Few things feel more like summer than listening to the sound of burgers cooking on the grill. That sizzle combined with the smoky smell of mesquite can leave your mouth watering long before you ever flip over that first patty.
However, if you’ve recently undergone bariatric surgery, summer barbecues with friends and family may pose a complicated challenge. On one hand, you want to spend time with friends and family while enjoying your favorite foods. On the other, you know you should avoid tough meats and stringy vegetables that often appear at these social events.
So how can you strike a healthy balance?
Choose Chicken Skewers over Burgers
If you’re far enough along in your recovery stage (at least 8 weeks), then you may reintroduce lean proteins into your diet. Tough meats like burgers and steak will likely be too difficult for you to digest, and your friends and neighbors may serve portions too large for you to finish.
Chicken skewers or shish kabobs, however, let you eat leaner meats in smaller pieces without sacrificing flavor, and they add an element of fun to your meal.
Not ready to handle meat yet? Give vegetable skewers a try. Eggplant, peppers, onion, and zucchini pack a powerful, flavorful punch that you and your guests can appreciate.
Be Bold with Your Ingredients
After surgery, you may have difficulty digesting foods high in fats and sugars. This means you may need to limit your typical grilling ingredients and marinades (such as barbecue sauce) to just a few spoonfuls.
However, this also means you can branch out with your ingredients and try new recipes. Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, and low-sodium tomato paste can lend flavor to your food when used in small doses. Lemon pepper and garlic powder can also give a zesty twist to classic grilling recipes.
Sample and Savor Your Meals
Texas summers mean barbecue competitions cropping up left and right. As a result, you and your family may decide to attend one of these events rather than cooking the food yourself. These events can give you some inspiration when grilling your own meals, and you may discover additional ways to safely flavor your food.
As you explore different meals, don’t feel obligated to eat everything on your plate. Instead, pick and choose the foods that stand out to you, and then limit yourself to just one bite each.
As you bite in your barbecued chicken or grilled fish, take the time to savor each unique flavor. Chew slowly so you get more bang for your bite, so to speak, without filling your stomach uncomfortably. After a few samples, give yourself a 20 minute break (or longer) before trying more food.
Be Selective with Your Sides
Due to discomfort or belief, many recovering patients choose to skip the main grilling entrées altogether and stick to the sides when attending a barbecue. But even harmless-looking salads can secretly hide calorie-laden dressings and fats.
To make the most of your sides, choose a rainbow of varying veggies. Dark eggplant, bright orange carrots, and vibrant green and red peppers, can increase your nutrient intake while providing plenty of flavors. If you find some of the vegetables too bitter to eat without dressing, limit yourself to just a dash of olive oil or vinegar and pepper to taste.
Bypass the Beer
Whether your neighbors want to celebrate the Fourth of July or simply want to party, they may offer you a few cold drinks to wash down the grilled hamburgers. But don’t give into the temptation.
After surgery, you’ll want to avoid alcoholic beverages for at least a few months. This is because your stomach will struggle to metabolize the sugars and carbohydrates in alcohol, and the alcohol will quickly pass into your intestines. Consequently, you’ll feel tipsy after just a few sips, and you’ll be at risk for a DUI after just one drink.
If you feel that you must have a drink, avoid any beverages with additional sugars (such as mixed drinks and certain kinds of beer). And even if you only have small amounts, never drive after drinking.
Focus on Friends and Family
Barbecues and similar events create the perfect environment for socializing. If you don’t feel comfortable eating or drinking the foods served at these events, don’t hesitate to refuse what your friends and family offer you. Instead of making yourself nauseous or derailing your weight loss goals, use this time to catch up on the latest events in your friend’s lives.
Go beyond the typical small talk, and explore topics of conversation that interest both of you. Recall funny stories about your childhood or ask relevant questions to take your partner out of autopilot.
With these simple tips, you can still enjoy barbecue season without putting your goals or health on the line.