Pierce: Avoid red, white and barbecue blues

Pierce: Avoid red, white and barbecue blues

June 27th, 2012 by Susan Pierce in Life Entertainment

Over the next week, cookouts, picnics and fireworks will be popping up everywhere as folks from Dunlap to Dalton celebrate the Fourth of July.

We all know food is a key ingredient to a successful summer party, whether it's a patio cookout with friends or picnicking at the pops concert.

We've talked before about how awkward it can be for a dieter to attend these events. You don't want to be presumptuous enough to expect the hostess to include a dish just for you, but at the same time you don't want to be the buzzkill who goes through the buffet and finds there's nothing you can eat.

One solution: Offer to make some dishes to help the hostess. Then make sure they are foods you can enjoy.

If you are the hostess, you might set out a bowl of air-popped popcorn as a healthier alternative for guests who can't munch potato chips. In addition to hamburgers, try throwing some skewers of alternating shrimp and pineapple chunks on the grill for a low-fat treat.

Here are five tips I've collected from Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers over the years. I've used all but the last at some holiday party or another and will vouch for their reliability.

1. Don't drink your calories. Alcoholic drinks are really wasted calories, and sodas are too sugary. Substitute flavored waters, sparkling water with a squeeze of lime or just ice water on the rocks.

2. Start the night with a glass of water. Before doing anything else, drink a glass of water when you arrive, then wait at least 15 minutes before eating. Use that time to mingle with friends, check on the kids or help the hostess set up her table.

The idea here is that you'll feel full before grazing at the buffet, therefore less food piled on your plate. As wacky as it sounds, it works.

3. If you don't love it, don't eat it. Don't try something just to be polite. Pick foods you know you can eat that fit in your plan.

4. Don't skip meals before a party. In the rush of making our covered dishes then getting dressed for a party, it's not unusual to skip a meal. Before Jenny Craig, I rationalized that if I didn't eat before a party I was "saving my calories."

Wrong! By the time I'd get to the party, I was starving and usually ate more than I would have it I'd just had a small snack or fruit beforehand. Don't shoot yourself in the foot by starving all day to save up for a party.

5. Modify your plate. This is a new one I just recently learned about.

We all know a summer party never ends right after dinner. It stretches on into the night, especially if everyone's waiting for fireworks.

This tip advises downsizing your plate as the night progresses. Choose a moderately sized plate for your dinner; then put dessert or after-dinner snack on a small plate. This automatically makes you cut your portion size. If there aren't dessert plates handy, use a napkin. You aren't likely to cave for a big piece of cake if it's something you have to balance on a napkin while you eat it.

I've included these Weight Watchers picnic recipes you might want to try.

JalapeƱo Poppers

Olive oil cooking spray

1/2 cup low-fat shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup low-fat cream cheese

1 tablespoon fat-free mayonnaise

8 small jalapeno peppers

1/4 cup fat-free egg substitute

7 tablespoons cornflake crumbs

Heat oven to 350 F. Coat a large baking sheet with cooking spray.

In medium bowl, combine cheddar cheese, cream cheese and mayonnaise; mix well and set aside. Halve peppers lengthwise and remove seeds; fill peppers with cheese mixture. (Oil and seeds from the peppers can be irritating; keep fingers away from eyes.)

Place egg substitute in a shallow dish. Place cornflake crumbs in a separate shallow dish. Dip stuffed peppers into egg substitute and then roll in dish of cornflake crumbs to coat.

Transfer peppers to baking sheet and coat with cooking spray. Bake until filling is bubbly and outside begins to brown, about 30 minutes. Serve hot.

Yields eight servings of two poppers per serving.

PointsPlus per serving: 2

Feta and Spinach Dip

4 cups spinach, fresh, chopped

1/2 cup low-fat cream cheese

1/2 cup fat-free sour cream

1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

1/4 cup fresh chives, minced, divided

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1/4 teaspoon table salt (optional)

Place spinach in a small saucepan with 2 cups of water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cook for 1 minute; drain well.

Place spinach, cream cheese, sour cream, feta cheese, 2 tablespoons of chives, lemon juice and pepper in a blender; puree. Taste dip, and add salt if desired.

Spoon dip into a serving bowl, and sprinkle with remaining chives.

One serving is 3 tablespoons of dip; makes 8 servings.

PointsPlus per serving: 2

Grilled Vegetable Pitas

1 eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices

1 large portabella mushroom

1 small red bell pepper, quartered

1 small yellow or green bell pepper, quartered

2 slices large red onion, each 1/4-inch thick

1/2 cup low-fat Italian or honey-dijon salad dressing, divided

4 ounces reduced-fat shredded Italian cheese blend

4 8-inch whole-wheat or white pita breads

Brush both sides of eggplant slices, mushroom, bell pepper quarters and onion slices with 1/3 cup dressing.

Grill over medium coals or broil 4 to 5 inches from heat for 4 minutes per side or until vegetables are crisp-tender. Cut into bite-size pieces. Toss with additional dressing.

Cut pita breads in half; open pockets and fill with vegetable mixture. Top with cheese. Pita shells may be warmed on grill before cutting and serving. Makes four servings.

PointsPlus per serving: 7 points