or plan a game of capture the flag that the entire crowd can enjoy. Just remember to encourage people to keep moving and protect themselves from the sun.

Get grilling!

Choose from the following delicious recipes for the best, healthiest and most kid- friendly barbeque around:

Related Links

New American Plate Cookbook (American Institute for Cancer Research)

Nutrition and Physical Activity Guidelines for Cancer Prevention: Summary (American Cancer Society)

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