In the summer, cookouts are a given - especially with Independence Day coming up. But if you’re trying to eat healthy, you may not look forward to the smorgasbord of food options that are usually available at cookouts. There’s usually plenty of sweet treats, along with high-carb pasta salads and buns, greasy meats and high-calorie beverages. So how do you attend a cookout, have fun and still choose food that’s good for you and won’t derail your health goals? Breathe easy - we’ve got your guide to choosing healthy foods at a cookout right here.
Eat something before leaving the house.
Before leaving for the party, make yourself a healthy snack. Save some room so you can still eat at the cookout and socialize, but try not to arrive starving, which will make you more apt to overfill your plate and end up eating way more than you’d like. Have some yogurt and some walnuts - something with protein that will keep you fuller longer. Also, try not to fast all day in anticipation of the food and calories you’re going to eat at the cookout. Keep to a regular eating schedule and keep your metabolism up - as good as cookout food is, it’s still just one meal.
Avoid drinking too many alcoholic drinks.
Of course kicking back and relaxing is the goal of any cookout, but indulging in alcohol (especially in the heat) can leave you feeling sick and can up your calorie intake exponentially. As good as it may sound, try to skip that first drink immediately after you arrive, which can set the tone for the rest of the evening. Instead grab water or unsweetened iced tea to start. In fact, have a glass of water for every alcoholic beverage you drink and you’ll stay hydrated and keep yourself from over-indulging.
Load your plate with raw vegetables.
Chances are someone will have a plate of raw veggies - crudite like carrots, cucumber, pepper slices, radishes, celery, cauliflower, broccoli, etc. When you’re headed through the buffet loading your plate, these are your best friends. Fill up the majority of your plate with a colorful mix of veggies - leave room for your protein and a few other treats of course - but these vegetables should take up a significant portion. They’re crisp, colorful and are probably the healthiest thing you can eat at a cookout. Instead of reaching for a bag of chips to crunch, grab something raw!
Is there salad? Grab some of that, too.
Green salads are also often found at cookouts - just be wary that it isn’t drenched in salad dressing. Steer clear of the pasta salad, too, unless it's mostly vegetables. Opt for a lightly dressed salad, or one with the dressing on the side. If you can, find one that includes nuts, olive oil, tomatoes and avocado - you’re getting a healthy dose of mono-saturated fats that are good for your heart and immune system, too!
Choose lean protein.
Burgers, brats and hot dogs may be your only options for protein at a cookout, but occasionally you’ll attend one where chicken, fish or veggie burgers may be offered. If you can go for the latter three which have fewer calories and are less greasy. If you can’t get a lean protein at a cookout, try skipping the cheese on your burger or the bun on your hot dog. Remember to fill your plate with veggies and salad (but not pasta salad!).
Fruit for dessert.
There’s also usually an admirable spread of sweet treats to finish off your meal at a cookout. Brownies, cookies, pie….the list goes on. But when you’re trying to reach your goals of a healthier lifestyle, going for the baked goods can derail your diet pretty quickly. Instead, have some fruit - it’s sweet and fresh and might just take the edge off the craving you had as soon as you saw the plate of cupcakes. If you just can’t pass up the dessert table, survey them all and choose a small portion of your favorite.
Bring something healthy.
If you’re not sure what kind of food will be offered at the cookout and you’re still not confident in your ability to control your choices, bring something healthy that you know you’ll eat. Cut up a tray of raw veggies to share, mix up a green salad and bring along a homemade salad dressing for the side, buy some veggie burgers to throw on the grill alongside the regular ones or make a fruit salad with fresh summer berries and melon. That way, you’ll have some control of the food choices you make.
Remember, the name of the game at any cookout is to have fun and socialize. Relax and be in the moment. Try to forget about the food and concentrate on the people you’re with. Building healthy relationships is part of building a healthy lifestyle, so enjoy yourself!