Do’s and Don’ts for Cookout Food

Summer is officially and finally here and, while gatherings will look different this year, we will still be finding opportunities to enjoy our favorite cookout foods. While summer should be a fun time, it can also be a very difficult time for those of us who struggle with our eating habits. We might feel like we need to say “no” to our favorite treats or might push ourselves to “makeup” for eating them or beat ourselves up for “falling off the wagon.” As we head into July 4th weekend and social distancing relaxes just a bit, I thought now would be a good time to share some tips to help you get through this time of year without food guilt.

Don’t – Obsess over your food choices

I know this one can be more easily said than done, but how can you enjoy yourself if you’re worrying about what you should and shouldn’t eat? My advice to you is to eat what you want to, but be mindful about it. Start with a reasonable portion and pay attention to your hunger and satiety cues. You absolutely do not have to finish what’s on your plate if you’re full and you absolutely do not have to go hungry if you don’t feel satisfied by your initial portion. Listen to your body.

Don’t – Deprive yourself of the food you want to eat

It is actually healthier for you to allow yourself that potato salad or that ice cream that you really want than to deprive yourself of it completely. Why? Allowing yourself those treats regularly will help you stay motivated about healthy eating, will help with your metabolism, and will help keep you from falling into the unhealthy diet cycle of deprivation and binging. Plus, you’ll just be happier ūüôā As I said above, agree to allow yourself those favorite treats, serve yourself a portion, and eat it mindfully so you can enjoy it.

Don’t – Try to compensate or overcompensate

Maybe the biggest “don’t” I have for you is don’t skip out on all the rest of your food for the day to compensate for what you will eat at your cookout. Likewise, don’t destroy yourself at the gym to “make room for” or “undo” what you ate. I can promise you these efforts will not have the positive effect you are looking for. Instead, it’s more likely that you will binge, overdo it, and feel awful after or hurt yourself. Plus, these tactics don’t reflect the way the body really works. You can’t “undo” calories consumed.

Do – Give yourself permission to indulge

Obsessing over not eating your favorite foods in majorly going to to dampen your day. Instead, give yourself permission to treat yourself without worrying about it. You might be surprised to know that most of my clients who give themselves permission to indulge actually find that they are less likely to overdo it and are more likely to enjoy their food and be satisfied by a reasonable portion of it.

Do – Stay hydrated

A lot of those foods we like so much at cookouts are really salty and can dehydrate you, as can the alcohol. Ironically, the more alcohol you drink, the more of those salty dehydrating snacks you’re likely to eat and vice versa. Make sure you drink plenty of water during your gathering to keep you feeling better and being safer.

Do – Make sure you have options

If you’re really stressed about not having any healthy options at a cookout for you to find a balance that you like, then bring your own. Bring some cut veggies and dip or a shrimp and avocado salad with serrano honey vinegar. Remember, the goal here isn’t to ONLY eat “healthy” foods, it’s to help relieve that stress and pressure you may feel about your eating habits.

Do – Practice portion control

Balance. Balance. Balance. Balance. Did you get that? Balance. As a nutrition coach, I can’t emphasize enough that the key to healthy living is balance. Does portion control mean that you should keep measuring cups and a food scale in your purse and use them to dish out your food? Um, no… obviously. What it does mean is don’t pile your plate to overflowing with all kinds of goodies. Use your hand portions or start small and get seconds as you feel you want to. The more that you put on your plate at once, the more likely you are to eat, and the more likely you are to get to that uncomfortably full point.

Don’t – Beat yourself up

So after all is said and done, you feel like you really overdid it. All those plans for proportionality went out the window and you’re not feeling great about it. So what? You’re human and it happens to all of us. Does that mean all is lost? No. Does that mean you’re off the wagon? No, because there is no wagon. We are always making progress – it’s a journey, not a road you’re on or off.

The worst thing that you can do in this situation is put yourself down for it. It’s that harshness with yourself afterwards, that will discourage you and put you off your goals. The best thing that you can do for yourself in this situation¬† is be gentle with yourself – say to yourself “well, that wasn’t my ideal outcome, but I’m not giving up on myself” and get right back at it. I’ve seen too many people defeat themselves by allowing one bad day to become a spiral and it’s not fair to yourself.

Cauliflower Alfredo Sauce

If you are one of¬†the¬†many parents who struggle to get their kids to eat their vegetables, you are going to love this recipe. If you are an adult who hates eating vegetables, you are going to love this recipe. If you love alfredo. you’re going to love this recipe. The sauce has the velvety texture and creamy flavor of alfredo, but contains just a tiny amount of cheese and is made of cauliflower. Instead of milk or heavy cream, you use the water you cooked the cauliflower in for a liquid so you’re still able to get some of those water-soluble nutrients¬†from the cauliflower. You won’t even know you’re eating a vegetable!¬†What’s even better is this is super quick and easy to make.

A quick note on the pasta. I always recommend whole wheat pastas over white pastas – it is far more nutritious than white and it’s also more filling. However, this sauce is made with water and whole wheat pasta tends to soak that up very quickly so you end up with a grainier textured sauce. I still don’t recommend white pasta. I would say go with a brown rice pasta or a whole wheat blend, like whole wheat and quinoa pasta. It will act less like a sponge while still not being an empty carb. I recommend using penne or ziti because it catches some of the sauce inside of it so you get even more flavor with each bite.


