Summer Picnics and Barbecues With IBD

When the weather gets warmer, the invitations to barbecues and picnics for graduation parties, birthdays, and family reunions start coming in. For most people, this is a time to look forward to during the cold winter months, and the idea of being outside in the sun with family and friends is most welcome. For people with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), however, weekend outdoor parties can be a source of stress and worry.

Skewers on a grill with squash and onions
Michael Lamotte / Cole Group / Photodisc / Getty Images

If You Have IBD, Can You Go?

Your first inclination might be to decline invitations to parties, especially if they are at a park or other location where restrooms are not readily available or might not be clean and well-stocked. And, it's true, if you're in the middle of a flare-up and you're headed to the toilet 10 times a day—you won't want to be far from a comfortable bathroom. But, if you're doing reasonably well, or are in remission, there's no reason why you can't go to a party. Be sure to keep in mind your emergency strategy, find out where the facilities are located right away, and take a deep breath and try to keep calm.

If the party is located at someone's home, that might be an easier invitation to accept, even if you're not feeling well. As long as you make the hosts aware that you might duck into the house to use the bathroom every so often, you shouldn't let IBD get in the way of your time with family and friends.

What Can You Eat?

The menu for an outdoor party can be extremely varied, and it will depend greatly on the type of party you're attending, as well as the venue. Here are some common barbecue foods and how they might affect your IBD.

Beans: This might almost go without saying, but beans are well-known, with good reason, for being an extremely gassy food. This could be a major problem for you, or it could be a minor one—hopefully you know how much beans will affect you. Beans are nutritious, and they're not a food you want to avoid altogether on a permanent basis, but if you're going to experience a lot of bloating or discomfort, you might want to steer clear at parties.

Green Salads: A green salad is another nutritious food, but one that can, at times, mean pain and bloating for some people who have IBD. If you know that's how it will affect you, a salad might be something you want to enjoy at a different time.

Hamburgers: Good news: a hamburger is probably one of the foods at a barbecue that is going to be easier on your IBD. This is especially true if it's prepared by grilling, and not by frying. Look out for that bun, though: seeds can be difficult to digest, and if the buns are full of them, you'll want to eat your hamburger without one (or use 2 bottom buns).

Hot Dogs: Most of us know that hot dogs are not among the most nutritious of foods. There are hot dogs on the market now that are "better" as they are made without nitrates and with a better quality of meat. The question is, will you know if the hot dogs being served are a higher quality? If you haven't had problems with hot dogs in the past, and your hosts are making nitrate-free hot dogs available, it might be something you can eat in moderation. But, if you have any doubts, avoid the dogs for the day.

Fruit Salad: A fruit salad might not be an all-or-nothing proposition. Some fruits might be easier to digest, and that includes watermelon, honeydew, and bananas. Other fruits, especially apples, grapes, and oranges, might be more difficult to digest. Depending on your personal experience with fruits, you'll want to be selective with this dish.

Chicken. Here's where the type of chicken and how it's prepared are going to be the biggest determinants of whether or not you're going to want to try eating it. Fried chicken, which is obviously a fried food, is not going to be a good choice for your digestive tract. In a pinch, you might be able to get by with taking the skin off and eating just the meat, but that might not go over well with your hosts, so you'll need to be the best judge of what to do in that situation. Grilled chicken, provided chicken is not a problem food for you, will probably be something you can eat, especially if you can get your host to cook you up a piece of chicken without any barbecue sauce on it.

Corn on the Cob: Corn doesn't digest easily, and unless you're doing very well and your disease is in remission, corn is not something that you're going to want to eat. If you have an ostomy or have had surgery recently, it can even be risky to eat too much corn because corn has been known to contribute to bowel obstructions.

Potato Salad: Potato salad can be prepared in a myriad of different ways, but in general, potatoes (without skins) and mayonnaise are not difficult foods to digest. Some people find that potatoes cause gas, so skip this dish if you're one of those. If the potato salad contains potato skins or other vegetables such as celery, you might want to use caution. Also, if the food as been sitting in the sun for any period of time without refrigeration, you will not want to risk eating it and developing food poisoning.

Egg Salad: Eggs are a great source of protein for people with IBD, so as long as the other ingredients are not on your "do not eat" list, you might be able to enjoy an egg salad. And, just like the potato salad, if that egg salad has been out in the sun—skip it. This is an easy dish to bring with you as a pass-around, and you can omit the celery and onions or other ingredients that don't agree with you.

Beer And Wine: Beer especially is a very gassy beverage, and wine is something that you can drink (in moderation!) only if you know that it won't adversely affect you. Even so, water is probably the best choice for a beverage.

Can You Bring a Dish to Pass?

Outdoor parties tend to be a bit more informal, so bringing along a dish to share is often very welcome by the hosts. Even if hosts don't ask their guests to bring something, many people still do bring food to parties as a gesture of thanks. The bonus is that you can be sure to bring a dish that you will enjoy and that you know is "safe" for you to eat.

1 Source
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  1. Dabirian A, Yaghmaei F, Rassouli M, Tafreshi MZ. Quality of life in ostomy patients: a qualitative studyPatient Prefer Adherence. 2010;5:1-5. doi:10.2147/PPA.S14508

By Amber J. Tresca
Amber J. Tresca is a freelance writer and speaker who covers digestive conditions, including IBD. She was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis at age 16.