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Tips for a Healthy Cookout

Contributors: Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN

Reviewers: Academy Nutrition Information Services Team

Published: August 14, 2019

Reviewed: February 19, 2024

friends grilling vegetables and setting a picnic table
KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images Plus

Looking to revamp your next barbecue? Think beyond the traditional favorites. Instead, build a healthful selection of lean protein foods paired with seasonal fruits and vegetables. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

Go Lean with Protein

  • Choose options that are lower in saturated fat, such as lean cuts of beef and pork, skinless poultry or fish.
  • Switch things up with ground turkey burgers. Turkey burgers can be as lean as 99% fat-free. Boost flavor by adding cilantro, shallots or chili sauce to spice things up. Or, mix in feta cheese, Kalamata olives, oregano and pepper and serve on a pita with fresh tomatoes and cucumbers for a Greek-style burger. Just remember to use a food thermometer to ensure ground turkey reaches a safe internal temperature of 165°F.
  • Alternatively, grill tofu, tempeh or bean-based burgers as vegetarian and vegan options. 

Roast Veggies

  • Baste vegetables such as red peppers, corn on the cob, eggplant, summer squash, sweet potatoes, cherry tomatoes, mushrooms or onions with olive oil and season with herbs.
  • Place directly on a hot grill (or a piece of tin foil) until they are tender and brown.
  • Surprise guests with grilled marinated Portobello mushrooms. Marinate mushrooms in balsamic vinegar, olive oil, garlic, whole ground mustard and fresh herbs for about 30 minutes. Grill mushrooms for about 5 minutes on each side. Serve with tomato and onion slices, lettuce, and with or without toasted bun.

Try These Easy Salads

  • Make caprese. Slice tomatoes and layer a small, thin piece of mozzarella cheese and fresh basil on each tomato slice, sprinkle with olive oil and lightly salt.
  • Combine fresh fruit with fennel. Thinly slice fresh fennel and let it soak in freshly squeezed lemon juice for 20 minutes. Toss sliced peaches into fennel and add rice vinegar, lemon zest and a light sprinkling of salt and pepper.
  • Whip up a quick avocado salad. Cube avocados and toss with vinaigrette, fresh herbs, capers, sliced green onions and roasted pine nuts.

Grill Up Dessert

  • Cook fruit kabobs, pineapple slices or peach halves on low heat until the fruit is hot and slightly golden for a tasty and nutritious dessert.
  • Grill watermelon for 30 seconds on each side to bring out more flavor. You also could carve out a watermelon to use as a bowl for fruit salad!
  • Marinate strawberries in balsamic vinegar for 30 minutes, toss in fresh mint and serve a refreshing savory dessert.

Don't forget, there are fun and easy ways to add physical activity to your cookout, too. Set up some outdoor games such as croquet or volleyball. Or, invite everyone to take a short walk before you serve dessert.

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