4 Tips to Help Your Health Goals Survive Summer Cookouts

Sharyn Saftler, Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist
Sharyn Saftler
Arivale Coach, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

With summer weather and late-night sunshine lending its hand to picnics, barbecues, and lots of social gatherings that involve food, you may find yourself in a flurry of environments that are not conducive to mindful eating.

As you prepare for summer, experiment with a few of these tried-and-true tips to keep it from being one big “exception” to mindful eating. (Maybe start with just two tips at a time since your brain is on summer break, too.)

Having fun and staying net-positive with your choices are not mutually exclusive. Enjoy the summer – and refuse to let it subtly steal your healthy habits.

See all you eat

There’s a common belief that one should eat off a smaller plate – and research supports that1,2. It’s a helpful technique to reduce portion size because your eyes always want to see a full plate.

However, if you eat only a little bit at a time but do so consistently over the course of a few hours, you can end up eating more than you intended or need. In order to be intentional about the total amount of food you consume, try including everything you think you might want to try (including desserts) on one plate

The goal is to put everything you plan to eat in one place so you can clearly see your portion sizes rather than going back multiple times for small amounts, which can lead to unintentional overeating.

If it doesn’t all fit on one plate the first time around, you probably need to cut back the amount you’re planning to consume regardless of how healthy it is.

Location, location, location!

Some of the most common mindless eating happens when we’re in close proximity to food3. If you’re at a cookout and don’t intend to eat until you’re physically hungry, try positioning your chair – or standing – away from the food table. Find a pleasant view. Watch the kids play in the front yard. If nothing else, turn your chair away from the food table and focus on other aspects and reasons you came to the cookout.

There’s so much more to life and summer than food. Enjoy the weather and the company and maybe even use it as an opportunity to do a few moments of deep breathing as you take it all in. (This is also good advice if you’re suffering from digestive troubles.)

Don’t let your meal AGE you

AGEs (advanced glycation end-products) are created when foods – specifically high-protein foods – are cooked at high temperatures (e.g. grilled over open flame). They have been shown to increase oxidative stress and promote inflammation4.

But, don’t let this be the rain on your summer grilling parade! Some of the best ways to reduce AGE production are to5:

  • Cook foods at lower temperatures and over a longer period of time.
  • Marinate foods in wine, vinegar, or lemon juice.
  • Include herbs and spices rich in flavonoids – such as parsley, dill, mint, and cinnamon.
  • Trim away any charred areas.

Most of all, make sure you eat lots of anti-oxidant-rich, brightly colored vegetables and fruits at your meal, using the grilled protein more as a side or condiment to your colorful plate. Don’t typically see a lot of colorful fruits and veggies at the cookouts you attend? Now you know what you can bring!

Don’t forget good ol’ H2O

It may sound like a typical health tip, but it really can’t be overstated how important water and hydration is for your body to function – including in making decisions and detoxing6. With warmer weather, we often find ourselves surrounded by beverages that include sugar, sweeteners, flavors, or alcohol.

If you choose to drink alcohol or a sweet drink at your next cookout, one trick that can be useful is to go ounce for ounce with water. Use the same container for all your beverages. Start with it full of water, fill it with your sweetened or boozey summertime drink once its empty, then continue alternating back and forth. This can also help ensure you’re only eating out of hunger – not thirst.

As good the old adage goes: If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Use these four tips as a springboard to be creative at your cookouts and summer parties to continue to move toward your health goals without missing out on the fun.



  1. Van Ittersum, Koert, and Brian Wansink (2012). Plate Size and Color Suggestibility: The Delboeuf Illusion’s Bias on Serving and Eating Behavior. Journal of Consumer Research, 39(2), 215-228. doi: 10.1086/662615
  2. Wansink, Brian (2004). Environmental Factors that Increase the Food Intake and Consumption Volume of Unknowing Consumers. Annual Review of Nutrition, 24, 455–479. doi: 10.1146/annurev.nutr.24.012003.132140
  3. Painter, James E. , Brian Wansink, and Julie B. Hieggelke (2002). How Visibility and Convenience Influence Candy Consumption. Appetite, 38(3), 237–238. doi:10.1006/appe.2002.0485
  4. Basta, G., Schmidt, A., DeCaterina, R., Advanced glycation end products and vascular inflammation: implications for accelerated atherosclerosis in diabetes. Cardiovascular Research, September 2004, vol. 63 (4): 582-592
  5. Giulia Abate, Mariagrazia Marziano, Wiramon Rungratanawanich, Maurizio Memo, and Daniela Uberti. Nutrition and AGE-ing: Focusing on Alzheimer’s Disease. Oxidative Medicine and Cellular Longevity, vol. 2017, Article ID 7039816, 10 pages, 2017
  6. Popkin, B. M., D’Anci, K. E., & Rosenberg, I. H. (2010). Water, Hydration and Health. Nutrition Reviews, 68(8), 439–458. http://doi.org/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2010.00304.x