group of friends having outdoor garden barbecue salad dinner with drinks

The dog days of summer are fast approaching, and with them come cookouts.

Starting this Memorial Day, tables will groan with delicious desserts, ribs, burgers and side dishes. For anyone trying to stay healthy, it can be a minefield of temptation. But by following a few simple rules, you can avoid the guilt and make every cookout a healthy cookout.

1. Stick with water. Don’t drink your calories away with soda or overly sweet tea. Water is calorie-free and also keeps your better hydrated than any other beverage out there.  If your water’s feeling a little dull, drop in fresh fruit like lemon, lime or berries. For a cooling and unique drink, add mint and sliced cucumber.

2. Avoid anything with mayonnaise. It’s not a hard-and-fast rule, but if you see a bean salad, macaroni salad or anything else called “salad” that’s covered in mayo, head down the buffet table to the veggie plate instead. Mayo is full of fat with no health benefits. Instead, lean toward salads that use lighter, oil-based dressings. Not only are they lower in fat and calories, they also contain healthy, plant-based fats that can boost your good cholesterol.

3. Go for the grill. Grilled food isn’t necessarily healthy, but it can reduce the need for added fat seen in cooking techniques like frying or sauteing. It also allows for fat in meats to drain away, rather than leaving them bathing in it. When given an option, pick the item cooked on the grill. Your body will thank you.

4. Protein load. Protein keeps you feeling fuller longer, which means you’ll have more willpower against the dessert table. Look to those healthy grilled meats for your protein hit, but don’t forget that beans can serve up a healthy dose of both protein and fiber. Bean salad, baked beans or bean salsa are all great ways to add more protein to any plate.

5. Opt for fruit. Summertime is fresh fruit season, and chances are you’ll see at least one fresh fruit option for dessert. Grilled fruit can be a healthy and easy dessert option. Grilling caramelizes the sugars in fruit and makes it even sweeter. If there’s no fresh fruit, try to opt for sorbet, which is made with water, over ice cream.

A summer cookout doesn’t have to derail your healthy eating. If you’re hosting your own cookout, why not take a page from one of our free Randall Cookbooks and fill the table with healthy options everyone can enjoy?