Good-for-You Cookout Ideas

Summer is here. Get the 411 on what to grill, pack, and skip -- and how to stay active.

Medically Reviewed by Hansa D. Bhargava, MD on May 18, 2015
From the WebMD Archives

Whether you fire up the grill or pack a picnic basket, summer meals offer a time to slow down, relax, and enjoy good food outdoors. How can you make your cookouts and picnics healthier?

Margaret A. Powers, PhD, RD, research scientist at the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet in Minneapolis, offers these tips for delicious, good-for-you meals.


Colorful, chunky vegetable bites: Grilling is an easy, flavorful way to try new veggies, since it adds a robust, smoky flavor without extra fat or salt. “Grilled vegetables are a tasty, inviting finger food on their own, added to kebabs, or folded into salads,” Powers says.

Lean meats: Trim fat from meat before grilling to lessen the flare-ups that can create cancer-causing compounds. Trimming also lowers the total calories and saturated fat.

Low-fat sausages: Powers suggests you go for turkey sausage and brats, as well as skinless chicken, seafood, and lean cuts of meat. “Because people also use mustard and other toppings, they don’t even realize they’re eating a healthier version of the classics.”

Pizza: Making pizza at home is fun -- and generally healthier than eating it out. Grill whole wheat flatbreads or pizza dough and top with grilled vegetables and a sprinkle of cheese.


Low-carb veggie sides: Whether you pack a picnic to share or bring a side dish for a cookout, Powers recommends dishes with non-starchy vegetables, which fill you up without adding to your carb quota.

Healthy starches: You can also bring the starchy side, such as potato salad or pasta salad, so that you know exactly how to count it. Load up the dish with lots of crunchy vegetables (celery, onions, peppers) and use low-fat mayo or plain yogurt to cut the fat.

Leave out:

Too many carbs: Foods like burger buns and chips can tip the carb scales. Choose the ones you really want, and ditch the ones you don’t.

Fatty meats: Burgers, sausages, and skin-on chicken ratchet up the saturated-fat content of your meal.

Sneaky salads: Mayonnaise-laden, carb-heavy salads are the primary gut-busters of summer food. While they’re OK in small amounts, limit these foods and fill your plate with non-starchy vegetables.

Stay Active

Move more. If you have trouble getting around, throw a baseball or bocce ball, Powers suggests. Or go for a walk before or after your meal.

Take advantage of the weather and get moving with family and friends.

Get involved: If you’re at a cookout, join in the meal prep -- chop vegetables, keep watch over the flame, or flip the veggies and meat.

Chicken Kebabs With Yogurt-Lime Marinade

These kebabs get their kick from a citrusy yogurt marinade. Serve with fresh herbs like mint, basil, tarragon, and cilantro, plus extra plain yogurt and lime wedges.

Makes 4 servings.


4 cloves garlic, minced

1 tbsp grated ginger

1 tsp ground turmeric (optional, for color)

juice of 2 limes

(about ⅓ cup)

1 cup plain yogurt

salt and black

pepper to taste

1 lb boneless,

skinless chicken breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 zucchini, sliced into ½-inch rounds


1. Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, lime juice, yogurt, and salt and pepper in a large freezer bag. Add chicken cubes to bag and seal the bag, massaging to coat. Refrigerate at least 1 hour or overnight.

2. Thread chicken cubes and zucchini rounds on metal skewers. Prepare grill surface with nonstick cooking spray and heat grill to medium-high heat. Grill until chicken is cooked through and zucchini is tender, turning skewers occasionally, about 10 to 15 minutes.

Per serving

268 calories, 36 g protein, 10 g carbohydrate, 10 g fat (3 g saturated fat), 105 mg cholesterol, 2 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 275 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 33%

Grilled Romaine Salad With Citrus Herb Vinaigrette

This time, forget the usual green salad. Grill crunchy Romaine lettuce to get a satisfying smoky flavor.

Makes 8 servings



2 Romaine hearts, halved lengthwise

2 tsp olive oil


2 tbsp chopped herbs (use what you

have-parsley, mint, dill, cilantro)

2 tbsp lemon juice

¼ cup olive oil

1 tsp honey

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper


1. Brush cut side of Romaine hearts with 2 tsp olive oil. Bring grill to high heat and place Romaine, cut side down, directly on the grill. Cook a minute or two, until leaves are slightly charred. Remove from the grill and slice crosswise into ribbons. Transfer to a serving bowl and toss with dressing.

2. To prepare dressing: In a small jar with a lid, combine dressing ingredients. Put on lid and shake until combined.

Per serving

160 calories, 1 g protein, 6 g carbohydrate, 16 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 2 g fiber, 4 g sugar, 149 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 88%

Brown Sugar Grilled Plums With Vanilla Bean Fromage Blanc

Plums take on a sublime tartness when grilled. Brown sugar and vanilla-bean-flecked fromage blanc lend a touch of sweetness that goes perfectly with the plums and makes this taste like a much richer dessert than it is.

Makes 6 servings.


2 tbsp butter, melted

2 tbsp brown sugar

12 plums, halved and pitted

8 oz fat-free

fromage blanc, softened at room temperature

1 vanilla bean

1 tbsp honey


1. Coat grill with cooking spray and preheat to medium-high.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together melted butter and brown sugar. Brush mixture over the cut side of plums. Grill plums, cut side down, 5 minutes or until soft. Set aside.

3. Put fromage blanc in a small bowl. Split the vanilla bean down the center with the tip of a sharp knife. Scrape seeds out of the pod into fromage blanc. Mix seeds and honey into fromage blanc. Spoon onto grilled plums to serve.

Per serving

116 calories, 4 g protein, 17 g carbohydrate, 4 g fat (2 g saturated fat), 14 mg cholesterol, 1 g fiber, 16 g sugar, 97 mg sodium. Calories from fat: 32%

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Maggie Powers, PhD, RD, CDE, research scientist at the International Diabetes Center at Park Nicollet.

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