Tips for a Happy, Healthy Cookout

My latest article for the Quicken Loans Zing Blog:

We’re in the hottest month of summer, and that means a few different things: shorter shorts, longer days, sunburned noses and plenty of outdoor parties. Whether you’re grilling out at a family reunion, hosting a graduation party or bringing a dish to your block party, there are plenty of ways to make sure your favorite summer dishes make you feel just as awesome as they taste. Here are a few of my favorite healthy summer foods to incorporate into your next cookout.

Savory Starters

Your cookout compadres will likely want something to munch on before you get down to the grilling. You could reach for the potato chips and French onion dip, but that overplayed combination provides little nutritional value. Instead, grab some raw veggies – celery, carrots and cucumbers are all great choices – or make your own “chips” by baking kale leaves or zucchini slices with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of seasoning salt. Then, serve them with one of these delicious dips.


Not only does this powerhouse spread have half the fat of a run-of-the-mill chip dip, but the chickpeas that make up hummus are rich in protein and fiber. That means you’ll feel and stay fuller. Hummus contains plenty of Omega-3 fatty acids that help you maintain a healthy heart. On top of that, it contains amino acids that can lead to a better night’s sleep and even improve your mood.


Add some spice to your life and subtract a few pounds. Salsa is extremely low in calories and packs a nutritional punch by combining a variety of fruits and vegetables. Bonus: Hot peppers, like jalapeños, naturally raise your metabolic rate, suggesting that they’re good for weight loss. Make your own homemade salsa to avoid extra sugar. I like to combine chopped bell peppers, onion, jalapeños, mango and avocado with cilantro, lime juice and a pinch of salt.


Avocados, the main ingredient in guacamole, are rich in monounsaturated fat. This type of fat is much healthier, as it lowers cholesterol for a healthy heart and can also help lower blood sugar. Avocados contain even more potassium than a banana, and can be beneficial in reducing blood pressure. On top of that, they’re high in fiber. As with salsa, you can easily make homemade guacamole to avoid unnecessary additives.

Re-think Your Burger

It’s not summer if you’re not grilling. Unfortunately, your classic cheeseburger is packed with calories and fat. Fear not – you don’t need to cut down on your grilling time. Instead, try swapping in a few of these foods to shave off calories.

Ditch that white hamburger bun

White flour is heavily processed and refined; as a result, white buns contain much less fiber than whole wheat buns and have considerably lower levels of vitamins. White buns are also more likely to cause a blood sugar spike that will leave you feeling hungry and cranky. If you need a bun to cradle your burger, go for whole wheat. If you’re willing to lose the bread all together, you can wrap your burger with lettuce and cut out nearly all extra calories.

It’s okay to stray from ground beef

A 3 oz. ground beef burger will run somewhere between 250 and 300 calories. Switch that out for a leaner turkey burger, and you can cut about 30%of the calories. Veggie burgers vary, but usually contain less calories and fat than both turkey and beef burgers. However, the healthiest choice by far is a Portobello burger. One Portobello mushroom cap is only 22 calories, has essentially no fat and contains a high level of antioxidants to boost health.

Make a Salad That People Actually Want to Eat

Salads often have a reputation of being a boring healthy food, but there’s plenty of ways to mix it up and create a salad that is welcomed with open arms at your next cookout.

Cool as a cucumber

Did you know that a cucumber is made up of 95% water? Eating this vegetable is a great way to cool off and eliminate toxins during the hot summer months. Cucumbers are a good source of B and C vitamins, and research has suggested that the lignans found in this vegetable are connected with a reduced risk of several cancer types. My favorite summer salad incorporates cucumbers, onions, vinegar and fresh dill, like in this Martha Stewart recipe.

Eat like an Italian

I spent a few months living in Italy and fell in love with this simple combination: tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can easily cut up the tomatoes and mozzarella and toss them with fresh basil, olive oil and vinegar to make a quick salad. Another option is to serve them on skewers or stack the cheese and basil on tomato slices and drizzle with oil and vinegar. Tomatoes are full of lycopene, an antioxidant that can help protect against some cancers and combats free radicals that can damage healthy cells and suppress your immune system. The olive oil is a good source of healthy monounsaturated fat. Just try not to go overboard on the mozzarella cheese (easier said than done, I know).

This Isn’t Your Grandpa’s Grill

Finally, don’t be afraid to get creative on the grill. These healthy foods are even better with a couple of grill marks.


A 3 oz. serving of salmon is only 177 calories and packs in a ton of heart-healthy Omega-3s. It’s rich in vitamin D and selenium, which have both been associated with the prevention of certain types of cancer. Eating salmon has also been linked to a decreased risk of heart problems. Pair your grilled salmon with the aforementioned homemade salsa and you have the perfect summer dish.

Grilled veggies

Grilled vegetables are easily my favorite kind of vegetables. Try skewers of red pepper and onion slices. Red peppers are one of the richest sources of vitamins A and C, which are awesome for your immune system. Red peppers are also a good source of fiber, folate and vitamins B6 and E. Onions are packed with essential vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. They can also reduce blood pressure and blood cholesterol, leading to a healthier heart.


Think dessert has to be overloaded with calories and drowning in fat? Think again – and say hello to your new favorite dessert. Pineapple is an excellent source of manganese, a mineral that’s great for maintaining healthy bones and nerves. Pineapple is also full of vitamins C and B and has fiber to keep you full. Heating pineapple slices on the grill for just a few minutes caramelizes the natural sugars, creating a sweet treat. I like to add some cayenne pepper before grilling to add a nice kick that compliments the sweetness of the sugar.

So, next time you’re invited to a summer cookout, try out one of these delectable dishes and you’ll be sure to impress health nuts and classic grill masters alike.

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