Here in the United States, this coming weekend is Labor Day. And, for most Americans, it means the last, big hurrah of summer. Most schools are back in session and most all public pools here in the north close for the season. So it’s one of the last weekends to officially have cookouts and picnics.

If you’re trying to lose weight and eat healthy, cookouts can be a big stumbling block. The high calorie foods and plentiful supply of alcohol can make it really difficult to eat healthy and if you’re not careful, can completely derail your weight loss efforts. However, if you go to a cookout with a solid plan and follow a few simple steps, you can transform it into a healthy eating experience. In this article, I am going to provide you with this plan and discuss 12 ways you can enjoy a healthy cookout. Simply follow each of the steps listed and you’ll be able to attend this last big summer bash, without derailing your healthier lifestyle.

1) Clean The Grill

This should go without saying, but, one of the simplest but most effective ways to make any cookout healthier is to clean the grill before each use. Many people forget to do this and over time charred, burnt foods build up at the bottom of the grill. These charred, burnt foods contain carcinogenic compounds which then get released into fresh food, every time the grill is used. By cleaning the grill, you remove these carcinogenic compounds and prevent them from entering the foods you eat.

2) Grill On A Low Heat

Another quick and easy way to make any cookout healthier is to turn down the heat on the grill. Grilling meats on the maximum heat leads to the formation of carcinogenic compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs). Grilling meats on a lower heat reduces the formation of HCAs and cuts the cancer risk associated with grilling.

3) Go For Natural Meats

One of the main reasons that cookouts are usually unhealthy is that most of the meats offered are processed. As a rule, processed meats contain low quality ingredients and are higher in calories than natural meats. By choosing natural meats instead of processed meats, you get a much higher quality meat that is packed with nutrients and lower in calories.

4) Marinate Your Meat

Marinating your meat has multiple benefits. First, it adds plenty of flavor and makes eating the meat much more enjoyable. Secondly, the ingredients which make up healthy marinades (such as lemon juice, olive oil, herbs and spices) are all rich in antioxidants and studies have shown that these antioxidants can offer further protection from the cancer causing HCAs discussed above. Finally, the ingredients in healthy marinades contain plenty of nutrients which each have their own specific health benefits. 

5) Give Fish A Try

Fish doesn’t usually get a sceond glance, or even a first one, at cookouts. However, it’s a great choice which contains plenty of healthy fats and fat soluble vitamins. Like meat, it also contains a lot less calories than processed cookout foods. If you’re struggling for ideas, cod, monkfish, salmon, sea bass and trout are all tasty fish options and a fantastic addition to any cookout.

6) Fill Up On Vegetables

Vegetables are another healthy option that often get neglected at cookouts. However, if you want to lose weight you should definitely give grilled vegetables a try. They’re surprisingly tasty and contain a fraction of the calories in meat or fish. Additionally, they’re absolutely loaded with health boosting nutrients which do wonders for your body. If you’re not a fan of grilled vegetables, go for fresh salad instead. It’s equally nutritious and low in calories but provides you with an alternative taste.

7) Go Easy On The Processed Condiments

You might think that adding a couple tablespoons of mayonnaise or ketchup to your dish won’t have much of an effect on your waistline. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case with a couple of tablespoons of ketchup containing 50 calories and a couple of tablespoons of mayonnaise containing 100 calories. This may not sound like much but if you go to 10 cookouts over summer it equates to 1,000 calories, just from processed condiments. To avoid these extra calories, skip the processed condiments and try making your own healthy, natural condiments instead. There are plenty of nutrient packed recipes available online and most of them contain less than half the calories of their processed counterparts. 

8) Limit Or Avoid the G-Free Bread

If you’re trying to lose weight, bread is something that you need to avoid. An average glutenous bread roll contains around 100 calories with a gluten-free roll weighing in at 237. Having just two or three bread rolls at each cookout can really add up. Instead of bread based dishes, go for natural meat and vegetable kebabs or natural cuts of meat with fresh salad. Both of these choices are highly nutritious and much lower in calories than the bread based options. Or better still, go ahead and have your sandwich, just have it on a lettuce wrap. 

9) Grill Up Some Fruit For Dessert

If sweet dishes are your weakness when it comes to healthy eating, grilled fruit is the perfect solution. Fruits are healthy, natural, full of nutrients and most importantly, lower in calories than almost any other dessert out there. Simply chop up a selection of your favorite fruits, coat them in a small amount of olive oil and place them on the grill for a unique, tasty, health boosting dessert that’s very kind to your waistline.

10) Avoid Sugary Drinks

Sugary drinks are another thing that you need to avoid if you want to be successful with your healthy lifestyle efforts. They contain large amounts of calories and drinking just a couple of glasses during the course of an afternoon can add some serious calories to your day. For example, an average 12 ounce glass of coke contains around 140 calories and if you drink more than one glass, this can quickly add up. Instead of drinking coke try drinking fruit infused water or homemade iced tea. Both options provide sweet, ice cold refreshment without the huge amount of calories found in sugary drinks. 

11) Go For Light Gluten-Free Beer

Like sugary drinks, beer is a beverage that can add a lot of calories to your day if you’re not careful.  The good news is that light beers offer a perfect compromise. On average, they contain 30% fewer calories than regular beers but if you pick a good brand they still taste great and provide you with the same classic, ice cold refreshment. 

12) Prepare Some Low Calorie Cocktails

If you’re not a fan of beer, iced tea or fruit infused water, low calorie cocktails are an excellent alternative that provide you with the sweetness and ice cold refreshment of sugary drinks combined and the relaxing properties of beer. There are plenty of low calorie cocktails recipes online but if you’re struggling for ideas, give one of these 10 low calorie cocktail recipes a try.

Summary

Living and eating healthy can be difficult at the best of times and the high calorie temptations offered at cookouts don’t make it any easier. Before we know it, we will be in the midst of holiday preparations. So in honor of this last summer bash, with a little planning and preparation you can make your cookout healthy.

The 12 tips I offer in this article will slash the amount of calories you consume, increase the nutritional value of the foods you eat, ensure your continued success with your summer weight loss efforts and most importantly allow you to enjoy yourself and eat healthy when attending cookouts.