Written by Xavier Toledo, Reviewed by Diana Licalzi, MS, RD, CDE
Whether you celebrate the 4th of July or simply enjoy an outdoor feast, cookouts are an integral part of summer. Although socializing and relaxing are cherished aspects of these gatherings, a cookout isn't a cookout without one essential component: the food!
However, compared to dining at home or in a restaurant, you have less control over your food when attending such events. Because of this, we’ve put together the following tips on navigating cookouts with type 2 diabetes to help you confidently handle these gatherings.
1. Hunt For The Plant-Based Options
Here at Reversing T2D, we promote adopting more of a whole-food, plant-based diet for reversing pre- and type 2 diabetes. Because of this, we recommend searching for plant-based options at cookouts. Depending on the gathering, this could be easy or more challenging. Sometimes, you must get creative and combine a few different side dishes.
Some great options to keep an eye out for include corn on the cob, grilled veggie skewers, fruit salad, hummus, salad, and veggie platters. However, if you don’t want to roll the dice, you can always opt for our second tip.
To learn more about why we recommend a whole-food, plant-based diet to reverse type 2 diabetes, check out our blog post on the matter.
2. Bring Something Yourself
If you’re worried there won’t be any plant-based options at the cookout, consider bringing your own dish! This way, you’ll know that there will be at least one nourishing choice for you to enjoy at the gathering. Here are some ideas to get your gears turning:
- Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Skewers
- Southwest Lentil Pasta Salad
- Grilled Corn & Avocado Salad
- Tabbouleh Salad
There are so many amazing recipes to choose from—so let your imagination run wild! If you’re interested in the above dishes, you can find the recipes later in this article. Remember, when looking for recipes, try to find whole-food, plant-based dishes that are low in saturated fats, refined oils, and refined carbohydrates.
3. Avoid Mindless Eating
When you’re enjoying a cookout, losing track of what and how much you’re eating can be easy. Because of this, many people tend to eat mindlessly in these situations. However, this doesn't have to be the case. Here are a few tips for eating more mindfully at social gatherings:
- Eat slowly: Aim to take 10-20 minutes to complete your meal. It takes about 20 minutes for our stomachs to signal to our brains that we're full. The slower you eat, the more likely you'll feel more satisfied.
- Avoid hanging around the food: It can be easy to mindlessly graze when food is easily accessible. Make sure you’re eating because you want to be, not because it’s convenient.
- Don’t finish your plate for the sake of finishing: Sometimes, we overestimate how much food we can take on. When you’re full, don’t feel like you need to finish everything on your plate. Remain mindful of your body’s cues.
Keep an eye out for hidden ingredients: Common cookout foods and beverages (e.g., condiments, salad dressings, etc.) can be loaded with hidden ingredients. Be mindful of these, and read nutrition labels carefully. For tips and tricks on navigating nutrition labels through a diabetes lens, check out our guide on the matter.
4. Stay Hydrated!
Staying hydrated should always be a priority, but this is even more true when you’re out in the summer heat. Some common cookout drinks (such as alcohol, soda, and sugar-sweetened beverages) may seem alluring, but water is the best option for those with type 2 diabetes. Not only is it the most hydrating option, but it also won’t raise your blood sugar levels.
Because of this, water is an excellent option to avoid dehydration and is perfect for keeping your blood sugar levels in check. Additionally, continuously drinking water during a social event has the added benefit of keeping you full—which can help you avoid overeating.
If you’re in the mood for something different than water, unsweetened iced tea and seltzer water are a couple of great alternatives.
Remember, we don’t need to rely solely on beverages to rehydrate. Whole fruits and vegetables can be a great source of fluids. Foods such as watermelon, strawberries, tomatoes, and cucumbers are mostly water, so don’t shy away from them!
5. Choose Your Alcohol Wisely
In the previous section, we mentioned how alcoholic beverages aren’t the best option for rehydrating. However, if you enjoy drinking socially, there’s nothing wrong with that. For those with type 2 diabetes, we recommend avoiding punches, piña coladas, and other mixed drinks. They may taste great, but they often contain add-ins that contribute a lot of empty calories and processed sugars. Instead, consider opting for a glass of wine, a light beer, or liquor with zero-calorie mixers like seltzer, lime juice, or diet soda.
Please note: certain diabetes medications mixed with alcohol can cause hypoglycemia — when blood sugar falls below 70 mg/dL. Our liver helps maintain healthy glucose levels in our blood by releasing stored glucose overnight and between meals. However, when we drink, our liver prioritizes metabolizing alcohol over this.
So, when alcohol is combined with certain glucose-lowering medications (particularly insulin or sulfonylureas), it can lead to dangerously low blood glucose levels, which, if left untreated, can be life-threatening. In these cases, never drink on an empty stomach and check blood sugar levels more frequently.
6. Move Around
One of the best ways to combat a spike in blood sugar levels following a meal is to move around. When you activate your muscles, the muscle tissues take up glucose and consequently help bring down your blood sugar levels. You don’t have to partake in formal exercise to experience this benefit. Whether you’re dancing around to the music of the party or taking a swim to cool yourself off, anything you can do to get your muscles moving will help!
To learn more about the benefits of exercise for type 2 diabetes, check out our blog post on the matter.
7. Treat Yourself For The Special Occasion!
Go easy on yourself if you’re in the mood for something a little more indulgent! Gatherings are meant to be enjoyed—and it’s okay if food is part of the pleasure. Enjoy yourself, but just be mindful of what you are consuming. There's a fine line between indulging and overindulging, so try not to go overboard.
With the warmer weather upon us, the cookout season has officially begun. Attending these events confidently is key, so we hope these tips help you navigate summer cookouts with ease.
Consider enrolling in one of our programs for more tips and tricks on navigating other situations (such as dining at restaurants and traveling). You can learn more about our programs here.
 Grilled Tofu and Vegetable Skewers: https://simplyceecee.co/grilled-lemongrass-tofu-skewers/
 Southwest Lentil Pasta Salad: https://watchlearneat.com/southwest-lentil-pasta-salad/
 Grilled Corn & Avocado Salad: https://nutritioninthekitch.com/cilantro-lime-grilled-corn-salad/
 Tabbouleh Salad: https://myveganminimalist.com/easy-tabbouleh-salad/