Lighten up your Labor Day cookout

Photo by Kenn Kiser of FreeImages  

Summer’s not over quite yet! Labor Day Weekend provides a last “hoorah ” by the pool or in the sprinkler and the opportunity to host a farewell cookout to long days and summer fun. You can still enjoy an end-of-season shindig without sacrificing nutritious food choices. As a registered dietitian, I know cookouts do not have to be off-limits, even if it seems impossible to make healthy food choices at get-togethers. The good news is you can enjoy a fun, flavorful, and nourishing event with these simple tips below.

Pick a Lean Protein

Instead of high-fat hamburgers and hot dogs, choose lower-fat meat.

  • Grill fresh fish. Salmon, shrimp, and tuna are great grilling options.
  • Whole chicken or chicken breasts can be grilled or smoked.
  • Try turkey or chicken burgers made with all-white-meat ground turkey or chicken instead of red meat.
  • If you prefer traditional burgers, go for the leanest available ground beef, which comprises 95% lean meat and 5% fat.

Slim Down the Salad

Traditional pasta and potato salad contain saturated fats found in mayonnaise, bacon, and full-fat cheeses, which, over time and in large portions, wreak havoc on your heart.

  • Add grilled or roasted vegetables to a recipe to bulk up the salad and lower the calories.
  • Substitute mayo-based dressing for a lighter version, Greek yogurt, or a flavorful vinaigrette.
  • Choose whole-wheat pasta instead of enriched pasta.
  • Give my red-white-and-blue potato salad a try!

Bring a Healthy Side Dish

Were you asked to bring a dish? You can make sure there is at least one healthy option on the table.

  • Fresh fruit kabobs. Slide strawberries, melon wedges, grapes, and pineapple on skewers.
  • Serve baked tortilla chips with fresh salsa, guacamole, or corn and black bean dip.
  • Grilled seasonal vegetables ahead of time and served warm or at room temperature.
  • Or pick up a fruit or vegetable tray at your local grocery for an easy win!

Portion the Popped Tops 

In my opinion, there is no reason not to enjoy a relaxing beverage on a day off but do it responsibly. If you want an adult beverage, be sure to choose water in between glasses versus a sugary soda or tea. When planning a party, offer guests these lower-calorie options instead of high-calorie, sugary drinks.

  • Ice water with cucumber and lemon slices.
  • Fresh squeezed lemonade with a sugar cube or substitute on the side.
  • Black or unsweetened green tea.
  • Bottled or iced water.

Cookouts should be enjoyed and not create a stressful environment when trying to eat healthier. Whether you spend the day with a large group on the lake or relax in the backyard, try some of the tips provided and lighten up any outdoor menu!

Red, White, and Blue Potato Salad 

  • 3 pounds (about 4 cups) small red, white, and purple potatoes, halved
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley (3 tablespoons fresh)
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill (1 tablespoon fresh)
  • ¼ cup chopped red onion
  • ¼ cup white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 tablespoons stone-ground mustard
  • ½ teaspoon of salt and pepper (or s&p to taste)

Place halved red and white potatoes in a medium saucepan and covered with water. Bring potatoes to a full boil and boil for 13-15 minutes or until potatoes can easily be pierced with a fork. Drain potatoes, pat dry with a paper towel, and transfer to a large bowl.

To avoid purple or blue potatoes from bleeding onto the others, boil separately, using the same instructions for the red and white potatoes.

While cooked red, white, and blue potatoes are cooling in a large bowl, form the dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together parsley, dill, onions, vinegar, olive oil, mustard, salt, and pepper. Pour dressing over slightly warm potatoes and gently toss to cover.

Serve potato salad warm, room temperature, or chilled.

*Look for the tri-colored baby potatoes, or purchase 1 pound bags of each. This recipe still works well with single-colored potatoes, too.

Firecracker Feta Cheese Burger 

Makes 4 burgers.

  • 1 pound lean beef or turkey
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 medium jalapeño pepper stem, seeds and ribs removed, minced (or 1-2 Tbsp or to taste of minced jalapeno)
  • 2 ounces onion minced
  • 1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½  teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 cup feta cheese (or blue cheese crumbles)
  • 4 Buns and condiments of choice.

Preheat the grill to medium-high. Place all ingredients, except for cheese, in a medium mixing bowl. Mix ingredients together (It’s easiest to use your hands). Then, fold in the feta cheese.  Divide mixture into 4 equal portions and shape into a patty. Place patties on the preheated grill. Close the lid and turn the heat to low.  When the patties are cooked halfway through (about 5 minutes), turn the patties and close the grill. When burgers are cooked through (160 F), remove. Remove and serve with buns and condiments of choice.

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Written by Rebecca Turner

Rebecca Turner provides no-nonsense nutrition advice to a statewide and national audience through print, TV, and radio. She is the author of two books: Mind Over Fork and Enjoy Good Health. Lending her talents to Mississippi Public Broadcasting's healthy eating show, Fit to Eat, airing on the Create Channel nationwide, and the Emmy Award-winning children's show, Ed Said. She also appears as a wellness expert on local news and creates nutrition-based features for Today in Mississippi, Mississippi Christian Living Magazine, and national publications. On weekdays, she hosts a statewide talk radio show, Good Things with Rebecca Turner, on SuperTalk Mississippi.

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