10 Ways to Host a Healthy Cookout

5 minute read

By Dorathy Gass

One of the best ways to make memories over the warmer months is inviting friends and family over to break some bread, share some laughs, and enjoy activities in the sun. Start a search today to explore ten ways to host a healthy cookout.

From trying to figure out a menu that will satisfy everyone’s taste buds, to ensuring the house is in order for company; organizing a summer gathering can be a daunting task. Here’s how to keep things orderly and fun!

Break out the grill

It’s a well-known fact that barbequing is a healthier way to cook up your meats, so firing up the grill will not only keep your house a bit cooler by doing the cooking outside, but it is also a healthier alternative when it comes to preparing meals. Still, it’s important to note that BBQing “muscle” meat like fish, pork, chicken and beef over heat can create carcinogens referred to as heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Studies in the past have linked HCAs to bladder, lung, breast, pancreatic, stomach, as well as colorectal cancers.

To decrease the exposure to these harmful HCAs, avoid placing meat directly on flames, flip them more frequently, and place meat in a microwave for about two minutes before laying them on the grill; this decreases high heat. Additionally, ensure to remove any blackened or charred areas on the meat before eating or serving them to guests.

Serve a light appetizer before the main meal

Before you even start grilling, offer up some healthy appetizers to guests so they aren’t ravenous when it comes to the main meal. Being overly hungry will only cause everyone to over-indulge. Lay out some assorted veggies with hummus or fruits with low-fat yogurt for you and your guests to snack on while waiting for dinner. Fruits and veggies taste so much better in the summer, and you can find a wide selection at your local farmer’s market.

Pile on those veggies

Speaking of vegetables, there’s no better way to turn a simple BBQ into a healthy cookout like increase your veggie serving. If you’re  serving up hamburgers, ensure there is plenty of lettuce, cucumbers, and tomatoes on hand to add a splash of freshness to the meal. Add a nice leafy-green salad filled with walnuts, strawberries, feta cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. Grilling veggies on skewers is also an excellent meal option for those who don’t eat meat, or just want to add some extra nutrients to their plate. Slice up peppers, eggplant, onions, button mushrooms, and cherry tomatoes in chunks, and simply string on to metal or wooden skewers to add some fun and flavor to your BBQ.

Spice things up

Speaking of flavor, rubs and marinades are a healthy alternative to adding a spark to your grilled meats or veggies. In fact, research has also revealed that placing these spices, which are rich in antioxidants, lowers carcinogen (HCA) development from the grill. Refrain from sugary and oily marinades from the store and simply mix together some garlic, onion, and a little lemon juice for a burst of flavor. Other homemade (and healthy) rubs and marinades to try this summer include: ginger, turmeric, rosemary, red wine, and even dried cherries, plums, and apples.

Drink up, buttercup!

Ensure you and your guests stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water during your gathering. Not only will this help when it comes to staying cool and refreshed, it will also aid in hunger. More often than not, people keep eating because they are dehydrated, and not because their stomach is empty. For those who want to add a little something extra to their healthy cookout, there are plenty of fun water drink combinations where fresh fruit, veggies, and herbs are added to give your H2O for a little kick.

Rethink your bun

Perhaps it’s time to ditch that hotdog or hamburger bun and eat your meat, au natural? If you’re  someone who can’t bear the thought of going bun-less at a BBQ, another option is to re-think the type of bun you buy and consume. Instead of reaching for that white, sesame-filled bun, try a whole wheat or whole grain option. They are just as tasty, and add B vitamins as well as iron to your cookout.

All those extras

Sometimes it’s not the burger or bun that kills the calorie count; it’s all those rich and creamy dressings people load onto their hamburger. Try and skip the cheese all together and refrain from reaching for mayo or ranch dressing. Instead, think about keeping it simple with some ketchup and mustard; or going extravagant with some salsa or barbeque sauce. Don’t forget to pile on the tomatoes and lettuce; however, if you are looking for something different that will add a punch in flavor and vitamins, reach for some spinach to top your burger with.

Dessert time

Skip the cheesecake, apple pie, and ice cream and reach for something a bit lighter, yet still just as sweet. An assortment of fruits that are in season with some low-fat whipped cream is a great option, or have some fun and create a fat-fat frozen yogurt bar filled with some different flavors, fruits, and nuts as toppings. The skies the limit when it comes to creativity.

Time to play

Add some fun outside games into the mix during your healthy cookout to keep every entertained. These can be played while the food is being prepared and after your meal. Not only will these activities get people moving, but it’s a great way for friends and family to bond and enjoy each other’s company. Play some volleyball; kick around a soccer ball; or have a Frisbee-throwing contest. Even a walk around the block after dinner is done is a great way to incorporate some exercise into your gathering.

What to do with leftovers

Most anyone hosting a backyard BBQ knows that there is always plenty of food left after the fact. Still, whatever you do, don’t toss those leftovers! After all, not only will you save money by eating them for lunch (and potentially dinner) the next day, your healthy cookout leftovers can help you continue the momentum of good eating into the next day or two; plus, it’ll save you the time to prepare another meal, since the work is already done. Ensure you have containers to store everything in before the big event arrives.

Dorathy Gass