It’s the time of year when most people fire up the grill to host cookouts. But, how do you make sure you are providing healthy, safe food options for your cookout?
Here are a few tips to ensure a happy, successful cookout.
Prepping for the Cookout
The first step is to get your grill ready. If it’s gas, check the hose from your propane to your burners and, if there’s any buildup, clean it off before starting your grill. Hoses can catch on fire, which is not how you want to launch your summer. If there are any holes, replace the hose. If your grill is charcoal, dump out the ash from last season and clean the insides with soapy water.
Next, take the grates out and scrub them down with a wire brush. Run your grilling tools through the dishwasher. If you didn’t do it last fall, clean out the grease trap underneath your grill.
It’s also essential to have the proper tools near the grill to aid in helping to cook food properly. So, make sure you have a food thermometer handy to check the internal temperature of the meat to ensure it is at a safe temperature. You also want to have two sets of utensils and plates on hand. One to use when handling raw meat, poultry and seafood and the other clean set to serve the prepared and ready to eat food.
If you are not hosting your cookout at home, remember to pack the following non-food items for a safe barbecue.
• Separate coolers for different food items
• Trash bags
• Hand sanitizer
• Paper towels
Select a Healthy Menu
Now it’s time to select a menu. Here are some ideas to get you on the right track to a healthy and fun cookout.
• Be sure to incorporate fruits and vegetables into your selections. Summer is a perfect time to take a trip to your local farmer’s market and get fresh seasonal fruits and vegetables to serve.
• If you are going to serve meat, make sure that you select lean meats. Instead of grilling a traditional hamburger, try fixing veggie or turkey burgers for a healthier alternative. Make it fun and try incorporating different spices to provide variety.
• Grilled vegetables are always a great side. Choose your favorites such as red pepper, eggplant mushrooms, cherry tomatoes, etc. The possible combinations are endless. Baste your vegetable, season with herbs and place directly on the hot grill on place on a piece of tin foil. Grill until brown and tender.
• Trying to think of healthy dessert options that won’t pack on the calories? Fruit is a healthy option. If you want to incorporate the grill, try fruit kabobs, pineapple slices or watermelon. For a cooler treat, create your own fresh fruit salad using seasonal fruits such as watermelon, cantaloupe, and berries.
Preparing and Serving the Meal
Food safety is an important aspect of any meal, but it is especially important when you are dealing with heat and the outdoors. Be sure to use these guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as you prepare and serve the meal during your cookout.
• Be sure to wash your hands thoroughly with warm, soapy water before, during and after food preparation.
• Keep cooked and ready-to-eat food separate from raw meat and poultry.
• Be sure to use a food thermometer to cook in a safe temperature. For instance, fish, pork and steak should be cooked to 145 degrees Fahrenheit, hamburger should be at 160 degrees and chicken and hot dogs at 165 degrees.
• Don’t let perishables sit out for longer than two hours, or one hour if the outdoor temperature is about 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Summer is a great time to start your commitment to a healthier diet-- including grilling in a healthy way. For more eating and healthy living tips, subscribe to the Fisher-Titus Healthy Living Blog at fishertitus.org/health.
Nickie Kaetzel is a registered dietitian nutritionist at Fisher-Titus Medical Center. For help in reaching your health and wellness goals, contact your primary care physician for a referral for outpatient nutrition counseling.