How to Eat Healthy At A Barbecue

Lego BBQ

Sniff Sniff.

Smell that?

It’s Barbecue season! 

If you’re interested in making better food choices, it’s often tough to do so at a typical barbecue as you’re oftentimes surrounded by nothing but unhealthy options.

Nerd Fitness to the rescue!

Here’s a foolproof plan to enjoying yourself at a barbecue, keeping your friends and stomach happy, and allowing you to stay healthy all summer long!

Meat for the win!

Lego BBQ Paleo Shopping Trip

If it’s a typical barbecue, then “meat” should be the main course.

You know what that means?

Grass-fed steak tips! If it’s a BYOM (bring your own meat) BBQ, you’re golden.

However, if you’re throwing the party or you want to bring enough food to share with others, nicer cuts of meat like steak tips can get expensive (especially if they’re grass fed).

Steak that’s not grass-fed will be a less-healthy option, but still light years ahead of the alternative: pasta salads, mystery-meat hot dogs, and cheese wiz nachos.

If you’re going the steak tip route, let out your inner Camp Anawanna: skewer that sucker on a stick, roast to perfection, and consume.

But WAIT! There’s more!

Stick it!

BBQ Paleo Skewer

This fantastic “meat on a stick” concept works great for other cuts of beef, chicken, pork, and sausage – any meat that’s not ground, really.

Score some major points by adding some variety to the standard ‘chicken on a stick’: cold, with different sauce options (BBQ, guacamole, or sriracha), or with different seasoning (try the pre-made seasonings from Mrs. Dash) – nutritious, delicious, and very easy to eat. Just don’t poke your eye out.

But that’s just meat – you can skewer the hell out of anything you put your mind to! 

I believe in you.

Skewer veggies and even fruits like summer squash, zucchini, mushrooms, brussel sprouts, pineapple, either with meat or solo.

If you’re a seafood fan, a shrimp cocktail skewer will show your friends that you’re a real catch. Simply hook those shrimp and some pineapple wedges, cast them onto the grill, and then reel them in. Use the pineapple as tiny vessel for the shrimp and sail them into your stomach.

Did I set the record for the most terrible fishing puns in a single sentence? No? So close.  

Looking for some non-meat options? Deviled eggs can be a huge party hit with the right crowd, but if you don’t have time to make a healthy mayo, try Guacamole Devilled Eggs.

Deviled eggs not your thing? Butternut squash and sweet potatoes can serve as a good replacement for regular potatoes and other starchy sides.

Go green. REAL green.

Mixed Vegetables

BBQs are notorious for having salads of every type, most of which are salads in name only: Fruit salad, pasta salad, taco salad, macaroni salad, potato salad, JELL-O salad. Except for the fruit salad, none of these are really healthy.

The word ‘salad’ used as a suffix does not make the dish healthy (Sorry, Mr. Giant Taco Salad Inventor!).

Why not actually bring a HEALTHY salad? Here are a few you can whip up in a matter of minutes:

Pro tip from NF team member Staci: “One of the best ideas I’ve heard came from my coach – cut a bell pepper in half and hollow it out. Then fill the inside with a salad made out of celery, onion, tomato, pickles, and bacon, mixed together with primal mayo. The pepper serves as an edible bowl that’s healthy for you.”

Take that, bread!

And if you’re absolutely desperate for potato salad (is anybody ever really desperate for potato salad?), go with sweet potato salad instead.


Get creative with your snacks, sucka!

ants on a log

Looking for some healthy snack options to snack on while playing horseshoes or bags?

How about some Ants on a Log? You know, celery with almond butter and either raisins or dried cranberries stuck on them…which looks like…wait for it…ants on a log!

Trust me, these bad boys are a huge hit – they’re not only delicious and easy to eat with your fingers, but they remind people of when they were five.

Remember those days? Sigh.

What about chips? Are there healthy chip options? You bet your ass there are!

Try Kale Chips or Spicy Sweet Potato Chips and dip them in guacamole.

Check out Staci’s BBQ original jalapeno popper recipe (yeah that’s right, she makes up her own recipes. Boom!) – It’s a jalapeno pepper cut in half, stuffed with shrimp, dates, avocado, wrapped in bacon, and drizzled with a little honey.

They’re a huge hit with clean eaters and non-clean eaters alike!

Speaking of bacon…

Every BBQ is better with bacon!

Lego BBQ Paleo Bacon Preparation

Us folks at Nerd Fitness can be counted among those in the PRO-bacon camp.

Here’s why bacon belongs at every barbecue: Take a boring healthy food, wrap it in bacon, and serve it on a toothpick: you now have a delicious and healthy appetizer.

A quick word about bacon selection: don’t buy the super cheap kind – get uncured, nitrate free bacon.

Oh, and anything that is _______bacon, isn’t bacon (sorry, turkey and tofu).

Feelin’ the bacon love? Check out these options:

Choose your booze wisely

Lego Darth Vader at Bar

I know, there’s nothing better than kicking back with a few ice cold beers or fun cocktails while sitting on a back porch with your loved ones as the sun sets.

So I don’t want you to stop doing that – I believe in two ideals when it comes to making healthy decisions:

“Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are,” from Teddy Roosevelt, and “You gotta have fun,” from my Dad, who happens to enjoy Nerd Fitness (hi Dad!) almost as much as he enjoys Miller High Life (the champagne of beers, as he says).

I’ve already covered alcohol extensively in a previous article, so here we’ll be reviewing a few barbecue-specific details.

If you are going to drink at a barbecue, go into it with a plan: Instead of blindly pounding whatever drink is placed in front of you, make smart conscientious decisions earlier in the day and follow that plan through to the end.

