Some of the best parts of summer are time spent with friends and family outdoors. Plus, there’s usually food involved! From large family picnics to neighborhood BBQs or grilling out for dinner, most of us cook and eat meals outside during the summer season. But a lot of the common foods for these events tend to be higher in fat, sugar, and sodium and lacking in fruits, veggies, and whole grains. Here are my tips for eating smart when grilling out while still enjoying your picnic favorites.
Make MyPlate meals.
- Like any other meal or snack, include foods from each food group on your outdoor meal menu.
- Throw some veggies or even fruit on the grill for more flavor and a balanced plate. Try grilling corn on the cob, zucchini or summer squash, sweet potatoes, or your family’s favorite veggies. Grilled fruit, like watermelon, peaches, or my favorite, pineapple, taste extra sweet and a little smoky. Yum!
Go lean with protein.
- Grill chicken thighs or lean turkey burgers instead of higher fat beef burgers or hotdogs. You can also try heart-healthy fish on the grill. Salmon is awesome, but a bit pricey. Tilapia and catfish are lower cost and taste great when grilled. You may need to use aluminum foil to keep them from sticking, though. If you don’t love fish by itself, try making grilled fish tacos with a squeeze of lime juice and some zesty slaw. It might be your new favorite taco recipe!
Make healthy ingredient swaps.
- Many traditional picnic foods are mayo-based. Instead of full fat mayonnaise, try using low-calorie mayo, plain low-fat yogurt, or even olive oil instead. You’ll save calories and fat, but still have all the flavor.
- Chips might be the easiest side dish, but they’re not the healthiest. Try serving crunchy veggies like carrot sticks, cucumber slices, or bell peppers instead of chips. Serve with low-fat dips like hummus, salsa, yogurt-based dips, or low-fat salad dressing. Homemade guacamole is also super tasty and full of heart-healthy fats.
- Choose whole grain options for buns, noodles for macaroni salad, or crackers. Whole grains have a nuttier flavor and more fiber and nutrients than refined grains.
Try new grilled recipes.
- Shake up the usual menu and try something new, like kebabs. Kebabs are just bite-sized foods threaded on skewers and grilled. You can use whatever protein or veggies you like. Cubed chicken, pork, or beef pairs well with peppers, onions, mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes. Marinate in a plastic bag (Italian dressing is a good option) in the fridge for at least an hour or overnight before grilling. It’s a little more work than grilling hot dogs, so recruit your kids or friends to help assemble the skewers.
Grill once, eat twice.
- Since you already have hot coals, cook a large batch of protein or veggies and eat them later. You can store leftovers in the fridge and reheat and eat later in the week or freeze for later.
Fruit for dessert!
- Avoid the sugary desserts and keep it simple with sliced fruit for a sweet end to the meal. Watermelon or cantaloupe are great options. Frozen grapes are a wonderful treat on a hot day. With a little more effort, you can make frozen homemade popsicles that your kids will go crazy for.
Nutrition doesn’t have to go out the window when summertime rolls around. There are many ways to eat smart and enjoy outdoor meals this summer. What changes have you made to serve healthier foods at your outdoor meals?
In case you missed it, I talked about these strategies in a Facebook Live video earlier today. Check it out and hear the suggestions of our Facebook friends or share your tips.