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How to eat healthy at the beach, pool or park

Be an "informed eater" and know the calorie count and healthy portions for your favorite foods.
/ Source: NBC News

Over a summer holiday weekend, there’s lots of eating everywhere — at a pool, the beach, a park or your own backyard. But even the healthiest eaters like to indulge a bit on a holiday, and there's a way to do it — completely guilt-free! Check out some of the biggest food surprises that sound super-indulgent, but can fit into anyone’s calorie budget.

If you’re an “informed eater” and know the calories and portions for your favorite foods, you can mix and match and have all your favorites without guilt.

1. At the pool

Pick: A hot dog

At around 275 calories, and topped with sauerkraut and mustard on a soft roll, a hot dog is a tasty summertime treat. Even a chili dog weighs in at around 350 calories.

Pass: While a grilled cheese sounds healthier (especially on whole wheat bread), the combination of calorie-dense cheese and the butter or margarine spread on the bread when grilling weighs in at a whopping 625 calories or so.

Pick: An ice cream sandwich contains around 160 calories — modest for what’s essentially a cookies and ice cream combo.

Pass: One cup of cookies and cream (and most other flavors) frozen yogurt might contain less fat, but the calories are about 300. And a one cup serving is basically a large scoop. Waffle cones contain two to three times that amount! Try a kiddie cup, usually around a half cup, for a more moderate serving size. Or look for single portion frozen yogurt bars with add-ins, like Yasso, that provide the satisfaction of eating “the whole thing.”

2. At the park

Pick: No need to pass up a barbecue chicken leg and thigh (with the skin) thinking it’s a calorie bomb. Combined, these two have around 500 calories. Removing the skin saves about 50 calories.

Pass: A quarter-pound cheeseburger (about the size of a hockey puck) is on the small end of what many people cook or buy at a stand. It contains about 600 calories. Skip the cheese, and save about 100 calories. And if you choose to swap out the top part of the bun for a lettuce leaf, you’ll cut out about 100 calories.

Pick: Looking for a crunchy snack? Try a large handful (about 1 ounce) of honey mustard pretzels. For 130 calories, you’ll get a lot of intense flavor and crunch. The flavor is not a calorie booster.

Pass: A large handful of potato chips is around 160 calories. Not so much more than the pretzels, but it’s often easier to satisfy the need for crunch, salt, and flavor with pretzels.

3. At the beach

Pick: A large bag of Cracker Jacks or other caramel corn (about 3 cups) has about 360 calories. It’s a sweet treat that takes a long time to eat when you go kernel by kernel. You can downsize your serving, with each cup containing about 120 calories.

Pass: While a soft pretzel is definitely a low-fat choice, the typical size is huge, and much bigger than one serving even though it’s a single piece — and it’s got around 500 calories. This is a treat best shared with at least one other person. It’s basically the equivalent of about six slices of white bread.

Pick: A fried clam roll on a regular hot dog bun is around 400 calories. It’s a real calorie bargain for a small, but satisfying taste of a fried food. Choose the small size for satisfaction, with good portion control.

Pass: Skip the personal pan pizza. While convenient to eat, even the plain version has about 600 calories. If pizza is what you’re really after, choose a single plain slice — cutting the calories in half, to about 300 calories. Look for toppings like onions, peppers and mushrooms, and skip the meat.

Madelyn Fernstrom, PhD is the NBC News health and nutrition editor. Follow her on Twitter @drfernstrom.