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5 Tips for a Healthier Cookout

Last updated: May 25, 2023

In Wisconsin, grilling season is a long-awaited treat for many of us. The smell of savory delights cooking on an open flame is enough to make anyone’s mouth water.

Add to that the joy of gathering outdoors with friends and family on a warm day, and you’ve got the makings of a perfect summer get-together. It’s tempting to indulge at a cookout, but it’s possible to enjoy the food and festivities in healthier ways.

When you think of grilled fare, burgers, brats, and hot dogs, might come to mind. While it might be OK to enjoy those in moderation, you can also fire up your grill to make healthier dishes.

Ashley Krautkramer, a Registered Dietitian and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist, shares her top five tips for a healthier cookout. Follow these steps and enjoy grilling out without compromising your health goals.

1. Stick to The Plan

If you’re trying to keep your calories in check, consider eating your main meal before you go to the gathering, Krautkramer says.

“If you show up hungry, it’ll be more difficult to make healthier choices,” she says. “Stick to your plan and eat before you leave the house.”

At the party, you can then focus on enjoying lighter fare such as fresh fruit and veggies.

2. Eat the Rainbow

Summertime brings with it a bounty of fresh produce. Stock up on peak-season fruits and veggies. Then get creative finding fun and tasty ways to use them. Bonus points: Shop your local farmers market to support community-based agriculture.

When planning your menu, put the emphasis on veggies. Asparagus, broccoli, carrots, corn, eggplant, yellow squash, zucchini, bell peppers, sweet onions, and portobello mushrooms can all be contenders for playing a starring role in your summertime feast.

If you’re asked to bring a dish to pass, consider taking along a fresh salad — with one caveat.

“Take it easy on mayonnaise-heavy salads, and instead go for flavorful salads that feature fresh vegetables,” Krautkramer says.

3. Try Meat-“Less” Mains

“Steer clear of marbled meats, which indicate a higher fat content.” Krautkramer says. “When it comes to meat entrees, your healthiest options are lean meats like chicken and seafood.”

Another option is to put the veggies onto a skewer and mix them with a few chunks of chicken, steak, or shrimp to create a kebab. Brush with oil, a light salad dressing, or fruit juice, and enjoy.

“Make plant-based food more of the focus of your meal versus meat,” Krautkramer says.

4. Careful with Red and Processed Meats

Red meats and processed meats — which include hot dogs, sausages, and bratwurst — can up your risk for certain types of cancer. The American Cancer Society recommends eating fish, poultry, and beans more often than red meat. If you choose to eat processed meats, limit how much you consume.

5. Rethink Dessert

Dessert doesn’t need to only be calorie- or fat-laden treats like ice cream.

Grilled fruits can make a delicious dessert. Sprinkle fresh fruits with a small amount of cinnamon for a tasty-guilt free treat. You can also grill slices of angel food cake for one to three minutes until brown, and then top with chilled berries.

Grilling offers a great way to have fun times outdoors, as well as to bring out some new flavors in food. As you’re planning your menu, make sure to put more food from your garden or the farmers market on the table.

Bring on summer!

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