The Best and Worst Foods for a Summer Cookout

Cookouts are one of the best food experiences of summer. Find out how to enjoy them while making healthy choices.

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Best: Lean Beef Burgers

While beef sometimes gets a bad rap, if you do it right, it can be a really nutritious choice. A 3-ounce lean beef burger gives you a healthy helping of zinc, iron and protein for under 200 calories (the bun and toppings are extra). Check out more tips for the healthiest burgers.

Worst: Potato Salad

Most store-bought or classic potato salad recipes are bogged down by way too much mayo, making potato salad super high in calories (1 cup typically has more than 350 calories). If you make it yourself, you can lighten it up considerably by cutting low-fat mayo with some low-fat plain yogurt and adding plenty of chopped veggies and egg whites.

Best: Grilled Fruit

Grilling intensifies fruit's natural sweetness, making it a succulent, guilt-free dessert. Try pineapple rings, mango spears, watermelon wedges and peach halves. Brush with a little oil and cook for several minutes. Grilled fruit also makes a great addition to salad.

Best: Salmon Burgers

Salmon is a great source of heart- and brain-healthy Omega-3 fats. Try salmon burgers for an alternative to traditional beef burgers and hot dogs at your next cookout. It's an easy and delicious way to get seafood in your diet (the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends eating fish at least twice a week).

Worst: Chips

It's all too easy to down a lot of chips while waiting for the grill to heat up. To keep your chip intake in check, put a small handful on a plate, along with cut-up veggies, salsa or guacamole, and resist the urge to keep refilling. Enjoy it while you’re eating it, and look forward to what’s to come.

Best: Grilled Vegetables

While the grill's hot, make sure to cook up some veggies for dinner and for leftovers. Planks of grilled summer squash and eggplant make excellent sandwich fillings, while skewered cherry tomatoes are a great side dish for grilled chicken. 

Worst: Burger Buns

Standard burger buns fit the definition of empty calories — a standard bun gives you 110 calories and not much else. Bump up the nutrition by choosing 100 percent whole-wheat buns or a whole-wheat English muffin instead — whole grains give you more fiber and nutrients.

Best: Light Beer

Skip the sugary mixed drinks or sodas and opt for a light beer (or, if you don't drink alcohol, stick to seltzer with a spritz of lime or splash of juice). One 12-ounce bottle has just 100 calories. It's also light enough that a single beer won’t dehydrate you. Just remember that only moderate amounts of alcohol can be considered healthy (that's one drink a day for women, two for men).