Family-Friendly Strategies To Eat Healthy During Cookout Season

Cookout season brings a smile to my face. What’s not to love?  Hanging with good friends in the heat of the summer, listening to kids laughing and running in the sprinklers, and smelling the aromas of meat cooking on the grill. It transports me to the carefree days of childhood when summers were something we looked forward to all year round.

kids in sprinklerBut, if you’re a family committed to healthy living, traditional American cookouts can really throw a tire on your waistline, a swing in your kids’ moods and a wrench in your healthy habits. STOP.  Don’t throw the July 4th invitations out yet! I promise with a few simple strategies, you can repair that love/hate relationship with cookouts and put the fun back into summer!

Let me start by clarifying: I’m not going to tell you to skip the chips, pass on the cheese doodles or persuade you to fill your plate with veggies. Restriction will get you nowhere and, frankly, when you restrict your kids from eating specific foods, they’re going to want them even more. If you say no to the cheese doodles, you’ll likely bump into your kids at the cheese doodle bowl sneaking a handful or two just like their mommies. Pure proof the little rascals learn EVERYTHING from us!

I’m serious though, food restriction consistently backfires on all of us. Let me give you a real life example. I love chips, but we don’t buy many chips in our house. If you put chips on my plate, I’ll finish them, take another helping and may not get to the broccoli on my plate. A habit that I’d rather not pass on to my son and clear proof that chips crowd out other healthy foods. So I skip the chip aisle.

Problem is since I don’t buy chips very often, when I do buy them my brain goes a little crazy. I think about them sitting in the pantry. I get weird cravings for them. Next thing I know the chip back is empty and it’s been only 36 hours since purchase. (A dirty little secret – sometimes they don’t even make it past the stinkin’ car ride from the grocery store.) Case in point – restriction can lead to unhealthy obsession, cravings or even gorging.

So if we aren’t restricting the foods we choose at cookouts, what can we do to avoid the post cookout downers? Here’s three simple strategies to get you started.

Feed your family nutritious food before the cookout.

Some people may think it’s ridiculous to eat before a cookout. I think it’s just smart parenting. When you hit a cookout, you never know what time food will be served. You also don’t know if your kids will like anything on the menu. Hangry (hungry + angry) kids are no fun. If your family eats a good meal packed with fruits, veggies and protein before the cookout, they’ll be happy and you’ll be less stressed.

Bring a tasty, wholesome dish (or two) that your family can’t resist.

Let me be clear. This dish has to be damn good. It has to trump creamy potato salad, crunchy chips and ooey gooey brownies. Some of my favs include: baked beans, pulled pork with crunchy slaw, fruit skewers with a dipping sauce, guacamole and grilled green beans. Bringing a yummy dish your family likes ensures that your kids will eat and you’ll feel good about the nutrients they’re getting. You can throw the guilty feelings out the window and enjoy the cookout!

Bring healthy drinks that taste good.

If all the kids are drinking soda or juice boxes, you can’t expect your kids to drink water. Maybe they’ll go for it at first. But, eventually they’ll wear you down and you’ll say yes to the liquid sugar. That, mamas, will be the end of a fun cookout for you. Imagine how awesome bedtime will be with a sugar-high kid… Instead I suggest bringing a healthy, yummy drink for the kids. Try sparkling water with natural flavors added. It has the fun of drinking from a can but none of the junk. Or make a homemade iced herbal tea. Your kids will be none the wiser and you’ll skip the mood swings that soda and sugary drinks bring to your little ones.

Now it’s time to make these simple strategies work for your family. Go ahead, mama, you have the power!  Teach your kiddos to enjoy cookouts without the guilt of overeating, amping up on sugar or creating chip addictions. Teaching your kids healthy habits now is sure to help them live a long, happy life.

Check out this week’s Facebook posts for some links to delicious, healthy dishes you can enjoy at cookouts this season! Got any favs? Share them with us in the comments!

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