­­­8 Tips for a Healthy Summer Cookout

By Emily Schmitt, RD, LDN, Campus Recreation Services

Summer is a season filled with vacations, lazy days at the pool, and barbecues.  Barbecues provide the opportunity to spend time outdoors with friends and family while eating a wide selection of delicious foods.  While some barbecue fare is high in fat and calories, there are flavorful, yet healthful options that can satisfy your barbecue cravings.

What strategies can you use to make healthy choices at the picnic table?  Read on.

  1. Select lower fat proteins – lean beef or pork, chicken, ground turkey, fish, or veggie burgers.  For meat, trim excess fat before cooking.  For chicken, remove the skin.  Limit processed meats like hot dogs and sausages.
  2. Pair your entrée with grilled vegetables.  Grill-friendly veggies include zucchini, eggplant, asparagus, whole mushrooms, and bell peppers.  Chop veggies, lightly brush with olive oil, and arrange them on a medium-high grill.  How long do you grill each of your favorite veggies?  What additional seasonings are recommended?  Visit Good Housekeeping’s How to Grill Vegetables Guide.
  3. Limit mayonnaise-based side salads, which are high in calories and fat. Instead, hunt for fiber-rich baked beans, fresh vegetables with low-fat dressing, whole grain crackers with hummus, or baked chips.  Still want that mayo-like taste?  Try mixing plain yogurt and/or mustard into your tuna, chicken, or pasta salad.
  4. Top entrees with low-fat condiments, including ketchup, mustard, relish, and fresh vegetables such as diced onion and slices of lettuce and tomato.  Missing cheese on your hamburger?  Select a part-skim version.
  5. Finish your meal with fresh fruit.  A variety of fruits are in season during the summer months, including blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, cherries, and watermelon.  For an even sweeter treat, top your fruit with low-fat whipped topping.
  6. Sip on a low-calorie beverage throughout the day.  Prevent dehydration with ice water, sparkling water, or unsweetened iced tea.  Limit higher calorie options, including regular sodas, juices, and alcoholic beverages.
  7. Stay active.  After eating, take a walk, go for a swim, or play a round of your favorite summer sport such as volleyball or kickball.  Hosting a kid-friendly barbecue?  Test out one of Family Fun Magazine’s outdoor games.
  8. Plan ahead.  If you decide what you are going to eat prior to your barbecue, you are more likely to select nutritious foods and control your portion sizes.  If you’re a guest at a cookout and are concerned that healthy options will be limited, offer to bring a healthy dish of your own.

In addition to eating right, it’s also important to keep you and your family and friends safe during summer barbecues. Check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Barbeque and Food Safety factsheet.

What strategies do you use to eat healthy during summer cookouts?  Share with us below.

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