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Healthiest Food to Eat at a Summer Cookout

Lighten your summer with these healthy barbecue tips

Independence Day celebration outside

Whether you're firing up your own grill or attending a friend's barbecue, summer is the time to slow down, relax, and enjoy good food with loved ones. But, when visiting a friend's barbecue, sometimes the only food choices are hotdogs, potato salad, chips, and soda.

It might feel impossible to stay on track with your healthy eating goals when you're hanging out at cookouts all summer long. It is possible to stick with your health goals and still have fun, it just takes thoughtful preparation. Stay on track with your goals by taking a healthy approach to barbecue season.

Bring something that's good for you

Everybody loves a good barbecue! But if you're trying to watch your weight, big food spreads may challenge and tempt you. If you bring a healthy potluck dish, you know that you'll be able to enjoy something nutritious, no matter how tempting all the other options are. Need ideas of what to bring? VA has many delicious recipes for you to try that won't expand your waistband. Making a Patriotic Quinoa Salad is a great option. A few other suggestions: Collard Greens with Almonds, Broccoli Salad, or even Fried Peaches.

For video demonstrations of healthy recipes, check out VA's Healthy Teaching Kitchen YouTube channel.

Pay attention to portions

Barbecues are centered around eating, so food is often overabundant. You don't have to deny yourself your favorite barbecue classics, you just need to control the portion sizes. When you fill your plate, be sure your serving of food is no more than two inches high.

  • The largest section of your plate should be filled with non-starchy vegetables such as: lettuce, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, peppers, and tomatoes.

  • The other half of the plate can be divided into two sections. Put grains and starchy foods such as potatoes, pasta, peas, beans, and corn in one of the sections and lean protein in the other. Fruit and dairy can be added as your individual meal plan permits.

Move away from the spread once you've filled your plate. It's easy to keep picking and nibbling if you are standing near the food. Cookouts can last for several hours, so pay attention to the time and try to eat within an hour of your typical mealtime.

Take the focus off food

Rather than making food the focus of the party, have fun connecting with friends and family. Eating healthy with others can sometimes be difficult. Here are some tips to avoid overeating this BBQ season:

  • Focus on the conversation and those you are with. Remind yourself that you are there for the company, not just the food.

  • Put your fork down in between every bite.

  • Spend more time talking than eating.

  • Drink a lot of water during the party.

  • Try eating a small, healthy snack before leaving home so that you are not tempted to overeat.

Keep track

Keeping a food journal helps you track what you are eating each day. Your My HealtheVet account gives you access to an online Food Journal tool to help you to achieve your nutrition goals.

Read More

VA Healthy Teaching Kitchen (YouTube)

MOVE! Weight Management Program

Veterans Recipes and Cookbooks (VA Nutrition and Food Services)


Created July 1, 2019