How to Stay on Track at Summer Cookouts

It might feel impossible to stay on track with your health goals when you’re hanging out at cookouts all summer long, but I assure you it can be done. Staying aligned with your health goals and still having fun can be done, it just takes some thoughtful preparation. Keep in mind not all these tips may work for you. This is totally normal. Use the ideas that match your specific situation and eating style. Remember, healthy eating is not "one way fits all." The strategies that feel right for you are the best ones!

I love firing up the grill and entertaining in the summer — it’s a great excuse to get outside, be around friends, and whip up some fresh, seasonal dishes. I’ve also been to plenty of cookouts and parties where the only options are hotdogs, potato salad, chips, and soda. I’m guessing you have, too?

It might feel impossible to stay on track with your health goals when you’re hanging out at cookouts all summer long, but I assure you it’s not. Staying aligned with your health goals and still having fun can be done, it just takes some thoughtful preparation.

Peruse, Then Choose

An oldie, but a goodie, my friends! Before you load up your plate, peruse all your options and take note of what’s there. Once you’ve done that, you can decide which foods you’ll actually enjoy before just mindlessly piling stuff on your plate. In other words, if you’re not in love with potato salad, don’t load it on your plate just because it’s there. It’s easy to eat mindlessly when you’re at a party (especially when tempting foods are the main focus) but taking a few minutes to check in and think about whether you really want something before you put it onto your plate is a great mindfulness exercise to keep you on track.

Bring a Healthy Dish

Bringing a healthy dish to the party is my personal secret weapon for cookout invites. Being a mostly plant-based eater, I tend to have less choices at cookouts, so sometimes my own dish is all I eat. But that’s not the case for everyone. At the very least, your own healthy dish can serve as a supplement to normal cookout fare to help balance your plate.

Don’t Arrive Starving

If you’re planning on skipping breakfast and snacks to “save calories” for a summer soiree: don’t. When you show up to a party ravenous it’s nearly impossible to make sensible eating decisions. You’ll be too hungry to think through what you’re piling onto your plate (or into your mouth if it’s finger food) and you’re likely going to overeat. My advice for day-of-event noshing is to eat normally, but with an extra focus on getting in lots of fresh veggies and fiber. This will allow you to arrive already satisfied and help you to choose foods more in line with your goals, rather than feeling the need to “make up” for all the food you didn’t eat earlier in the day.

Stick to Your Plate

Eating without a plate is a surefire way to take in lots of unintentional calories. It’s way too easy to pick up a handful of this or that, unknowingly overdoing it before you even made your “real” plate. Rather than loitering around the food table, it’s a much better idea to place a handful of chips on your plate and then walk away.

Stop When You’re Satisfied

This is another time when taking a second to slow down and think about your food choices makes a big difference. Rather than eating until you’re stuffed, eat until you’re satisfied. It can take a lot of practice to recognize when you’re satisfied, but here are a few questions you can ask yourself:

Am I still hungry?
Am I finishing my plate just because it’s in front of me?
Am I even enjoying this food?
Am I thirsty?
Have I saved room for dessert? 🙂

If you’re satisfied, but just feel awkward without a plate or cup in your hands, sip on kombucha or seltzer water and focus on the company you’re in, rather than filling up another plate.

Pre-Commit

This is a great one if you already know the menu. Deciding what you’ll eat before you even arrive takes all the thinking out of the equation and allows you to just relax and have fun. This strategy works great when eating out at restaurants, too!

Keep in mind not all of these tips may work for you. This is totally normal. Use the ideas that match your specific situation and eating style. Remember, healthy eating is not “one way fits all.” The strategies that feel right for you are the best ones!

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