Nothing strikes fear in the heart of dieters and nutrition-minded eaters more than a holiday. Holidays are a time when people eat without abandon because, hello, it’s a holiday. And that means something. Right?

Labor Day is this Monday and is the last big hurrah of the summer, where most head outdoors to spend their day off work relaxing in the sun with friends and family and stuffing their faces with BBQ, chips, sides and, of course, alcohol.

Here’s the thing with BBQ: it can be one of the healthiest ways to prepare the most deliciously healthy food, but we often tend to turn BBQs into some of the most unhealthy eats around. Instead of throwing chicken and flavorful vegetables on the grill, we lean towards grilling up fatty burgers with oily cheeses on top of bleached refined buns alongside sugar soaked baked beans, mayo drenched potato salads and greasy chips. (If that food description sounded heavenly to you, you need to retrain your taste buds.)

This Labor Day, plan a menu everyone will love the day of, and no one will regret the day after. You know that next day guilty food feeling. Do you really want to be the cause of that for someone else? Didn’t think so.

First thing’s first: Drinks

If you are going to be sitting in the hot sun all day, make sure you drink plenty of water along with your alcohol. Staying hydrated will keep you feeling great all day – and the next morning.

-It’s summer, so keep the beer light. Heavy beers not only have tons of calories but will put you to sleep. The lighter the beer, generally the lighter the calorie count.

-If opting for liquor, use sugar-free, low calorie or calorie free mixers, like Crystal Light, diet soda, or seltzer with fruit.

-To be completely safe, bag the alcohol completely. Instead of sodas and juices, keep guests hydrated by brewing your own fruit infused teas or waters.

The Main Attraction: Burgers

Burgers aren’t always bad. Red meat consumption should be watched, but it’s usually the extras that make burgers a nutrition nightmare.

-Get a healthy dose of fiber and skip the bleached carbohydrates by opting for whole wheat buns. 100% whole wheat! “Multigrain” or “made with whole grains” means precisely zero in terms of nutritional quality – that’s tricky marketing at work.

– Skip the red meat completely and try some burger substitutes. Use lower fat meats like ground chicken, turkey or buffalo, or no meat at all by using big portabello mushrooms or meatless vegetarian burgers.

-I’m a big fan of the “if you can’t taste it, you don’t need the calories” rule when it comes to cheese, but if you must, go for the real thing and avoid the overly processed lower fat and diet cheeses. It’s rather eat naturally occurring fats than chemicals no one can pronounce. To keep the portions smaller, opt for strong, full flavored cheeses like bleu, Gorgonzola or Swiss.

-Top wisely. Stack on veggies like sliced tomatoes, onions, romaine, mushrooms or avocado. You can even try fruit by grilling up some pineapple to put on top. Be smart about spreads, too: mayo, BBQ sauce and ranch are calorie and fat bombs. Use mustard, yogurt, guacamole, or pesto for lighter options, or go au naturale and let all the fresh foods speak for themselves.

-If burgers aren’t your thing, branch out. Make kabobs by alternating other proteins like chicken, turkey, or tofu with veggies or fruits. Instead of grilling red meat or nitrate packed hot dogs, try chicken breast or pork tenderloin. You can even grill fish. You can, try it.

No Meal is Complete Without: Side Dishes

Traditional BBQ sides are usually bought last minute on the way to the party, but take advantage of all the vegetables and fruits in season by preparing something fresh.

-Just say not to traditional potato and macaroni salads. Cole slaw, too. They are drenched in mayo. You can still have them, just prepare your traditional recipes with plain yogurt instead.

– Or, you can go completely nontraditional and find new and exciting healthy salads and sides. Quinoa, couscous, and brown rice make great whole grain and protein packed bases for cold salads. Google “Healthy BBQ Side Dishes” and you start scrolling.

-Don’t underestimate the power of a regular green salad. Offer healthy toppings like hard boiled eggs, chickpeas, shredded beets, sunflower seeds, corn, even cottage cheese. You’ll be amazed how quickly it disappears.

The Best for Last: Desserts

Fruit is nature’s dessert. On Labor Day, celebrate the fruits that are in season, like apricots, pears, berries, cantelope and watermelon.

-Frozen grapes and watermelon chunks are ultra refreshing.

– Make fresh fruit popsicles

– Hand crank your own low-fat ice cream.

-Serve fresh fruit kabobs

– Top angel food cake with fresh berries and whipped cream

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