Barbecue Season!

Jun 27, 2020

Next week is a big holiday week for the US and Canada.

July 1 is Canada and July 4 is US Independence Day. These two holidays are the big celebrations of summer, observed with picnics and barbecues. This year, due to social distancing for the pandemic, celebrations may be a bit subdued, but it’s likely barbecues and picnics will remain the order of the day.

For many years after my Diabetes diagnosis, I dreaded holidays like this, that seem to revolve around the food. I would worry for days ahead of time about how I was going to enjoy myself when I couldn’t eat anything there. Would anyone notice that I wasn’t having ice cream? Or maybe I should just give up, numbers be damned, and eat whatever I want?

I no longer fret about food-related gatherings because I’ve figured out how to navigate them, for the most part.

There are three kinds of food events:

  • Hosted by me
  • Potluck
  • Completely hosted by someone else

Hosted by Me is easy. I’m in charge of the food so I can make sure there’s food that’s appropriate for me that I like. Of course, there are still challenges. When people show up for a summer barbecue there are certain expectations. It’s possible to meet most of those expectations while still providing food that’s Diabetes-friendly. A few suggestions:

  • If you’re serving hamburgers and/or hot dogs, provided quality lettuce that can be used as a wrap.
  • You can make the toppings interesting enough that you won’t even miss the bun if you decide to go bun-less with your burger/hot dog. You can even make a “topping bar” into a signature part of your barbecue. In addition to the standard ketchup, mustard, and relish, you might provide grilled onions, a few varieties of cheese (maybe shredded?), low-sugar barbecue sauce and other sauces such as ranch or buffalo, bacon, peppers, and on, and on . . .
  • Maybe skip the burgers and hot dogs completely. Kabobs make a great barbecue main course. Or you could go with chicken, salmon, grilled veggies. So many options!
  • You’re known for your pasta salad? Fine. This year make the same salad but cut down the ratio of pasta to “goodies.” Double or triple the amount of veggies, meat, and cheese while reducing the amount of pasta by at least half. Consider the pasta as just another ingredient in the salad instead of the star of the show. You’ll still get the pasta salad, but with significantly fewer carbs.
  • Baked beans are typically LOADED with hidden sugar. Consider serving a bean salad instead. (There’s a bean salad recipe at the end of this post.) 

Potluck is also pretty easy. You can make sure that you contribute food that you can enjoy. The trick with potluck is what other people bring. Are you able to eat a few potato chips without going back for more until they’re gone? If not, maybe stay away from the potato chips.

For potluck, set some rules for yourself ahead of time. Will you only eat what you brought? What are your self-imposed rules for what others bring that might not typically be things that you eat. The goal is to enjoy yourself without focusing on the food you DON’T eat.

The hardest to navigate is when you’re invited to a party but don’t contribute to the meal. My suggestions here are if you don’t know ahead of time what will be served, have a light meal prior to going to the party. When at the party, make “Best Choices.”

What does “Best Choices” mean? Before choosing what you'll eat, survey everything and do a quick calculation of what you want to put on your plate. It's absolutely ok to politely decline to eat anything you don't want, with no need for explanation. If dinner is pasta with some meat and/or veggies, skip (or take a small amount of) the pasta and choose meat and veggies. Maybe the choices are fried chicken or macaroni and cheese. I’d choose the fried chicken because it’s mostly chicken with some fried breading (carbs and fat) that, if I choose, I can take off. The mac & cheese is mostly pasta with protein and fat. The protein can’t be separated from the carbs. (BTW, if I take the fried chicken, I’m eating the skin! Fried chicken is a splurge I indulge.)

In the 15 years since my Diabetes diagnosis, I’ve hardly ever been at a meal where there wasn’t SOMETHING I felt good about eating. The only times I remember are things like pasta without a protein served with only bread as a side. Really no “best choice” here. This is when I’m glad I ate prior to the party. In this situation, I usually take a very small helping, claim that “I’m really not very hungry” and have a few bites to be polite to my host. Keep in mind that most times that someone is going out of their way to host a barbecue or dinner party, there will be better options that carbs and carbs. 

Biggest lesson about all this? Be prepared but don’t fret. Summer picnics and barbecues might feel like a Diabetic minefield, but you can make it through. And you don’t have to be perfect. If you end up eating something you didn’t intend to, forgive yourself and move on. Figuring out how to do this without stressing about it gets easier with time. Enjoy your friends and family. That’s the point of getting together, right?  

Bean Salad

Prepare day before and let sit, refrigerated, overnight 
½ cup salad oil
½ cup vinegar
¼ cup minced onion
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
Drain and mix together with dressing:
1 can garbanzo beans
1 can green beans
1 can yellow wax beans
1 can kidney beans

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