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Cookout Meal Plans

by Kristen May

Cookouts are ideal for warm weather because they use the grill instead of the stove or oven, keeping the heat outside of your house. Although most people think of meat and bread as the staples of cookouts, you have plenty of menu options to build a meal with all of the food groups.

Appetizers

Your family and guests will probably want to munch on some appetizers as they wait for the main course to grill. Choose a healthy appetizer that won't spoil their appetite for the real meal. If you have a food processor, make a simple black bean dip by pulsing cooked black beans with chopped tomato, onions, garlic, fresh cilantro, salt and pepper. Kids can easily scoop this up on pita chips, tortilla chips or toasted bread rounds. Another easy option is a tray of raw vegetables with a light, creamy dipping sauce.

Grilled Food

Grill small portions of meat to serve as part of the main course. Rather than full chicken breasts or giant burgers, opt for chicken thighs or half chicken breasts and thin 1/4-lb hamburgers. An even healthier option is to serve turkey burgers instead of hamburgers. Along with the requisite ketchup, mustard and creamy dressing, serve leaf lettuce, big slices of tomato and some oil-free grilled onions for healthy toppings on whole wheat buns. While the grill is hot, cook corn on the cob, which is a healthy kid-friendly accompaniment.

Side Dishes

When you're eating outside, cool and refreshing side dishes keep everyone from complaining too much about the heat. Chilled potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw are a few dishes you can put together the day before the cookout. Make them healthier by substituting a mixture of light salad dressing and low-fat sour cream for the mayonnaise . If you have some time on the day of the event, combine melon balls with lime juice and some chopped fresh mint for a chilled melon salad. If that's too much work, just slice a watermelon lengthwise into four quarters and then into wedge-shaped slices. Although the seeds might be tricky for some kids to eat around, for others, they are the source of entertainment in a seed-spitting contest.

Desserts

Stay away from heavy desserts after the variety of foods at a cookout. Fresh strawberries over a slice of angel food cake is a fat-free dessert that makes use of summer produce. If you want to plan ahead, make a smoothie with mixed fruit and yogurt and freeze it in an ice pop tray to make healthy frozen treats that kids and adults will enjoy.

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