6 Tips for Healthier Cook Outs from a Nutritionist

The school year is winding down, and that means summer is around the corner. For many, Labor Day weekend is the first big weekend to soak up the sun, relax, and enjoy time with friends and family. Often times this involves gathering around food for an annual cook out. Do your Labor Day weekend plans involve a cook out? Are you worried about how your new whole food diet will fit into the weekend? We want to make your switch to a whole food based diet fit within your lifestyle. Follow the tips below to host a healthier cook out with ease.

  1. Start with snacks. If you are hosting the get-together make sure to set out whole food snacks for you and your guests to munch on while you wait for the main course. Some ideas include nuts, homemade trail mix, avocado deviled eggs, or a vegetable tray with hummus.
  2. Make the entrée the star of the show. Homemade burgers are the perfect star entrée for a whole food focused cook out. You can offer your guests variety by giving them the option of a beef, turkey or bison burger. Choose grass-fed or free-range meats. Research shows that grass-fed beef has up to 5 times as much omega-3 fatty acid content in it compared to conventionally raised meat, which is important for controlling inflammation in the body to promote health. It is also higher in nutrients like Vitamins A, E and some minerals, compared to conventional raise beef products.
  3. Don’t overdo it (with the cooking). Keep in mind that a well-done or charred burger or steak could create carcinogens that can increase your risk of developing cancer. Cooking meat at high cooking temperatures or over cooking until burnt causes herterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons(PACs) to form. Some tips to reduce the formation of this carcinogens include: flipping the meat frequently to reduce charring, marinate meat prior to cooking it (vinegars and oils are best), opt for shorting cooking times (still ensuring meat reaches proper food temperature to prevent food borne illness), turn the flame down while grilling, and if you do end up charring you main dish just remove the charred sections before consumption.
  4. Play with your food. Make dinner an interactive event by setting up a “build your own burger” bar, complete with whole food toppings such as, lettuce, tomato, onion, mushroom, avocado, bacon and more. Take your cook out to the next level by offering fermented pickles and sauerkraut as a topping. You guests will leave with full bellies and a healthier gut.
  5. Serve up whole food sides. Serve your main dish with a variety of grilled vegetables. If you have time prior to the event stop by your local farmer’s market and see what is in season. Most summer vegetables pair well together, so you can pick and choose what you like. Once you get your fresh haul home simply slice or dice the vegetables, toss in olive oil, add your favorite seasoning and throw on the grill until tender. You can also bake them in the oven if the grill is full.
  6. Show up prepared. If you are attending someone else’s cook out the best tip to stay focused on your whole food plan is to bring a dish that others will enjoy too. Below is my favorite go-to cook out recipe. It only takes about 10 minutes to whip up and it always gets great reviews.


Cranberry-Almond Coleslaw

Makes: 8 servings            Total time: 10-15 minutes


¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar (with the “mother”)

2 Tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

2 Tbsp raw honey

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 (10 oz) packages shredded coleslaw mix or other cabbage mixture

1 cup sliced almonds

¾ cup dried cranberries, unsweetened

4 green onions, sliced

2 celery ribs sliced

Directions: Whisk together first 6 ingredients. If you have a glass jar with a lid simply put all 6 ingredients in the jar, close and shake. Next, stir together coleslaw mix and next 4 ingredients in a large bowl; add dressing, tossing to coat.

Recipe adapted from Southern Living: The Official SEC Tailgating Cookbook


Hopefully now you feel a bit more comfortable about integrating whole foods into your normal lifestyle. If you want to learn more about the foods you should be eating for optimal health talk to the PIH team or sign up for our upcoming 6-week nutrition series (email abby@pihkc.com or drdyer@pihkc.com for details).


Written by: Abby Stanley, MS RDN LD

Abby has recently joined the PIH team as a Functional Nutritionist. She is also the owner and CEO of Revive Nutrition Solutions, LLC. She loves helping others improve their health and life through nutrition an advocate for eating REAL food!