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Branch Out at Your Cookout

By: Becca Young – Open Hand Atlanta Nutrition Intern

As the temperatures rise, the cover comes off𑁋the grill that is. Six out of 10 Americans own a grill which means there could be quite a few cookouts on your calendar this summer. Let’s [BB]Q up some ideas that will help to branch out at your cookouts this spring and summer. I like to think of myself as quite the barbecue connoisseur and cookout champ as a southern girl to my roots. I have learned a few things in my time here and there are just a few things to remember as you start planning your cookout.

  1. Plan the main attraction.
  2. Decide your non-negotiables.
  3. Choose your sides.
  4. Set the tone for the whole day.

Plan the Main Attraction

For most people a cookout is about the meat, from hamburgers to grilled shrimp to smoked meats to hot dogs. If you are wanting to add a little more health into your cookout, keep an eye out for leaner protein options such as skinless chicken breasts, skinless turkey breasts, pork loin, shrimp, fish, or tofu.

  • Once you know what protein you will be, you can decide what flavor profile you’re looking for. Using fresh herbs and spices is a fantastic way to take your cookout to the next level.
  • Be sure to season before you salt anything. Remember protein sources (like hot dogs) that are processed may already have salt on them! Keep in mind that the goal is 700mg or less sodium per meal.
  • If you’re looking for something lighter as the main course, go all the way out of the norm and try something new like grilled pizza.


Decide your non-negotiables

If you’re anything like me, there are some things at the cookout you just don't touch. Banana pudding is one of those for me. No matter what, I want all the sugar and goodness in my granny’s ‘nana pudding. Maybe for you it's your mom’s potato salad or your dad’s favorite home-made ice cream. It could be that picking fattier meat is non-negotiable. I know that sometimes you do just need a sliced brisket sandwich (which is the polar opposite of lean). It’s important to maintain family recipes or cultural traditions. By deciding the non-negotiable items, you can make changes to the rest of your menu.


Choose Your Sides

Choose a variety of color, texture, and cooking styles when picking what side dishes to include. I always like to make sure to have a variety of fresh veggies, cooked veggies, and fun starches!

  • I like lettuce, tomatoes, and onions to top any sandwiches or burgers. This can be a great way to add flavor and texture, also.
  • You could also choose to build a platter of raw veggies with other crunchy snacks and a creamy dip.
  • Lots of veggies are fun to grill. Veggie kebabs are a fun way to add lots of veggies at once. Tomatoes, peppers, onions, squash, zucchini, and mushrooms all can be grilled to perfection when seasoned with some oil and fresh herbs.
  • You can also try grilled corn as a great addition!
  • Try using a whole grain pasta to increase the fiber in your dish!
  • You can also select whole wheat options for any sandwiches, buns, or rolls.

Now you can’t forget dessert. Sometimes I love to add fresh or grilled fruit to my menu. It is easy to make a tossed fruit salad or just have a platter of assorted cut fruits. Grapes, pineapple, strawberries, and watermelon are always fan favorites. I feel like as a Georgia native I have to shout out the peach industry and suggest you try grilled peaches at your next cookout. Try this dessert grilled peach recipe with some ice cream or whipped cream! You can also grill slices of pineapple or watermelon!

Set the tone for the whole day

            The food is only half the fun of a cookout! Take some time to invite your friends and family over to share a meal and some fun. Sharing meals can help your overall well-being and help increase the variety on your plate. Once you’ve got your people. Turn the speaker up with your favorite throwback jams and enjoy. Maybe you’re by a swimming pool or you’ve got some yard games set up. Whatever it is, add a little movement into your plans for the most balanced day.

No matter if you’re a veteran host or testing out the waters, there are lots of ways that you can branch out at your cookout and become the pro-host! It is important to fill your plate with your favorite menu items as well as items with protein and fiber. Just remember to have a variety of flavors, textures, colors, and nutrients and you’ll keep smiles on faces and bellies full.

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