Best Diabetes-Friendly Cookout Foods

How to enjoy yourself and keep blood sugar in check.

DIABETES CARE|Nov.13, 2018

Cookouts are a summer staple for good times and good food with family and friends. But for people living with diabetes, it's important to recognize which of your favorite cookout dishes are truly diabetic-friendly. While you may wonder whether the options fall outside your diabetes nutrition guidelines, all it takes is a little preparation to maintain healthy glucose levels.

If you are hosting, you have more flexibility to include diabetic meal ideas. And if close friends or family are hosting, you can ask them to provide a few modifications — just throw a couple of chicken breasts on the grill along with the burgers or include trays of raw fruits and vegetables. When you're a guest and can't control the menu, it simply takes a little planning ahead.

What to Limit or Avoid

When it comes to diabetes nutrition, you already know that certain foods are no-nos, such as cookies, cakes, pies and even large servings of meat.

Keep an eye on side items, too, which can be loaded with sugar and fat. One simple rule is to watch out for yellow and white foods. That covers cakes, cookies, white potatoes, fried foods and chips. Other foods to limit or avoid include:

  • Potato salad with heavy mayonnaise dressing.
  • Marinades, dips and sauces.
  • Salads with thick, heavy dressings.
  • Soda.
  • Meats high in saturated fats, like burgers and hot dogs.
  • Refined white bread, like that in buns.

You don't have to completely avoid these foods, but to keep glucose levels in check, you should only eat them in moderation.

What to Eat

Now, let's focus on the good stuff. Try making these diabetic meal ideas as alternatives to popular cookout options that you can serve or take with you:

  • Kebabs: Chunks of steak, chicken or fish work well. Skewer them with one chunk for every two or three vegetable chunks. Coat with olive oil, season with your favorite spices and then grill. This keeps your meat portions under control and ensures you have lots of veggies.
  • Lighter sides: Follow traditional recipes, but swap out fat-free yogurt for sour cream or mayonnaise. Try a cider vinegar coleslaw for a diabetes-friendly side option.
  • Hummus, guacamole and salsa: These sides are a better alternative to dips, sauces and marinades.
  • Quinoa salad: As opposed to traditional pasta salad, try a quinoa salad like this one from Diabetes Food Hub.

You can also enjoy traditional cookout foods without bringing your own or risking offending your hosts. Keep moderation in mind for the following:

  • Barbecue: It's hard to turn down smoked barbecue, and you don't have to. Opt for a serving approximately the size of your palm (typically 3-4 ounces) and keep the sauce limited to a tablespoon or two.
  • Lean meat: Chicken breast, turkey breast or fish are smart meat options.
  • Burger: You can have a burger, but consider forgoing the bun. Top with lettuce, tomato and onion, and skip the condiments to avoid unnecessary sugars.
  • Bean salad: Beans are a good option. While baked beans tend to be higher in sugar, a light bean salad is a great choice.
  • Corn on the cob.
  • Watermelon and other raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Beverage: Opt for water, sparkling water or unsweetened tea. Skip the soda and limit alcohol to stay hydrated.

When trying to control portions, imagine a line dividing your plate into quarters. Two quarters should be full of fruits and vegetables, one with a small serving of meat and one with a serving size of carbs.

How to Cheat & Still Maintain Healthy Glucose Levels

No need to stare longingly at the dessert table. You can cheat, just balance your other food choices. For example, skip the hamburger bun and have a small slice of pie. Love potato salad? Have a small serving, but skip the coleslaw right beside it.

Remember to socialize away from the food table. Cookouts are prime time for grazing, and that can spike your blood sugar before you realize it.

Follow these tips, and more from Diabetes Self-Management, to stay happy and healthy as you navigate the season's can't-miss cookout events.