Top 10 Tips to Upgrade Your Summer Cookout!

Hot dogs, potato salad, chips, soda, and ice cream.

It seems like when we’re in social situations, especially at events like summer cookouts or picnics, we temporarily stop trying to eat well. We know how we’re going to feel later, but we decide it doesn’t matter as much as feeling good in the moment.

I’m here with some great news!

We can eat nourishing AND delicious food at cookouts without feeling deprived…or bloated, gassy and tired 🙂

The next time you’re headed to a cookout and want to make the best choices possible for yourself and your friends and family, check these out!


1) Bring a nourishing dish/side/drink. Most of the time when we are going to an event someone else is organizing, we tend to cop out and pick up something cheap and quick at the store, without taking into consideration how that food will make everyone feel. If you bring something nourishing that you like to eat, you’ll be guaranteed to make better choices while you’re there…and help others in the process!

Try this Tomato-Basil Pasta Salad. It’ll be a HIT!

Tomatoe Basil Salad

2) Instead of mayo as the base in different salads, try using an oil-based vinaigrette or mashed avocado. I used to hate avocados (before ever trying them), but they have almost no flavor, so they won’t mess with the flavor of whatever dish you put them in.

3) Load up on veggies. Whether you throw them into a pasta salad or greens salad, put them on a kabob or roast them in a foil pack, make sure you load up on veggies. Whenever I go to a cookout or picnic, if there is a platter of roasted vegetables, it gets eaten up quickly!


4) Add in some minced veggies to your burger patties. If you finely dice them, no one will notice, and they will add flavor and moisture to your burgers. Try things like onions, garlic, mushrooms, celery, diced peppers, and herbs.

5) Don’t char your meat. As much as some of us might love the taste of charred meat, we should avoid it to reduce our exposure to cancer-causing compounds. Charring, burning or grilling meat, poultry and fish over high temperatures causes cancer-causing compounds to form, which can damage our genes, raising the risk for stomach and colorectal cancers. Marinating your meat for 30 minutes prior to cooking can reduce that risk dramatically. To learn more about healthy grilling, click here. We also want to make sure we’re upgrading our meat and fish to grass-fed beef, pasture-raised poultry and wild caught seafood. Check out LocalHarvest to find a supplier near you.

6) Go bunless. Sometimes we do things out of habit. Grabbing a bun to go with our burger is one of them. If I have a burger, I just cut it up and treat it like a mini steak – no bun needed. Another option is to wrap lettuce leaves around it, just like you would a lettuce wrap and eat it that way.

7) Go for simpler chips. When it comes to chips, focus on upgrading your options from things like Doritos to Way Better Chips, Jackson’s Honest Chips, Kettle Chips, and even kale chips! Look for chips with as few ingredients as possible.

Dairy-Free Queso Dip with Way Better Chips

Dairy-Free Queso Dip with Way Better Chips

Jackson's Honest Sweet Potato Chips

Jackson’s Honest Sweet Potato Chips

8) Upgrade your dips and spreads. Instead of heavy, cheesy dips or things like ketchup, mayo, and BBQ sauce (which is just like pancake syrup in terms of sugar content), try guacamole, hummus, salsa, bean dips, queso dip (dairy-free!), sauerkraut, or mustard.

9) Instead of sugary drinks, sweet tea or lemonade, try infused water. From lemon-lime to strawberry basil and orange/pear, infused waters are refreshing and flavorful, and the variations you can make are limitless!

10) Focus on fruit for dessert. Make it fun, and try simple popsicles made with coconut milk and fruit, a fruit salad with mint, or grilled fruit kabobs with a honey glaze.

This berry peach crisp is always a hit, too!

Delicious Berry Peach Crumble

Delicious Berry Peach Crisp

**Bonus Tip #11**

Focus on FRIENDS and FAMILY instead of FOOD.

It can be SO easy to become consumed by all of the smells and sights at a cookout or summer party.

See what happens when you are intentional about focusing more on the people at the party and less on the food on your plate 🙂

Celebrating summer with friends

Celebrating summer with friends

In my next post, I’ll be sharing a bunch of recipes (from entrees and sides to dips, drinks and desserts) that will help YOU answer the following question:

“What exactly should I bring to the potluck?”



Creamy Curry Hummus


Join Me for a “Sweet Confessions” Event in Baltimore on July 23rd!


  1. mary bahr-robertson

    Great tips Rachel. Looking forward to your next post on the pot luck ideas!

    • Thanks, Mary! I’m so glad you found them helpful, and I look forward to sharing the next post!

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén