Hosting a healthy cookout your guests will love

July 3, 2018 Providence Health Team

Food served during cookouts isn’t always the healthiest. Ribs slathered in barbeque sauce, sloppy joes and greasy burgers usually come to mind. But as mouthwatering as it all sounds, they’re not the best options for your keeping your body nutritionally fit, especially if you like to host cookouts often.

Thankfully, the return of summer brings a whole host of seasonal and fresh foods you can incorporate at your next backyard dinner party. You can even try swapping out less healthy options for their guilt-free (but similar tasting) alternatives.

When hosting your next picnic or barbeque, plan ahead by taking note of your guest’s dietary restrictions. You may want to accommodate a variety of preferences including gluten-free and vegetarian or vegan options. Here are some easy, tasty menu-planning tips to spruce up your next outdoor meal and kick start your healthy summer eating habits:


Start your meal by introducing fresh vegetables. You’ll want to focus on foods that are low in calories and that contain essential nutrients. Visit your local farmers market and choose vegetables that are in season and fresh. Try building these foods into your menu:

Tomatoes – High in lycopene and vitamins C, K, and A. Lycopene has also been known to play a role in reducing cancer.

Garlic – A powerful antioxidant, garlic is also an anti-fungal and acts as a natural antibacterial.

Onions – Onions contain 10 percent or more of the daily recommended value of vitamin C, B-6, and manganese.

Use these items as a base for your recipe ideas. They are great with avocado for healthy guacamole, or chopped up with fresh basil and served on pita bread or bruschetta.  


Your first instinct may be to go heavy on the entrees, but the main goal of any healthy cookout should be to keep your menu lean, clean and fresh. That means limiting the amount of sauce and calorie-packed dressings and opting for light seasoning instead. Try these swaps:

Turkey burgers – Instead of a beef patty, choose a lean meat. A turkey burger made from turkey breast has less calories and fat compared to other parts of the bird.

Portobello mushrooms – A great alternative to meat in general, Portobello mushrooms are rich, earthy, and filling. Portobello mushrooms are also known cancer-fighters and can protect the immune system. They are lower in calories and free from fat and sodium, unlike their meaty counterparts.

Grilled fish – Fish are a tasty option and don’t need a whole lot of seasoning. Salmon and tilapia are popular choices and develop a complex, smoky flavor once on the grill.


Mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese are high in calories and packed with sodium and fat. Opt for side dishes that offer more nutritional value like grilled vegetables or a side salad. You may want to invest in a vegetable grilling basket to make the cooking experience not only healthy but efficient. Here are some delicious, low-calorie side options:

Red peppers – Red peppers make a great side dish and fire up nicely on the grill. They contain more than 200 percent of your daily vitamin C intake and are full of antioxidants.

Potato salad – Better for you than mashed potatoes if you do it right, potato salad can be made with yogurt instead of fatty mayonnaise and incorporate healthy veggies like onions and celery.

Broccoli – Instead of serving coleslaw, try a healthier slaw version by swapping out mayonnaise out for yogurt and chopping up broccoli with cabbage and carrots. Broccoli is not only a great source of fiber, it contains collagen building vitamin C.


Ditch the ice cream and cake this summer and put delicious, seasonal fruit on your picnic table instead. There are so many options for turning fruit into your next favorite dessert. Here are just some of the ways you can do it:

Fresh fruit popsicles – An alternative to sugary ice cream, use a popsicle mold to experiment with different flavors and fruits. We like using hydrating coconut water as our base then adding in strawberries and heart-healthy blueberries.

Fruit kabobs – You can grill fruit too! Often the grill adds to the flavor of the fruit even more. Peaches, pineapples and watermelon make fantastic kabobs and are sweet enough on their own, without added sugar.

Remember, you’ll want to consume a balanced meal throughout your cookout. A healthy outdoor meal doesn’t have to be boring. The more vibrant the foods on your plate, the more opportunity you have to use the grill to bring out their delicious flavor.

Need ideas to get started? Check out this Mediterranean salad video from Chef Tse, this easy hummus recipe, or this tasty Thai chicken wrap.

Find more recipes and tips in the nutrition section of our blog.

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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.

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