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By Mike Lee

McClatchy-Tribune

Memorial Day weekend marks the unofficial kickoff to summer and with that, barbecue season. It can be tempting to load up on all your favorite calorie-laden barbecue staples – cheeseburgers, chips, dips, potato salad, pies and cakes – but there are ways to indulge while also keeping your calorie count in check.

After all, with summer also comes swimsuit season.

You can enjoy yourself at every food-filled barbecue this summer without sacrificing flavor or fun. Here are some tips for satisfying food swaps, alternative ingredients and easy, refreshing seasonal recipes.

1. Get creative with the grill: Instead of the predictable burger or ballpark hot dog, try marinating chicken breasts in a homemade dressing and toss those on the grill instead. Or try grilling portobello mushrooms, sliced zucchini and even eggplant for any vegetarian attendees.

2. Take advantage of colorful produce: There’s no end to what you can do with delicious veggies and fresh fruit at a barbecue. Throw together some nutrient-rich and diet-friendly kebabs with summer squash, onions and mushrooms. For dessert? Instead of cherry pie, whip up a fresh fruit salad; or consider grilling peaches and drizzling them with honey or a balsamic glaze.

3. Substitute bad fat for heart-healthy fat: Many traditional barbecue sides are laden with fatty dressings. For coleslaw and potato salads, try a vinegar base or substitute low-fat Greek yogurt and use half the mayo. The yogurt tastes creamy but contains little fat, while delivering protein, calcium and flavor.

4. Experiment with fresh herbs: Summer is the perfect time to get outside and beautify your backyard with an herb garden. You’ll make your taste buds (and wallet) happy, as the planted goods boast far more flavor than anything you’ll find on the store shelf. Consider sprinkling your poultry with thyme for a minty and citrusy play. A Caprese salad is another delicious, warm-weather option made best with ripe tomatoes and fragrant, spicy basil. You also can try an unexpected combination of watermelon and feta cheese — either on its own or over your favorite greens with a light champagne vinaigrette.

5. Reach for low-cal condiments: Don’t forget to dress your grilled goods in this season’s smoking good barbecue toppings. When it comes to condiments, opt for mustard, vinegars, horseradish or lemon juice. These have very few calories and pack tons of flavor. Steer clear of creamier options like mayo or ranch dressing.

Whether you are inviting friends and family to your back porch, or joining your neighbors at their barbecue, keeping these tips in mind will help you make informed-but-delicious food choices for a guilt-free gathering.

Mike Lee is the co-founder of MyFitnessPal, and creator of a free app that provides real-time nutrition and fitness tracking, insights and community support.