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Tasty Tips for Healthier Summer Cookouts

posted Jun 5, 2015, 6:15 AM by Julia Quam

One of the many pleasures of summer is firing up the grill and cooking outside rather than sweltering in a hot, stuffy kitchen. Whether you’re planning to grill for your family, host a barbecue, or attend a cookout hosted by a friend or family member, outdoor cooking can actually enhance your health if you follow our tips.

Grilling: Everything tastes better on the grill, but grilling meat is not without risk because cancer-causing compounds are formed when meat is cooked at high temperatures. There are a few ways you can lessen your exposure to these compounds without giving up grilling:

  • Marinate your meat. Marinades significantly reduce the formation of cancer-causing compounds and also increase flavor and tenderize meat. Many store-bought marinades are high in sugar and salt, but you can make your own with vinegar or citrus juice and olive oil, or try one of these creative marinades from the American Institute for Cancer Research.
  • Choose alternatives to red or processed meat. Red meat, like beef, pork, or lamb, and processed meat, like hot dogs or sausage, form the most cancer-causing compounds when grilled. Decrease your exposure by choosing chicken or fish. Our Chicken and Vegetable Skewers with Meyer Lemon Salsa are a good choice. Fruits and vegetables don’t form these compounds when grilled, so veggie kebabs, mushroom burgers, or grilled fruit are even better alternatives. Check out the grilled peaches recipe in our June newsletter for a unique dessert.
  • Avoid charring meat. More cancer-causing compounds are formed when meat is charred or smoked, so try to avoid this. Choosing leaner cuts and trimming fat can help you avoid flare-ups that may char your meat.  

Sides: Many side dish favorites like potato salad and coleslaw are high in calories. Try these tips for lighter sides:

  • Choose sides with fruits, vegetables, and vinegar- or citrus-based dressings.  Our Summer Squash Salad and Savory Watermelon Salad would make great sides for your next barbecue!
  • Substitute Greek yogurt for mayo. Greek yogurt adds the creamy texture you crave with less calories and fat. To get started, try our recipes for lightened up potato and macaroni salad.
  • Grilled corn on the cob is a favorite at summer cookouts, but dowsing it in butter and salt is less than ideal. For a lighter alternative, try topping grilled corn on the cob with lime juice or spicing it up with cayenne pepper.

Drinks: Ice cold sweet tea, lemonade, or soda may be summer cookout favorites, but these beverages add excess calories and sugar that you don’t need. Instead, try one of our favorite summer beverages:

  • Flavor your water. Add cucumber slices, herbs, and/or fruit slices to a pitcher of water and let it sit in the fridge for a few hours before your cookout for a fresh take on regular old water.
  • Sparkling water can make water feel like a fancy treat. Add frozen berries for a festive, slightly sweet treat or try a squeeze of lemon, lime, or fresh orange juice.
  • Homemade iced black or green tea is tasty and refreshing on a hot summer day. Tea is full of antioxidants and has zero calories if you don’t add sweetener. If you make it yourself, you can also choose to add a little bit of sugar or honey for a lightly sweetened version. 


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