Healthy Eating at Summer Cookouts

If you live in the US, I am guessing that tomorrow you will be celebrating the 4th of July. The 4th is always a little stressful for me – I usually have relatives in from out of town. We usually end up going to Gettysburg (it’s always busy because the battle took place the 1-3, and this year is the 150th anniversary, so it’s bound to be even worse). My dog is afraid of fireworks. Typically, I get sunburnt.

I’ve already mentioned that the 4th of July is one of my “cheat days” – days where I accept that I am going to overeat, but keep track of what I do eat so that I have a realistic estimate of the day’s long term effects. And this year, I imagine it won’t actually go that badly in terms of diet and exercise. I plan on making a healthy breakfast for Kris and I tomorrow, and then we are going to go out and walk a trail up a mountain (more accurate than saying that we are going to climb it), and I imagine healthy snacks and lunches will accompany this. My parents will be coming into town, and I am guessing that we will head down to my town’s festival. I’m hoping we will be in time to hit up a wine tasting that will be going on, and then, and only then, I might eat some junk food from the vendors. Then, we will presumably go comfort Belle during the fireworks instead of watching them.

The 4th of July won’t be this healthy for everyone, though – many of you will be forced into a tricky food situations with the pressure to eat EVERYTHING at cookouts. When I first started losing weight, cookouts were the WORST. In fact, the first time I ever “cheated” on my diet was on the 4th of July, because that year I happened to be visiting my parents (and this was before I had my cheat day system and really understood the long term effects of overeating for a single day). I remember that I said something to Kris like “well I guess I’m just going to have to accept that I will never lose weight on weeks that we visit my parents in the summer,” and he responded with something like “you are going to have to learn how to deal with cookouts because they are going to occur for the rest of your life.” I think this was one of my first indications that maintenance (a far off prospect at that point) was going to be difficult – even after I lost the weight, I would not be able to eat whatever I wanted at cookouts 😦

I still struggle with cookouts and parties/social events in general. While I was training for my half, I somehow managed to overeat at a cookout…on a long run day. Seriously, I ate like 3000 calories! So I’m obviously not perfect, but here are a few things I have done to be successful at cookouts in the past:

  • Bring a healthy dish to share. You can even make this seem non-healthy. I like to bring pasta salads loaded with veggies or lightened up versions of desserts.
  • If you aren’t much of a cook, or if you know there won’t be anything like this available, bring healthy meat to share. Often, they will be serving burgers and brats. I will bring along something like chicken breast or turkey-fied versions.
  • If you do eat the non-lean meats, don’t eat the buns. Wrap your burger in lettuce, or cut up hot dogs and dip them in your condiments.
  • Avoid mayonaisey things. Use lighter condiments like mustard, ketchup, salsa, or sriracha. Also, I usually try as hard as I can to limit myself to one serving of things like potato salad. I also try to only eat homemade ones that are better anyway (sometimes I will buy it for cookouts at home, because I am WAY too lazy to make it but then I buy only enough to serve the people present so I can’t overeat it).
  • Choose foods to skip out on that you will be able to easily eat in the future. That bag of potato chips is probably not the last bag you will ever see; the favorite dessert an aunt visiting from out of state brought with her, on the other hand, you might not see for a long time. This makes it far easier to weigh my choices – it’s way easier to skip out on many items, especially storebought ones I could get myself later if I had a craving.
  • Keep to portion sizes or smaller. I have a tendency to want to try everything, so I just try to keep it really really small. If there are 3 pasta salads for example, I might take like 1/3 cup of each so that I can try them all without eating an unreasonable amount.

I do plan to cookout at least one day this weekend, even if I’m not on the 4th itself. Because I am largely in control of the menu, I was able to do the following things that I hope will ensure healthiness (I’ll let you know how it goes):

  • Came up with a recipe to grill that will be healthy but will appeal to all guests and not seem like a “health” food. I’m making bbq shrimp skewers that will be served over a cucumber/jicama relish on grilled pineapple planks!
  • Bought one healthy side. I got fresh corn on the cob! This means that there will be at least one healthy choice even if my parents insist on going out to get something like potato salad.
  • I did not buy dessert. I figure this will have two possible outcomes: we end up going out to buy something (or ingredients to make something), or we go out for ice cream. Either way, there is less danger of there being multiple desserts present if I don’t already have one. Otherwise, I run the danger of my mom insisting that there is a particular dessert we must have because it’s the 4th or someone craving a particular thing and asking for it and me buying it even though there is already a dessert.