As the temperature soars, so too does your desire to wear tanks and shorts rather than long sleeves and pants. But if the season's soirees have caught up with your waistline, try these hacks to continue enjoying the foods you crave – while delighting in the calories you save:
1. Strike a burger bargain.
Burgers are staples at summer cookouts, barbecues and baseball games. To make them healthier, start with a smaller patty – instead of a 6- or 8-ounce burger, try making slider-sized varieties that are 3 or 4 ounces. You can also consider making a blend: Combine 1 cup of roasted and finely chopped mushrooms with 1 pound of extra-lean ground beef and hickory balsamic vinegar. You'll get four patties with one-third less fat, fewer calories and all the flavor. Beef not your thing? Try ground salmon, spinach and feta burgers, or patties made from ground turkey breast, finely grated carrots, onions and thyme.
2. Veg out.
If you find steamed vegetables tasteless and boring, head to your grill. You can buy read-to-grill veggie kebabs at a grocery store or put some foil on your grill and throw on peppers, tomatoes, squash, onions, carrots, broccoli, cauliflower or beets. A little marinade helps the flavors pop. The calorie cost is minimal, while the eye appeal and fill factor are maximal.
3. Set a bowl goal.
Summer means salad – and not necessarily the leafy green type, but potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni or pasta salad with mayo- or oil-based dressings. Yes, they taste great, but they add a calorie wallop to the plate. If you don't crave lettuce salads, try making a bowl with "noodles" made from zucchinis, beets or thinly sliced carrots and red peppers with pesto. Or, toss black beans, corn and mini red peppers in a chipotle lime dressing. Another healthy summer staple? Sliced grape tomatoes, mozzarella "pearls," chopped parsley and basil in a balsamic vinegar and lemon olive oil dressing. The result is not overly cheese-laden or oily, but chock-full of flavor.
4. Lighten your libations.
It's always 5 o'clock somewhere. Even though alcoholic beverages don't fill you up, they can fill you out. The alcohol itself can be the least caloric component of mixed drinks; it's the mixers that can rack up calories. So, make a pina colada with coconut milk and pineapple juice instead of coconut cream, or mix the rum with a low-calorie pineapple or coconut beverage. A margarita can be made with a sparkling sugar-free lemon-lime beverage, fresh lime juice and tequila. If vodka is your drink of choice, a flavored vodka mixed with a sparkling water can be refreshing and lower in calories. And remember, keep the alcohol to one shot per drink and limit your servings to one drink a day for women and two a day for men.
5. Choose quality over quantity.
Ice cream and summer go together like the sun and the sea. And let's face it: Low-fat, low-sugar ice cream is not as good as the real stuff. So how about eating a mini cone when the craving strikes? They are sold at grocery stores and hold about a tablespoon of ice cream. So, for those of you who can't decide, a dessert "flight" of three mini cones is still fewer calories than a regular-sized cone – and you get to try three different flavors! You can also grill watermelon and pineapple and add a drizzle of chocolate balsamic vinegar. It's delicious as-is or topped with a small spoonful of ice cream.
And for those who love freeze pops, you can make your own by blending whatever fruits you have and pouring them into ice pop freezer bags. You can mix and match the fruit, since each bag only holds about 1 ounce of fruit. It's a fun and refreshing way to enjoy summer's produce at the end of a meal.