Ah, the summer cookout. A bounty of mouthwatering foods, usually complemented by trash-talking badminton, mosquitos, and if you’re really lucky, a Slip N Slide. But it can also pose a challenge to those who are on a mission to “eat healthy.”
We asked registered dietitian Jamie Allers, MS, a registered dietitian with Hartford HealthCare’s Digestive Health Institute, for some tips on how to successfully navigate that picnic table.
“Let’s preface this by saying that, just like with holidays or special celebrations, there are times when you don’t have to expect yourself to be perfect with the diet you are following,” Allers says. “Allow yourself flexibility in these moments. Don’t pressure yourself or feel guilty if you go outside your normal choices.”
And as much as you enjoy the food at a cookout, Allers says, “enjoy the time. Socialize, Talk. Slow down your eating so you give your body time to tell your brain it’s full.”
Proteins are good.
If it’s summertime, that means the grill is fired up.
“Watch your saturated fat intake,” Allers advises. “That includes processed foods like hot dogs, sausage, kielbasa and red meat. Lean more toward chicken, fish, and grilled vegetables.”
As for how the meats are prepared?
It’s true that a lot of commercial barbecue sauces and marinades have added salt and other additives. “But there are a lot of really good options on the market these days. Read the labels. And remember that really, it’s a very small amount that sticks to the food.”
Side dishes can be tricky.
Cookout side dishes are often heavy on the mayo – which might taste good, but isn’t so great for your heart.
“Build your plate,” Allers says. “First look for all the vegetables, the tossed salads, the vinegar-based coleslaw, the grilled veggies. Fill your plate with those. Then take a corner for protein, and a corner for the potato or macaroni salad or other indulgent side dish.”
And if it’s a potluck, be the person who volunteers to bring the vegetables, Allers says.
Dessert can be a minefield.
If you only get Aunt Mary’s brownies at the family cookout each July, then by all means have a brownie, Allers says. But cookout desserts are a great chance to use fresh summer fruits in interesting ways: grilled, either in slices or kebabs, paired with Italian ice, or in a colorful fruit salad.
“And again, be the person who brings the fruit option,” Allers says. “Fruit’s natural sweetness can be a great complement to the other options.”