How to Lighten Up Your Holiday Weekend Cookout

weekend cookout healthy

Summer is officially here! And the hallmark scent of summer is a combination of sunscreen and sizzling barbecues. There are so many delicious foods that are indicative of the season, but, unfortunately, many traditional cookout items are loaded with saturated fat, sugar, sodium, and calories—way more than you might even realize. A celebratory holiday weekend cookout doesn’t have to be unhealthy, though, and making it healthy doesn’t have to come at the expense of displeasing your tastebuds. 


The Most Fattening Foods of Summer

A traditional holiday cookout, let’s say America’s favorite, the Fourth of July, is typically meat and mayonnaise heavy. Family favorites like cheeseburgers, hot dogs, spareribs, fried chicken, buttered corn on the cob, pasta salad, potato salad, coleslaw, chips, dips, and apple pie, while delectable, are full of fat and high in calories. According to Forbes, the average American will eat between 3,500 and 4,400 calories on the Fourth of July. 1

Let’s take a look at some of the foods that you’ll find at most typical summer cookouts. 23 

  • Cheeseburger (with all the toppings): 750 calories and 45 grams of fat 

  • Spareribs (1): 165 calories and 12 grams of fat 

  • Hot dog: 280 calories, 15 grams of fat, 1,250 mg of sodium

  • Kielbasa: 330 calories, 24 grams of fat, 1,590 mg of sodium

  • Fried chicken (breast): 360 calories and 21 grams of fat 

  • Potato salad (1/2 cup): 138 calories and 10.25 grams of fat 

  • Potato chips (1 ounce/18 chips): 160 calories and 10 grams of fat 

  • French onion dip (2 tablespoons): 80 calories and 8 grams of fat 

And don’t forget about the empty calories and sugar from frozen daiquiris (300+ calories), Long Island iced teas (520 calories), and soda and beer (150 calories). Then tack on some tasty desserts, and suddenly you’ve far exceeded your healthy fat, sodium, sugar, and calorie cap in one extended meal. 

Another issue with holiday eating is that there tends to be food out throughout the entire celebration, which can lead to mindless picking and snacking before and after the main meal is enjoyed. A few handfuls of chips here, a couple of cookies there, two more beers, and “why not, sure, I’ll take another hot dog.” 

But you don’t have to fall off the health bandwagon just because someone lights up the grill this summer. Summer barbecues don’t have to be synonymous with bloating and the meat sweats. Lightening up your holiday weekend cookout is surprisingly simple and scrumptious. 

How to Make Healthy Foods Swaps at Your Holiday Weekend Cookout   

Make fruits and vegetables the centerpiece of the menu at your next cookout. Think colorful grilled vegetable skewers, black bean burgers, lentil carrot hot dogs, grilled pineapple, baked potatoes, summer vegetable couscous salad, cauliflower steaks, guacamole, freshly squeezed fruit juice spitzers—the healthy possibilities are endless once you step out of the burger and hot dog box. 


Hamburger → Turkey burger, quinoa beet burger, grilled portobello cap 

Hot dog → Chicken sausage, turkey kielbasa, veggie hot dog 

BBQ pulled pork sandwich → BBQ pulled jackfruit sandwich 

Creamy potato salad → Swap out high-fat mayo for low-fat Greek yogurt (your gut microbiome will say thank you)

Potato chips → Vegetable platter (bell peppers, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, celery, cucumbers, grape tomatoes) 

French onion dip → Hummus, tzatziki

The other key to lightening up your holiday cookout is to eat mindfully. Don’t use a cookout as an excuse to pig out. If the urge to snack arises (as it likely will), load up your plate with cut-up veggies and fruit. Save your calories for the foods you know are more indulgent, like a burger with all the fixings. Healthy eating is all about balance and mindful choices. 



1. Huen, E. (2016, December 1). America's 10 most fattening holidays. Forbes. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from 

2. eMedicineHealth. (2016, June 7). Slideshow: Fattening foods of summer. eMedicineHealth. Retrieved June 27, 2022, from 

3. Nutritionix. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2022, from