10 Healthy & Tasty Tips & Recipes for Summer Cookouts

It’s cookout season, folks — time for those family picnics, neighborhood potlucks and backyard barbecues. Which means you’ve probably been asked to prepare a side dish, whether you’re the host or an invited guest at a summer gathering. 

I say it all the time: Don’t be the person who brings a tub of deli potato salad to the table. Get a little creative and think outside the prepared-food box. There are all kinds of healthy and delicious side dish ideas that don’t require much time or effort, and are light and just right for hot weather.

Let’s start with a few tips for cookout success:

  1. Anticipate what others will bring. Know that another guest will probably come with a bag of tortilla chips and a jar of salsa, baked beans or pasta salad. Avoid duplicating common cookout sides.
  2. Think light and bright. Opt for lots of vegetables without heavy dressings or sauces. Salads with mayo or sour cream need to be kept cold, which may be a challenge at an outdoor party. 
  3. Go seasonal. Summertime is the high season for fruits and vegetables, so center your dishes around the bounty. Add tons of fresh herbs for flavor.
  4. Keep it simple. Fresh, seasonal produce is so delicious, you don’t have to fuss with it. Instead of baking a fruit pie, toss together sliced farmers’ market peaches and blueberries in a pretty dish.
  5. Just wing it. The recipes below aren’t so much recipes as they are suggestions for combining ingredients and flavors. That’s the beauty of working with seasonal ingredients (see No. 4 above).
  6. If you don’t want to cook, make interesting choices. Instead of chips and salsa, bring flavored hummus and veggies (cherry tomatoes, sweet garden carrots, sliced cucumber). Or create a platter of assorted olives, roasted red peppers, marinated mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and mini balls of fresh mozzarella. 

Quick & Easy Summer Side Dish Recipes

Tomato & Melon Salad

In a big serving bowl, combine big chunks of fresh, vine-ripe tomato and seedless watermelon or cantaloupe. Season with salt and pepper, then drizzle with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add a big handful of chopped fresh basil or parsley. Before serving, add some crumbled Feta cheese if you’d like. 

Corn & Cherry Tomato Salad

Cut the kernels off 3 or 4 ears of fresh sweet corn into a bowl. Add a pint of cherry tomatoes, halved; season with salt and pepper. In a small saucepan, combine 3 tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of sliced garlic. Bring to a simmer and cook one minute. Pour the warm garlic oil over the vegetables and gently toss. Add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs.

Whole Grain & Tomato Salad

Cook one cup of pearled farro or barley according to package directions. Drain and transfer to a serving bowl. Add 2 cups of chopped ripe tomato, 1 can (drained) chickpeas, 1 minced garlic clove and minced red onion to taste. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Add a big handful of chopped fresh herbs.

Summer Fruit Toss

In a big serving bowl, combine 3 or 4 sliced peaches or nectarines (peeled or not) and two cups fresh blueberries. Toss gently with one or two tablespoons raw sugar and the juice and zest of one lime. Garnish with chopped fresh mint. 

With a little creativity and not much effort, you’ll be known as the host or guest who brought that memorable dish to the cookout. Make it a good one!

Looking for more inspiration? Check out these additional tasty and healthful recipes from Bryn. 

​Bryn Mooth is the author of the Findlay Market Cookbook, the editor of Edible Ohio Valley  magazine, and she also publishes a website called writes4food.com. She loves cooking tasty and uncomplicated dishes, cultivating a small vegetable garden and shopping at the Tristate area's many local farmers markets. Saturday mornings, you'll find Bryn at Findlay Market bright and early, doing much of her grocery shopping for the week. She's pleased to be partnering with Healthspirations to share her recipes, how-tos and information about eating healthfully in Cincinnati!