For example:

  • I’ll drink a bottle of water in between every alcoholic beverage.
  • I can have one drink per hour; not fourteen.
  • I’ll be slowly sipping on this Paleo Margarita (tequila on the rocks with lime juice), thank you very much!

Now, I won’t tell you to abstain from drinking; heck, I won’t even tell you not to binge drink – if you feel the need to consume sixteen beers and five shots of tequila to enjoy yourself, that’s your decision. I’m not your dad!

Let’s assume, however, that you’re not going to be drinking yourself into a stupor, but still plan on having a few adult beverages – this next part is for you:

The reason that drinking at a barbecue can be Bad News Bears is that in addition to the liquid calories you’re getting from the alcohol, you might also choose to consume RIDICULOUS amounts of empty calories from chips, hot dogs, popcorn, candy, nachos, pizza, and/or whatever processed foods you can get your hands on.

Rather than stuffing your face with unhealthy foods while drinking, stuff your face with HEALTHY options so you don’t even need to think about the unhealthy stuff.

Are there any options for healthy desserts?

unhealthy snacks with domokun

Desserts are always the hardest part of any healthy gathering, as it’s customary to indulge in cookies, cake, and pie.

Luckily, most folks are too concerned with stuffing their own face to notice what you happen to choose for dessert.

At this point in the evening, your stomach should hopefully be full of wonderful things like meat on a stick, sweet potato chips, and enough bacon-wrapped whatevers to scare the stutter out of Porky Pig.

There’s no rule that says you need to eat dessert!

But, if you NEED to eat something, here are at least a few healthy options so you don’t feel left out:

Unfortunately, we have yet to find a healthy/paleo alternative for S’mores. You probably can’t hear it, but I’m playing a small violin for the S’more lovers out there.

Common Questions and Answers about Barbecues

Melted peeps and lego man

“But Steve, I didn’t bring any meat, and my only options are the burgers/chicken patties/etc they have.”

Don’t worry, my dear Rebel Friend, I’ve got you covered. Get a large piece of lettuce, stick the burger (or chicken) in the middle, add your healthy toppings (like salsa, guacamole, and/or bacon), wrap up, and enjoy!

Go with Romaine hearts, as you can typically get more ‘wraps’ out of them than with a head of iceberg.

“Help. EVERYTHING here is unhealthy.” Do the best you can, with what you have, where you are!

If your only options are unhealthy foods, then you can either chose to not eat (where’s the fun in that?) or chose to practice portion control: aim for small portions of the foods you are excited to eat.

Eat more of the most-healthy option, and cut back on the unhealthy options.

“I’m headed to a BBQ today, it will be unhealthy, and I suck at portion control.” Okay! It’s not the end of the world. Are you familiar with Intermittent Fasting? Skip breakfast. Eat fewer calories for the day before.  And eat smaller portions the next day. It all comes down to total calories consumed over a long period of time, not just one day!

As long as you can plan ahead, you can eat unhealthy at a bbq and not gain weight. Get right back on track the next day and you won’t lose momentum.

“Help, I’m headed to my family’s barbecue, and they don’t take no for an answer.” We all have that parent or family member that refuses to believe that we’re not hungry or that we don’t want seconds or thirds.

Obviously if it’s somebody you care about, you don’t want to offend them by not eating. You can deflect and defer by saying things like “oh I just had some, and I’ll come back for more later” or “sorry, but I have this weird food allergy.”

I grew up a picky eater and mastered the art of “polite but firm rejection of unwanted food in social settings.”  Shut up, I was a weird kid.

Enjoy yourself today, get right back on track tomorrow. Maybe it’s your kid’s birthday, or all of your college buddies are in town for the first time in years, or you’re at a family reunion. You only live once, right? So have one beer too many.

Eat that piece of cake. Try some of the macaroni salad. When you wake up the next day, expect to weigh in more than usual on Monday, and get RIGHT BACK ON TRACK!

Woke up hungover? Read our alcohol article.

One day doesn’t ruin you – it’s when you let that one day become a week that things can fall apart.

What say you, oh great barbecuer!


You are now qualified as a certified Nerd Fitness healthy BBQ expert.  Feel free to brag to your friends about this at your next barbecue – people love that.

So, what other tips can you offer up to your fellow rebels for staying healthy while grilling out?

  • What’s your favorite healthy BBQ food?
  • Any good recipes we should know about?

Share below!


Today’s Rebel Hero: Brian From Cincinnati!

I was recently sitting on a bus going through downtown Portland when I spotted a Nerd Fitness Rebel, sporting a battle-tested NF shirt, walking down the street – this was my first ever “Nerd Fitness rebel in the wild” encounter!

I quickly jumped out of my seat, grabbed the “stop” wire, and ran off the bus and almost tackled the poor guy.

As I stumbled into him, I said “nice shirt!” – Brian, clearly confused as to why he was being attacked by a strange man on the streets of Portland, nodded politely and said “thanks!” then introduced myself, and Brian finally put two and two together, uttered a “Wait…WHOA!” and a big grin appeared on his face.

We chatted for a few minutes (he was visiting friends for the weekend and on his way to hiking the Gorge), and then I asked if I could take a picture with him to chronicle my first wild Nerd Fitness sighting!

Thanks for letting me freak out on you Brian!

Have a cool photo of you in a Nerd Fitness-shirt, or Nerd Fitness tank topPlease send it in to so we can get you up here on the blog!


photo source: Darth Vader at the Bar, Paleo Meat Skewer BBQ,  Lego Shopping for Meat, Lego Chopping Bacon, Domokun, Ants on a Log, Paleo Vegetable Spread, Charcoal, the Peep!

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