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Cook Out Tonight

Check out these tips to make your cookout diet-friendly and full of flavor.

Summer is here and it’s the perfect time to plan a cookout—friends are relaxing on the deck, the kids are playing in the yard, and the grill is fired up. No one can wait to eat the hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, baked beans, and potato chips! Wait a minute…maybe a cookout doesn’t sound like a good idea after all. Unfortunately, many traditional cookout foods are high in calories, sodium, and unhealthy fats. The good news is that with a little tweaking, a cookout can be healthy while being delicious at the same time.

Those of you looking for ways to make your cookout a little more diet-friendly, try a few of these simple swaps.

Swap 1: Appetizers

While the meat is grilling, set out some appetizers for guests to snack on. Serve some baked tortilla chips with guacamole, hummus, or salsa. Prepare a veggie tray of colorful raw veggies and low-fat dip. Set out deviled eggs made with low-fat mayonnaise. Or slice up some fresh tomatoes served with mozzarella, basil, and balsamic vinaigrette.

Swap 2: Lean Meats

Hamburgers and hot dogs aren’t the only meats you can grill, so think outside of the box. Why not grill up some fish filets? Salmon, tuna, and grouper grill up great! Chicken breasts are also an excellent lean protein option. Marinate them ahead of time, rub on seasoning, or brush on barbeque sauce. To make sure they’re healthy as possible, be sure to remove the skin before enjoying. Lean pork, beef tenderloin, veggie burgers, or turkey burgers also make the list of diet-friendly cookout favorites.

Swap 3: Sides

Instead of high-calorie sides, why not try something new? This summer, throw some vegetables on the grill. Yellow squash, eggplant, zucchini, onions, peppers, mushrooms, and corn on the cob all work wonderfully on the grill. Sprinkle on some lemon juice, olive oil, salt, or lemon pepper for extra flavor. Some vegetables do well with a marinade. Set them directly on the grill, wrap them in aluminum foil, or skewer them on a kebab and grill until tender.

You can also make a side salad with fresh leafy greens and vegetables; fruit; or corn, tomatoes, and black beans. Instead of French fries or potato chips, bake some potatoes or better yet, make sweet potato wedges sprinkled with seasoning and olive oil.

Like potato salad? It’s typically prepared with high-fat mayonnaise, but there are healthier ways to make this cookout staple. Why not mix potatoes with Greek yogurt and ricotta, olive oil and parsley, or reduced-fat mayonnaise?

Swap 4: Creative Condiments

Ketchup is full of added sugars and mayonnaise is high in calories. Mustard is a healthy option, but if you’re looking for a little more flavor, why not top your meat with salsa, sliced avocado, hot sauce, or pesto? It’ll give you the flavor you seek without the unneeded calories you’re trying to avoid.

Swap 5: Drinks

Calories add up fast with sugary drinks or alcoholic beverages. Instead of soda, sweet tea, or cocktails, cool off with ice water with lemon slices, fresh-squeezed lemonade sweetened with a little sugar, unsweetened ice tea, or sparkling water mixed with fruit juice.

Swap 6: Dessert

Cakes, pies, and ice cream may not be on the menu, but there are other sweet treat options. You can’t have a cookout without watermelon slices. Fruit kebabs aren’t just yummy, but they look pretty, too. Add berries, grapes, melon, and pineapple to a skewer and enjoy! Or try out frozen yogurt, sherbet, Italian ice, or a frozen fruit pop for a refreshing, low-calorie, summer dessert option.

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