7 Tips for Eating Healthy at a Cookout

Staying healthy and sticking with your clean eating goals throughout the summer months can be a bit of a challenge, especially with a calendar full of parties, cookouts and vacations. My latest group of 28 Day Transformation clients started last week and a couple of them expressed concern about sticking with the program during the summer — particularly at cookouts. I put together a few tips for them and since I know many of you will be celebrating the 4th of July this weekend and attending (or hosting) a cookout I thought I’d share them here on EBF as well.


Alright, so here you are — how to eat healthy at a cookout WITHOUT feeling deprived!

Bring a healthy dish to share. This one is a no brainer and it’s my number one tip. If you bring a dish you’ll know for sure that there’s at least one healthy option on the menu. Plus, it’s fun to introduce your friends and family to a new recipe.

Need ideas of what to bring? Any of these healthy quinoa salad recipes would be great. A few other suggestions: Black Bean Succotash, Vegan Broccoli Raisin SaladMayo-Free Potato Salad, Quinoa and Black Bean Pasta Salad and/or one of these healthy BBQ side dishes!

Eat a balanced, satisfying meal. Load up your plate with a portion of lean protein, lots of veggies, whole grains and healthy fats. Skip or go light on the processed carbs like chips, crackers and bread as well as heavy side items like traditional potato and pasta salads. If there’s an item you’re really craving, go for it! It’s better to eat it and feel satisfied rather than leaving the cookout feeling deprived as this typically leads to binging later.

Skip seconds. Fill your plate once, using the tip above as a guide and try to stick with one portion rather than going back for seconds right away. It takes your brain about 20 minutes to register your meal and feel full. If after 20 mintutes you’re still hungry — go ahead and get more protein and veggies to fill you up.

Stay hydrated. Drinking enough water is always important, but it’s even more essential during the summer months when it’s hot and we’re sweating more. Bring a reusable water bottle with you so you remember to refill it and stay hydrated.

Indulge, but not in everything. One strategy I find helpful is to choose between having alcohol or dessert. If you want to indulge in wine or a cocktail, forego dessert. If dessert is calling your name, skip the cocktail.

Don’t hang by the food table. Eat your meal and enjoy it, but try not to hang around the food afterward. You’ll likely end up munching just because the food is there not because you’re actually hungry.

Take the focus off the food. Rather than make food the focus of the party, have fun playing games and connecting with friends and family. Play lawn games (like croquet, volleyball, kickball, badminton, cornhole, etc.) or put on your bathing suit and splash around with the kids if it’s a pool party.

If you’re doing the cooking or hosting, make a healthy menu!!

  • Instead of chips and dip, serve a veggie tray with Healthy Guacamole and hummus to start.
  • Grill some lean protein — skinless chicken breasts, turkey burgers, fish tacos, tofu and/or veggie burgers are great.
  • Grill up some veggies as a side — we love grilled sweet potato wedges.
  • Make a couple light side salads — I listed a bunch above.
  • Serve up a fresh and seasonal fruit salad for dessert.
  • Skip the soda and opt for water (make it fancy by infusing it with fresh herbs and fruit), sparkling water (I love LaCroix), unsweetened iced tea or homemade low-sugar lemonade.

I have a TON of great recipes for cookout dishes. I’ve linked a few throughout the post but you can always check out the full Recipe Index to find more. 

I hope these tips help, but it’s also important to remember to relax and enjoy all of your summertime events without getting too wrapped up in following specific rules. If you eat healthy 80% of the time, you have wiggle room to indulge. Cookouts and parties should be about relaxing a little and having FUN!

Have an amazing holiday weekend if you’re celebrating the 4th. Isaac and I will be traveling to North Carolina for the weekend to hang with Alyssa and her fam. I’ll be sharing the fun through Instagram and Snapchat so be sure to follow me — my username is eatingbirdfood on both. 🙂

Do you have any additional tips for eating healthy at a cookout to share?

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    1. Thomas Clarence
      December 10, 2020 AT 5:19 pm

      It’s great that you mentioned that you should opt for water when you are eating at a cookout. This upcoming weekend, my friends and I are planning on meeting at a barbecue restaurant so that we can see how each others’ lives are going. I am trying to be careful with my diet right now, so I will definitely have to go with water with the meal.

    2. bemomstrong
      July 6, 2015 AT 6:32 am

      Hope you had a great 4th with Alyssa!

      1. Brittany Mullins
        July 6, 2015 AT 9:39 am

        Thanks lady – we had such a blast! Hope you had a lovely 4th as well.

    3. Jane
      July 3, 2015 AT 11:00 pm

      It’s better if you can have a healthy cookout. Having a healthy diet is good for your body and health.

    4. Millie | Add A Little
      July 3, 2015 AT 1:59 am

      My biggest tip is to eat ALLL the veggies and bring a coleslaw for the party made with yoghurt so everyone can eat it without feeling bogged down by mayo!

    5. athleticavocado
      July 2, 2015 AT 7:29 pm

      these are perfect tips for this weekend!thanks for sharing 🙂

    6. Lauren @ The Bikini Experiment
      July 2, 2015 AT 5:22 pm

      Cookouts can be a challenge, but on the plus side it’s a great time of year for salads, veggies and fruits. So hopefully that helps a little bit in finding a balance. Good tips!

    7. Erin @ Her Heartland Soul
      July 2, 2015 AT 3:27 pm

      Great tips! I’m really hoping to enjoy in moderation on Saturday!

    8. Alex @ get big, go to work
      July 2, 2015 AT 2:55 pm

      My favorite tip is also your first one!! I love to bring a new dish to a cookout we attend 1. to know I have at least one health-ish dish I will like 2. share with others and expose them to new things. I love when they go over well and people rave about the recipe and want it for themselves!

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