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Tips for Eating Healthy at Cookouts

When most people think of a cookout, they have visions of hot dogs, hamburgers, creamy potato salad and chips — all foods that can weigh heavily on your heart and wreak havoc on your waistline. It may seem impossible to make healthy food choices at these get-togethers, but you really can enjoy a fun, flavorful and healthy cookout by following the simple tips below.

Instead of high-fat hamburgers and hot dogs, choose lower-fat proteins. It’ll be a great change-up from traditional cookout foods, and your guests will be delighted. Here are some tasty entrée ideas:

  • Fresh fish can be grilled whole, in steaks or filets, or on a kebob. Salmon, grouper, shrimp and tuna are great grilling options.
  • Whole chicken or chicken breasts can be made in a variety of ways, like marinating with chipotle seasoning, vinaigrettes, barbecue sauce, jerk sauce or Cajun seasoning. If using chicken with skin, remove the skin before eating.
  • Lean pork or beef tenderloin, trimmed of fat.
  • Vegetable-based burgers. Portobello, black bean, roasted vegetable or burgers made with textured vegetable protein are flavorful options.
  • Grilled vegetables make for a great entrée themselves, especially veggies with hearty flavors like portobello mushrooms, squash, onions and peppers.
  • Turkey or chicken burgers made with all-white-meat ground turkey or chicken.

Liven up pasta and potato salad with these ideas to limit saturated fat:

  • Add grilled, raw or roasted vegetables. They’ll help bulk up the salad while lowering the calorie count.
  • Use a flavorful vinaigrette dressing instead of a creamy dressing. Try a mixture of extra virgin olive oil, an acid (such as lemon juice, red wine vinegar or balsamic vinegar) and fresh herbs and spices.
  • If you just can’t do without the creamy potato salad, substitute full-fat mayonnaise with light mayo or light sour cream. Use small amounts of creamy toppings and add flavor with pickle juice, lemon juice or fresh herbs.
  • Try using spicy arugula pesto or traditional basil pesto sauce in your pasta salad for a refreshing, healthy change.
  • Choose whole wheat farfalle (bowtie), penne (tubular), or fusilli (spiral) pasta instead of enriched pasta. Or, make the salad using half enriched pasta and half whole wheat pasta.
  • Dijon mustard is a great addition to vinaigrettes, as are rice wine, balsamic and champagne vinegars. To give a southwestern pasta salad some kick, add some adobo sauce or chopped chipotle peppers.

Instead of high-fat potato chips and other unhealthy snacks, try some of these ideas:

  • Fresh fruit kebobs. Put fresh strawberries, melon, grapes and pineapple on skewers, or toss it all into a big bowl and enjoy!
  • Mozzarella, cherry tomato and basil kebobs are delicious! You can also layer the ingredients on a tray and sprinkle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a refreshing side dish.
  • Instead of fried chips, try serving veggie chips, but not the bagged kinds! Thinly slice jicama, carrot coins, zucchini and cucumber and serve with hummus.
  • Zesty corn and black bean salad.
  • Serve baked tortilla chips with fresh salsa or guacamole.
  • Make a beautiful array of grilled vegetables and serve warm or at room temperature.
  • Serve corn on the cob with a variety of toppings like lime juice and grated parmesan cheese.
  • Prepare a tricolor salad made with radicchio, endive and arugula. Toss with a red wine vinaigrette dressing.
  • Offer fresh whole wheat pita with olives, tabbouleh salad and hummus.

Instead of high-calorie, sugary drinks, try offering these refreshing choices:

  • Ice water with cucumber and lemon slices.
  • Sparkling water “spiked” with a dash of 100% fruit juice.
  • Fresh squeezed lemonade with a small amount of sugar.
  • Black or green unsweetened tea.

Cookouts should be enjoyed in the company of family and friends, and not create a stressful environment that wreaks havoc on your health goals. Enjoy trying the variety of substitutions provided, and don’t be afraid to make healthier changes to your family favorite recipes!

Reviewed: 11/13

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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

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