Who doesn’t enjoy a good cookout? Family and friends come together for fun, laughter, and, of course, the delicious food. For those on a weight loss journey, cookouts and picnics can pose a challenge as they often feature an array of calorie-dense foods. However, you can certainly enjoy these gatherings while still sticking to your health goals. Below, you’ll find practical tips on how to navigate these events healthfully, as well as ideas for healthier food and drink alternatives that you can contribute to the feast.
Don’t Arrive Hungry: One common mistake is to ‘save up’ calories by skipping meals before a cookout. This can lead to overeating when you finally get to the event. Instead, eat a light meal or snack before you go. Include lean protein and fiber to help keep you full.
Eat Mindfully: It’s easy to mindlessly munch at a cookout. Try to eat only when you’re genuinely hungry and stop when you’re satisfied. Listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. Remember to take your time and savor your food. Eating slowly can help you realize when you’re full so you don’t overeat. Plus, it gives you the opportunity to truly enjoy the flavors of your meal.
Bring Your Own: One of the best ways to ensure healthy choices are available is to bring your own dish to share. That way, you’ll have at least one item you can enjoy guilt-free. It could be anything from a lean protein to a salad brimming with veggies or a whole grain pasta salad.
Use Smaller Plates: Smaller plates can help you to naturally portion control your food. Start with veggies and lean proteins, then add smaller amounts of higher-calorie items.
Limit Alcohol and Sugary Drinks: Drinks can be a significant source of hidden calories. Opt for water or unsweetened iced tea. If you’re craving something fizzy, try a splash of fruit juice in some seltzer water. If you choose to drink alcohol, stick to one drink and choose a lower-calorie option like a light beer, wine, or wine spritzer.
Healthier Alternative Food Items
Protein: Opt for lean proteins like chicken, fish, or turkey. If you’re grilling, try marinated tofu or veggie burgers for plant-based alternatives.
Sides: Instead of traditional mayonnaise-based salads, try making a colorful vegetable salad, a grain salad with quinoa or farro, or a bean salad. They’re high in fiber and packed with nutrients.
Fruits and Veggies: Make fruits and vegetables the star of your plate. Grill vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, and asparagus for a delicious, healthy option. Fresh fruit salads or fruit skewers can serve as a refreshing side or dessert.
Bread: Choose whole-grain buns or bread for your sandwiches or burgers. They provide more fiber and keep you feeling full longer. Or consider going bun-less or using a lettuce wrap instead.
Desserts: Instead of high-calorie desserts, consider fresh fruit or a fruit salad. If you want to bake, try healthier versions of your favorite recipes, using substitutes like applesauce or Greek yogurt in place of butter, or stevia instead of sugar.
Condiments: Beware of calorie-heavy condiments like mayo, full-fat dressings, and barbecue sauce. Choose lighter options like mustard, salsa, or homemade dressings using olive oil and vinegar.
In addition to food choices, remember that cookouts and picnics are great opportunities to get active. Playing a game of catch, frisbee, or going for a walk after eating can help burn off some of the calories you just enjoyed.
Navigating cookouts and picnics while trying to lose weight can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. By planning ahead, making mindful decisions, and bringing healthier alternatives, you can enjoy these events without derailing your weight loss goals. Remember, it’s about balance – not deprivation. Here’s to a healthy and happy summer!