By Lauren Swann, M.S., R.D., L.D.N.
Summer is the wonderful season of backyard barbecues, shoreside picnics and family feasts. And while good fun and good eating is plentiful, all those gatherings can start to take a toll on your diet – especially if you’re trying to watch what you eat. So how do you enjoy yourself without eating something you’ll regret? Read on for healthy potluck pointers.
1. Plan ahead.
Contributing a dish that suits your meal plan lets you assume control over your potluck choices. Bring grilled vegetables or a healthy pasta salad, for instance, and you’ll be guaranteed to have at least one healthful option. If you eat a vegetarian or gluten-free diet, bring a hearty dish that meets your needs.
2. Keep an eye on portions.
It’s far too easy at a potluck to overfill your plate, even when you just take a little of everything. A quick survey of the buffet table can help you pinpoint which dishes you really want on your plate and the ones you can pass on. When serving, spoon up smaller portions than usual because you’ll likely eat more dishes than at a normal meal.
3. Start with veggies.
If there are snacks or appetizers available before the main meal, go for the vegetable platter. Nibbling on vegetables before the meal can help remind you of your healthy commitments and can help curb your hunger before the meal is served.
4. Watch the carbs.
Be reasonable about corn on the cob, potato salad, pasta salad, sweets and caloric beverages. A little of all of these can really add up! To make sure you serve yourself a balanced meal, try to fill half your plate with vegetables, a quarter with carb-based dishes and a quarter with lean protein.
5. Choose lean meats.
Skinless chicken breast, fish, pork loin or a lean turkey or beef burger is a good bet.
6. Drink plenty of water.
Staying well hydrated can help you feel full. Opt for water or sparkling water over sweetened beverages if you can.
7. Be discerning about desserts.
Potlucks can be full of tempting treats, but they can also provide simple pleasures. Consider skipping the cakes and cookies to focus on seasonal fruit. Freshly picked melon, peaches and berries at their peak can all be a delightful and memorable treat.
8. Avoid nonstop noshing.
At some events, food may be available for hours and it might be possible to snack all day. If you think this will be the case, go in with a plan. For example, decide you’ll have one appetizer, eat during the main meal and then avoid snacking afterward.
9. Eat safely.
Make sure hot foods stay hot (above 140 degrees F) and cold foods stay cold (below 40 degrees F). Avoid perishable foods that have been sitting out for more than two hours. And cover dishes and snacks to keep insects at bay.
10. Focus on fun.
Summer gatherings celebrate the longest and brightest days of the year, so take time to enjoy the sun’s rays, long evenings and awesome sunsets with family and friends. Potlucks are as much about sharing stories and fun as they are about food, so focus less on feeding at the table and more on feeding your soul.