The store ads and shelves may be screaming “summer is over”, but there are still plenty of opportunities for sunny Sunday cookouts, Labor Day celebrations, and parties in the park.  In fact, we now may be firing up the grill even more often to take advantage of the beautiful weather, time with friends and some of our favorite warm weather flavors.

I know that I, for one, have backyard parties lined up every weekend until fall hits.  And unless I stay mindful of a few healthy barbecue tips, I may be having my summer fun with a side of added sugar and saturated fat. With a serving lineup of processed meat (brats, hot dogs, burgers), mayo based “salads” (macaroni salad, potato salad) and veggies sitting in sugary bases (baked beans, Mexican corn) it can be tricky to build an ideal myplate of mostly vegetables, a whole grain and a lean protein. But by keeping a few of these tips in mind, we can continue to celebrate the rest of the season and keeping healthy habits.

Invite real fruits and vegetables to the party. 

Growing up, our family cookouts and barbecues centered around meat (usually fried chicken) with generous helpings of sides and a long chats lingering around the dessert table. The side vegetables, at best, were baked beans in a brown sugar glaze with bacon crumbles and traditional mayonnaise cole slaw. I’m sure we had a side fruit salad or watermelon wedges, but what I remember most was a “fruit” side of jello salad and 5-cup ambrosia. Hours before the dessert options were even on the table it was easy to top off the daily limit of 6-9tsp of added sugar. Beans alone carry an average of 4tsp per serving!

Now our lineup looks much different. Yes, we still have pineapple tidbits coated in coconut, sour cream and sugar and call it fruit, but we also have plenty of less processed produced on the table. I’d never suggest upsetting a crowd by altering a family favorite, but there  is always room to provide added, more healthful, options.

Make half of your grains whole.

This does not mean you have to cut grains grains and carbs all together or eating your hotdog with a fork instead of a bun. This can be a simple shift from a cold pasta salad to a composed quinoa salad or a white bun for a wheat bun. Being mindful and choosing mostly healthy grains is already a better start than not thinking about it at all.

Pick your protein and your portion.

When you have options, choose better for you proteins such as fish or lean chicken over beef and pork. Choose grilled over fried options to cut saturated fat and calories. Use your own marinades and rubs to avoid excess sodium and sugars. Be mindful that a portion of protein is 3oz – which is about the size of a deck of cards or an iPhone 6 – much less than what we typically find portioned for us. Split a serving with someone else or try meatless and get your dose of protein with a quinoa or lentil salad with a Greek yogurt dressing.

Hydrate with water instead of sugar sweetened beverages.

Even though this is a more well-known tip, it doesn’t go unmentioned when it comes to being mindful. Just as a few examples, one serving of hard lemonade can carry more than 8 teaspoons of added sugar. An average 8 ounces of sweetened tea or soda has about 5tsp per serving and even sports drinks or juices come loaded with calories and 4tsp added sugar. That’s just for 8 ounces!  That’s something I want to save for my dessert, not my beverage. Try a refresh by infusing water with fruits and herbs such as strawberry basil or lemon mint.

Practice mindful eating.

Trust me, I know how easy it can be to show up to a party, stand by the appetizer table snacking until mealtime, overload a plate, and finish off with a smorgasbord of desserts. It takes work and attention to tune into hunger cues not only during the party, but before and after, as well. Help yourself out by planning activities that don’t revolve around food like yard games or a walk around the neighborhood. Remember that proximity has power, so when you are satisfied make it easier on yourself by spending time away from the food table.

Keep these tips in mind and you can celebrate summer every weekend without overdoing the extras. You can make mindful, healthy choices. Most of all, you can focus on real food, real hydration, and on fun before this summer is over!