Three Summer Food Swaps for a Healthier Cookout


To borrow the title of a mighty popular song from my high school days, I’m definitely a summer girl. I love cold craft beer, swimming in a lake on a muggy summer night, and chasing lightning bugs with my nieces and nephews. Above all of this, my absolute favorite part of summer is, of course, the food.

I love all the fresh farm-to-table produce, the delicious smoky flavor of all grilled fare and, you can’t go wrong with a plateful of my Mama’s world-famous macaroni salad. The only issue with all this summer food love is that it can be easy to pack on the summer pounds thanks to all the calorie-laden cookout classics. Next time your friends and family come over for some summer fun, try some of these swaps for a lighter, healthier cookout.

Swap the mayo in summer salads for lighter, protein-packed Greek yogurt.

I don’t know what it is about summer that brings out every mayo-based salad under the sun, but it sure makes for a difficult landscape to healthfully navigate. Next time you make your favorite potato, macaroni, or pasta salad, try switching out most or all of the mayo for low- or non-fat Greek yogurt. The yogurt makes for a creamy and thick dressing with a small portion of the calories. It’s especially killer if you mix it with a hefty dose of fresh dill and diced cucumbers for a Greek-inspired potato salad.

Calorie savings: 320 calories per ½ cup of Greek yogurt (over regular mayo)
Bonus: For each ½ cup of Greek yogurt, you get 11 grams of protein! Protein is vital in the cell-replacement process in the body, helping you recover after an injury, hard workout or just replacing cells during their normal life-cycle.

Embrace produce as sides instead of the high-calorie classic side dishes.

Baked beans and coleslaw are delicious, but next time you fire up the grill, how about switching up the sides by using dishes that spotlight the bounty of the season? Buy a grill basket and toss in your favorite veggies with a little bit of olive oil, salt and pepper for a simple, low calorie, nutrient-dense side. Apply this philosophy to dessert, too. Skip the cookies and cakes and instead grill up some fresh peaches and serve warm with a scoop of homemade vanilla frozen yogurt.

Calorie savings: 225 calories per 1 cup of grilled veggies (over coleslaw)
Bonus: Grilled bell pepper slices get soft, caramelized and delicious. They also make an excellent condiment for brats, burgers and hot dogs. AND they are packed with antioxidants which may help prevent cancer, delay cardiovascular disease and slow aging.

Skip the buns and try other ways to wrap your dogs, brats and burgers.

Since I’m a healthy food blogger, this might be surprising, but I love hot dogs, brats and burgers! To help balance out these higher-calorie main dishes, I’ll sometimes skip the bun. I love carbs as much as the next girl, but a processed, enriched, flavorless hot dog bun is not where I want to “spend” my calorie budget. Instead, I’ll wrap my grilled meat up in a crisp Iceberg lettuce leaf, eat it wrapped in a sprouted-grain tortilla or even just eat it straight up dipped in my favorite condiments.

Calorie savings: 80 calories per large Iceberg lettuce leaf (over a white hot dog bun)
Bonus: You’ll have a lot more room on your plate (and in your tummy) for delicious seasonal fresh fruit and veggies without the bun!

What is your favorite cookout food?

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Cassie Johnston is an award-winning food writer and recipe developer living and working in Southern Indiana. Her work has been feature in national publications such as Gourmet Magazine and The Huffington Post. Cassie’s a big fan of strenuous hikes, cheese, watching sports, Brussels sprouts, and craft beer, and she’ll talk your ear off about her love of local food and seasonal eating. She’s obsessed with social media and loves connecting with new friends!