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Best and Worst Cookout Foods

grill and cookout foods

Photo courtesy of SparkPeople

Summer is here, and that means outdoor parties and cookouts with friends and family! But if you’re trying to eat healthier, it can seem hard to find good choices at the picnic table. You don’t have to hide out until September just to resist temptation, though. Use this guide to choose food that's light, healthy and refreshing at any backyard blowout.

Burgers 'n Dogs Hamburgers and hot dogs don’t have to be a diet disaster. Start with a 100% whole wheat bun instead of white for a healthy dose of fiber, and watch the fat content of the meat. The average beef and pork hot dog contains about 180 calories and 17 grams of fat before you add a bun and toppings. Turkey dogs are tasty and won’t sabotage your diet—you can have two of them for less than 100 calories. If you’re going for a burger, stay away from the high-fat toppings like cheese, mayo and bacon. Choose cheese slices made with skim milk to reduce the fat content and load your burger with mustard and fresh veggies instead. Here's the burger 'n dog breakdown:

Worst Better Best
Hamburger patty (4 oz) 290 calories 22g fat Turkey burger patty (4 oz ) 160 calories 9g fat Veggie burger patty (2.5 oz) 110 calories 4 grams of fat
Bratwurst (4 oz) 300 calories 25g fat Beef hot dog (2 oz) 180 calories 17g fat Turkey dog (2 oz) 45 calories 5g fat
Swiss cheese and sautéed mushrooms 150 calories 13g fat Cheese, lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, ketchup, mayo and mustard 131 calories 9g fat Lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pickles and mustard 25 calories 0g fat
Buttered bun 160 calories 6.5g fat Whole wheat bun 110 calories 1.5g  fat A lettuce leaf 5 calories 0g fat

Chips, Salads & Sides If potato salad is your downfall, make your recipe healthier by leaving the skins on the potatoes (for more fiber and nutrients) and choose nonfat Greek-style yogurt instead of mayo. Make creamy cole slaw more waist-friendly by reducing the fat in the dressing by swapping plain low-fat yogurt for half the mayo. Baked beans are usually a good choice, but opt for vegetarian varieties that aren't made with bacon, if possible. If you want to avoid the creamy salad temptations completely, fill your plate with fresh grilled vegetables. Spray chunks of red peppers, yellow squash, zucchini and eggplant with canola oil spray and grill them on the barbecue. Add freshly ground pepper and a dash of balsamic vinegar for extra punch. When it comes to dips, look for vegetable and fruit-based choices like guacamole (made from avocado fruit) and salsa (made from tomatoes and veggies). These pack healthy nutrients that creamy dips often don't.

Worst Better Best
Potato salad (1/2 cup) 179 calories 10.3g fat Cole slaw (1/2 cup 150 calories 8g fat Vegetarian baked beans (1/2 cup) 100 calories 1g fat
Ranch dressing (2 Tbsp) 180 calories 18g fat Guacamole (4 Tbsp) 100 calories 8g fat Salsa (1/2 cup) 60 calories 0g fat
Potato or tortilla chips (1 oz) 150 calories 10g fat Pretzels (1 oz) 110 calories 2g fat Raw vegetables (1 oz) 16 calories 0g fat

Drinks Calories from beverages can add up fast. And new research on artificial sweeteners shows that even diet soda, although calorie free, can result in weight gain. When it comes to liquids, water is the only thing your body needs. But when it comes to grilling out, most people like to drink something both flavorful and refreshing. Use the chart below for some sweet ideas when you want something besides water.

Worst Better Best
Lemonade (8 oz) 120 calories Sweet tea (8 oz) 100 calories Water with lemon (8 oz)4 calories or Unsweetened tea (8 oz) 2 calories

Pies & Desserts Berries make fresh, nutritious choices for summer and spring, but the way they're prepared can often add way more sugar than these naturally-sweet fruits need. Go for fresh fruit (like watermelon slices or fruit salad) as a healthy guilt-free dessert. Can't resist that cake or pie? Pile on the fresh berries and fruit and try just a taste of the cake, whipped cream or other dessert.

Worst Better Best
Blueberry pie (1/8 of pie) 473 calories 19g fat Strawberry shortcake with whipped cream and sweetened strawberries (2.5 oz) 325 calories 8g fat Angel food cake (2 oz) with fresh strawberries (1/2 cup) 120 calories 0g fat

More From Spark People: Beyond Burgers: Fun Foods You Can Grill Diet-Friendly Alcohol Choices The Proven Weight-Loss Program that Isn't a Diet