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Classic BBQ Sides

Watching your weight as weekend parties abound can seem like a real drag - but you don't have to munch on celery sticks while everyone else is chowing down on creamy potato salad this summer. Just lighten up some of those traditional side dishes with these speedy makeovers.

1. Corn on the cob: All you need to do here is dodge the butter. Easy. Like tequila, corn's terrific with a squeeze of lime juice and a little salt. Or try brushing it with a little olive oil and sprinkling it with red pepper flakes. Or roll those ears in some mixed herbs, like basil and oregano or ginger and curry powder. If you just plain like your corn buttered, try a spray-on, no-cal butter substitute - it works better than you'd think. Or if you've lucked into just-picked, unbelievably sweet, fresh summer corn, do the most delicious thing of all: Eat it naked.

2. Cole slaw: Substitute light mayo, use fat-free dressing, or try this low-fat Apple Bok Choy Salad recipe. Savvy cooks swear the secret to great slaw is to make it the night before, so the veggies have time to absorb the dressing's flavors.

3. Baked beans: The nutritional wonders of antioxidant-rich, protein-packed beans can be undermined by the fattiness of added bacon. Ditch the meat and you'll trim off as much as 16 grams of fat per serving. Add chopped onion, bell pepper, and liquid smoke for flavor - no one will miss the fat.

4. Potato salad: This picnic favorite is notorious for its high glycemic index (GI), which sends your blood sugar soaring. To keep it on an even keel, cook the potatoes the night before and refrigerate them. The next day, make the salad German style, using white vinegar and olive oil rather than mayo. Use 2 parts oil to 7 parts vinegar, and season with mustard, parsley, and just a smidge of sugar. The refrigeration combined with the vinegar creates some nifty kitchen chemistry: It neutralizes the potatoes' blood sugar hit.

5. Pasta salad: Instead of refined white pasta - another high-GI, low-nutrient food - use whole-wheat pasta, which has a lower glycemic index, filling fiber, and more good-for-you nutrients.

6. Chips and dip: Serve pretzels or baked chips, and dunk 'em in salsa or a spicy nonfat bean dip, like Desert Pepper Trading Company's Fat Free Black Bean Dip or EatSmart's Jalapeno & Lime Tres Bean Dip.

7. The dessert buffet: Start with watermelon - it's traditional, irresistible, and remarkably healthy, too. If you're ambitious, scoop out the insides with a melon baller, then mix the melon balls with berries and mint leaves, and use the watermelon's shell as a serving bowl.

Or go for grilled fruit - the heat heightens the flavors, and it's fun to do as the embers die down. Brush the grill with light vegetable oil to prevent sticking, then lay out bananas in their skin (sliced lengthwise), sliced peaches, pears, pineapple, papaya, cantaloupe . . . any firm fruit will do. For extra zing, baste the fruit with 1 1/2 cups of orange juice that has been cooked over medium-low heat, stirring frequently, until it's reduced by half. Add a little brown sugar if you like. Serve the warm fruit with frozen yogurt and nuts for healthy summer sundaes.

For a baked dessert, make an angel food cake - it's naturally low-cal and goes great with grilled fruit - or whip up an old-fashioned apple crisp (leave the peel on to retain the antioxidants and fiber). Not bad for a party dessert!

The payoff? Avoiding foods with saturated and trans fats, simple sugars, or processed grains - everything we've sidestepped with these simple makeovers - can make your RealAge 3.6 years younger.

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