How to Lighten Up Your Holiday Weekend Cookout

weekend cookout

The hallmark scents of summer are always 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 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 a summer holiday like the Fourth of July.1

Let’s take a look at some of the foods that you’ll find at most typical summer cookouts.2,3 

  • 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. 


Try out these delicious, healthier recipes for your cookout this weekend:

Mediterranean Turkey Burgers

turkey burger


1lb ground turkey

2 cloves garlic, minced

¼ cup parsley or cilantro leaves, chopped

1 tsp dried oregano

½ lemon, juiced

¼ red onion, minced

⅓ cup feta, crumbled

¼ cup Kalamata olives, chopped (optional)

salt and pepper to taste


To a large bowl, add the turkey, garlic, parsley, oregano, lemon juice, onion and feta. Gently use your hands to combine all the ingredients into the meat without overworking it. Divide the meat into 4 equal portions and shape into patties. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat, and oil the grates. Transfer the burgers to the grates and grill for about 10-12 minutes, turning once. Be sure to cook to well-done at 165 degrees internally (check with a meat thermometer). Remove from the grill and let rest for a few minutes before serving. 

Grilled Peaches



4 ripe peaches, pitted and halved

Olive oil

Savory serving option

8 torn basil leaves

½ cup feta cheese, crumbled

Olive oil and lemon juice dressing

Sweet serving option

½ cup Greek yogurt

1 Tablespoon honey

2 Tablespoons chopped almonds


Place your halved peaches on a sheet tray and brush with enough olive oil to cover the cut sides. Preheat your grill to medium heat. Place the peaches cut side down on the grill and cook until grill marks appear, approximately 4-6 minutes. Flip and cook for another 3-4 minutes. Remove from the grill and onto your serving platter.

Dress your grilled peaches with the savory option by scattering the basil and feta on top, and giving them a light sprinkling of dressing, or the sweet option by combining the yogurt and honey, then drizzling the yogurt over the peaches, finishing with a scattering of almonds. Bon appetite!

Grilled Veggie Salad



Variety of vegetables of your choice (about 2-3 lbs):

Zucchini, sliced into rounds 1” thick
Bell peppers, cut into 2-3” sections
Eggplant, sliced into rounds 1” thick
Sweet potato, peeled and cut into rounds 1” thick
Asparagus spears
Red onion, cut into rounds 1” thick
Roma tomatoes, cut into quarters

10 oz. Leafy greens such as:
Spring mix
Baby red lettuce

Shredded or shaved parmesan cheese
Crumbled feta
Toasted almonds or walnuts
Cooked quinoa (about ¾ cup)
Cooked farro (about ¾ cup)
Salt and pepper to taste
Balsamic vinaigrette or Italian dressing


Slice your veggies and place them on a sheet pan. Brush with olive oil or use spray oil and sprinkle with a little salt and pepper on both sides. Preheat your grill to medium. Start with the heartier vegetables (potatoes, onions, bell peppers) and let them cook for about 5 minutes per side, or until they are lightly charred. Continue with the less firm vegetables (asparagus, zucchini, eggplant, tomatoes) and grill for about 3 minutes per side, or until they are lightly charred. Keep an eye on the tomatoes so they don’t get too hot and start to fall apart. Remove all your vegetables when charred to the sheet pan. Let them rest until you can touch them while still warm. Cut up any larger vegetables into bite-size pieces. Combine in a large salad bowl with the leafy greens, cheese, nuts, and grains you have selected to use. Toss with your dressing. Serve immediately. Fresh and delicious! 

Cedar Plank Herbed Salmon



Cedar planks for grilling (usually available in the grill sections of home improvement stores)

2 salmon fillets, skin removed

Fresh dill

1 whole lemon, sliced

Salt and pepper to taste


Soak your cedar planks in water for a few hours (the longer, the better, 4-5 is good). Preheat your grill to medium/medium-high when you’re ready to start cooking. Pat dry the salmon filets, place on the planks, and season with salt and pepper. Place the lemon slices on top, and sprinkle with a few sprigs of dill (save some for after cooking as well). Place your planks on the grill, and close the lid, cooking for approximately 20 minutes, checking occasionally to be sure the plank is holding up under the heat, until the internal temperature of the salmon is 140 degrees. Remove from the grill and place on a serving dish or other heat-safe surface. Sprinkle with more fresh dill sprigs. Serve.

Spicy Marinated Tempeh Kebabs



Wooden skewers for grilling, soaked in water for about 1 hour

2 packages tempeh, cut into 1-inch chunks


3 Tbsp. sambal oelek (garlic chili sauce)

¼ cup coconut aminos

2 Tbsp. avocado oil


Combine the sambal oelek, coconut aminos, and avocado oil in a heavy zip bag. Put the tofu chunks in to marinate and leave for around an hour in the refrigerator. After the marinating time is done, place about 4-5 pieces on each skewer, allowing a little space in between pieces. Preheat your grill to medium, rub the grate with some avocado oil. Transfer your skewers to the grill and cook for about 3 minutes per side. Serve with more chili sauce if desired. Enjoy.


1. Huen, E. (2016). America's 10 most fattening holidays. Forbes.

2. eMedicineHealth. (2016). Slideshow: Fattening foods of summer.

3. BBQ Ribs - 1 large rib, Nutritionix. (n.d.). Retrieved June 27, 2022, from