  • 1 head cauliflower
  • 5-6 cloves of garlic, chopped
  • 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 cup water (from the cauliflower)
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 box whole grain pasta, cooked


  • Blender


  1. Break up the cauliflower into florets. Place them in a large pot of water and boil until soft.
  2. While the cauliflower is cooking, saute the chopped garlic cloves in the extra virgin olive oil for about a minute – just long enough to bloom the flavor. Scrape the garlic and oil into the blender.
  3. Once the cauliflower is soft, add it to the blender with the salt, water from the pot, and parmesan. Blend until the sauce is smooth.
  4. Add the sauce to the cooked pasta. Optional: top with a little more grated parmesan and cracked black pepper and enjoy!

Using a small head of cauliflower, I had some extra sauce leftover using one box of pasta. So. if you buy a larger head, you may be able to make enough sauce for two boxes of pasta.

If you want to take this one step further, add some grilled chicken and broccoli to it!

Cauliflower Sauce

This sauce is so incredibly velvety and creamy!

Roasted Beet, Avocado & Quinoa Salad

With the warm summer months fast approaching, this refreshing and nutritious side dish is bound to be a crowd pleaser at any cookout. What’s more is it looks as good as it tastes! Bright colors like this are a great way to get picky kids to eat something healthy! They can even help mix it all up!

Quinoa Salad


For the Salad:

2 cups cooked quinoa

4-5 medium-sized beets, diced and roasted until soft (I suggest par-boiling them first to cut down on cook time)

1 orange bell pepper, diced

2 avocados, cubed

For the Dressing:

3/4 cup fresh cilantro

2-3 limes, juiced

1 orange, juiced

1 tbsp agave nectar

1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil (may need to add more, depending on flavor and consistency)

Salt and Pepper to taste


  1. First, prepare the dressing so the flavors can bloom while you prepare the rest of the salad. Combine the cilantro and fruit juices in a blender and blend about 30 seconds until beginning to get smooth and combined. Add the olive oil gradually and the agave nectar and continue to blend until liquified. Add a dash of salt and pepper and place the dressing in the refrigerator while you prepare the rest of the salad.
  2. Prepare the quinoa according to the package and roast the beets until soft (you can also just boil them but I find that roasting makes the flavor sweeter).
  3. Allow the quinoa and beets to cool before adding the other salad ingredients. You can place them in the fridge if you’re on a time crunch.
  4. Once the quinoa and the beets have cooled, combine them with the diced pepper and avocado in a large mixing bowl. Remove the dressing from the fridge and give it a good shake to mix it all up again. This is where you want to taste it to make sure that it’s the balance you’re looking for. If not, you can add more oil, salt and pepper, or juice. I leave this up to the chef because some people like things zestier than others.
  5. Pour the dressing over the salad, mix together, serve and enjoy!



Smart Shopping

Given just the information below, which of these do you think is a healthy choice for breakfast?

Envirokidz Organic: $4.00           Nature Valley 100% Natural: $3.00

Chances are you chose Envirokidz Organic. What went into your rationale behind that choice? Was it the fact that the label says organic? The gluten free label? Or maybe the fact that it’s more expensive than the Nature Valley?

Here is the nutritional breakdown for each of these:

The Envirokidz bars contain just 1 gram of fiber, 6 grams of sugar, and one gram of protein. That is too much sugar and not enough protein or fiber. Looking at the ingredients list, these contain “natural flavors” AKA chemicals (processed packaged foods don’t have to be 100%¬†organic to have the organic label) and FIVE different types of sugar. This is NOT a healthy breakfast option.

However, the Nature’s Valley bars are no better. Those contain 2 grams of fiber, a whopping 12 grams of sugar, and 4 grams of protein. Sugar is listed as the second ingredient on the label. Keep in mind, ingredients are listed in order of how much of each the food contains. That means that sugar is the second most abundant ingredient. The ingredients also include canola oil, which is almost always GMO and heavily processed, and “natural flavors” or chemicals.

So this was a little bit of a trick question since there really is no healthy option listed, but it illustrates what we typically consider when choosing foods and the information that we really need to look at.

A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that many people associate higher price with healthier foods. In a world where organic options are pricier and processed junk food is cheap, this isn’t such a strange assumption to make. However, it’s not always true and can lead you to unintentionally make very unhealthy food choices. (Read more about this study here)

The ingredients and the nutrition facts are where the important information about a packaged food lies. Ideally, a smart breakfast cereal choice will contain at LEAST 3 grams of fiber, less than 5 grams of sugar, and at LEAST 3 grams of protein. This is so the fiber and protein¬†can slow the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream. The way our food labeling laws work allow for manufacturers to put labels on their foods that may not be entirely true and reading the ingredients list is the only way to know what a food truly contains. For example, a package may say “0 trans fat” but the food still contains trans fats, also know as hydrogenated oils.

In a perfect world, we could all only eat whole foods, but reality is that we are busy and need some convenience in our lives so we are going to buy packaged foods from time to time. With the knowledge of how to shop smart, you can still make healthy choices in any aisle of the grocery store.

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