Veggie-SkewersAh, summer...It’s the season of good times and grilling out! This cookout season, we want to encourage you to try out new proteins, vegetables, and side dishes that will keep your body fueled right for summer fun and still taste amazing. Read below for some different takes on the usual cookout fare.

Proteins: While hamburgers and hot dogs are classic grilling options, consider choosing a lean protein as the star of your cookout. These options can include chicken breasts, turkey burgers, fish, or lean cuts of beef and pork. Lean cuts of beef may have a label from the USDA stating that it is a “Choice” or “Select” cut (your best lean options). Choice and select options have a higher ratio of lean meat to fat content. If you can’t find this label, shop for lean cuts like beef round, beef tenderloin, and ≥90% lean ground beef. Lean pork options include pork tenderloin, pork chops, and pork roast. To learn more, click here.

Another option is to consider trying vegetarian or vegan options on the grill. Test out a package of black bean burgers, portobello mushrooms, tofu, or tempeh on the grill. If you’re feeling unsure of how to cook these new products, look at the package instructions, search the internet for a recipe that fits your style, or ask someone how they like to prepare their favorites. Add herbs and spices such as oregano, garlic, or chopped onion to your burger mixture for a new flavor or try using toppings such as pico de gallo, grilled mango or pineapple, or artichokes to add some flare. You can even try out No Bun options, lettuce wraps, or pita breads to provide variety!

Vegetables & Sides: Tired of potato chips as your side? Consider adding vegetables to the grill for extra color and nutrients! Here’s a simple recipe to try:

  1. Slice zucchini, other squash options, carrots, eggplant, potatoes, or bell peppers into small disks or long strips.
  2. Dress in olive oil and seasonings of choice.
  3. Place straight on the grill or on tin foil.
  4. Grill until tender or crispy with brown grill marks.

Condiments: Be mindful of sides that are loaded with condiments that are high in fat and/or sodium – items like mayo, ranch, sour cream, or cheese. Choose to swap mayonnaise or ranch in your pasta salads with avocado or olive oil. You can also choose healthier dips such as hummus, salsa, plain Greek yogurt (tastes just like sour cream), and guacamole. By making these simple switches you can cut down on sodium, substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats, and provide more protein over fat! For example, by choosing plain Greek yogurt over sour cream you eat 44 less calories, ~6 less grams of fat, and 2g more protein.

Desserts: Consider switching out your ice cream sandwiches and sugar-loaded popsicles for fresh fruit options! Cut up strawberries, mango, watermelon, and kiwis with grapes, blackberries, raspberries, and blueberries for a bounteous fruit salad. Or, make your own popsicles at home by adding 100% fruit juice or water and your favorite cut-up fruit to popsicle molds sold at your local dime store or in dixie cups with craft sticks!

Beverages: When I think of summer, I often think about cracking open an ice cold beverage to beat the summer heat. For some, that may be a can of pop or an alcoholic beverage. There can always be room for a treat, but always be mindful of having these types of beverages in moderation. Alcoholic beverages, whether it be beer, wine, spiked seltzers, “hard” lemonades or teas, and other mixed drinks, are known to dehydrate you and sneak in extra calories. This is especially important to keep in mind during the summer, as it can be hard to rehydrate if you are only drinking beverages that will dehydrate you further. So make sure you are also sipping on water to stay hydrated! Alcohol, regardless of its mixed ingredients, provides its own calories and when you consume too much (just like any other food) your body likes to store it as fat (aka a “beer belly”)! Other commonly canned beverages, like pop, are also something to consume in moderation because of the sugar and sodium content. It is recommended that you consume no more than 6 teaspoons (25g) of added sugars a day and no more than 2,000mg sodium per day. Now imagine that you drink a 32oz cup of Coke from the gas station with ice – that’s about 83g of sugar and 80mg of sodium! Drinking water not only helps you stay hydrated, it also helps cut back on calories, sugar, and sodium.

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