Healthy Summer Cook-Outs by Lisa Johnson, RD

We just celebrated another Independence Day. I hope yours was memorable! I was home this year for the first time in years and decided to grill out with family and friends. The stakes are high when the dietitian is in charge! I definitely wanted to practice what I preach and so I was sure to have plenty of fruits and vegetables. I think I covered all the food groups! I tried to make it festive, delicious, healthy and fun! Since we have several more weeks of summer and opportunities to grill, I thought I would share what I did and hopefully motivate you to move away from the traditional grill foods like burgers with buns, chips, and sodas to more nutritious, but equally satisfying foods to include proteins, fruits, vegetables and sparkling waters! My menu is included below. May the remainder of your summer be seasonally nutritious!


Fresh Cherries

Homemade Pimento Cheese with celery and Reduced Fat Wheat Thins

Grass-fed burgers with cinnamon, pink salt and green onions, no buns: Interesting seasonings I know. It’s part of my Lebanese heritage. We called it Kofta! The spices help the burger to stand alone. No buns or condiments needed.

Walnut pesto zucchini noodles with tomatoes:

This was my healthiest dish including greens and reds from the veggie group along with heart healthy olive oil and walnuts. And, I grew the basil for the pesto. It was a huge hit!

Corn on the cob:

I have a die-hard, carb-loving family; so I decided corn was healthier and much easier than macaroni and cheese. Plus, I finally learned the trick to cooking perfect corn straight from the Eastern-Carolina farmers…boil 3 minutes, rest covered 3 minutes, and drain. Even if you previously didn’t care for corn, you might change your mind. It is much sweeter when not over-cooked.


Summer sets the stage for watermelons, a traditional childhood favorite for most. Watermelons are great cook-out foods because they are nutritious, containing antioxidants like lycopene; and they affordably feed a crowd. This is a healthy carb in lieu of breads and chips.

Patriotic cheesecake with a berry flag

This was just plain good! And festive too! Plus, I did manage to include healthy berries on top. When making cheesecake, be sure to choose a recipe with the yummy sour-cream layer on top; especially if you are designing a flag.

I hope your Independence Day was a blast! Let’s keep the fun going with more healthy summer cook-outs!

PS: I served flavored seltzer water instead of soda! Black Cherry is my favorite!

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