Picnic and BBQ season is here. Elevate your outdoor entertaining spread – it can be as simple as a pretty platter of dried fruit paired with your favorite cheese, to refreshing beverages mixed with 100% juice for a mid-day relaxation sesh.
I love inviting a few friends or neighbors over for an impromptu happy hour or a weekend barbecue. I may include all the traditional favorites, such as hot dogs, burgers, or pulled pork, but amp up the side dishes with lots of fruits and veggies for balance.
This balance of choices on the table makes eating healthy enjoyable. The next time you are planning an outdoor gathering, try these simple ideas and substitutions. Your guests will appreciate mixing up traditional fair for a bit more flavor and nutrition.
10 Simple Ideas For A Plant-Forward Backyard Summer Party
- Grill the vegetables. Grill them before you start grilling meat entrees. Simply brush the veggies with some olive oil, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and lay them on the grill. Turn them often and watch them carefully as they only take a few minutes to cook. When they’re done, remove to a platter. They can be eaten as is or chopped into a salad or rice pilaf. Vegetables like zucchini, squash, eggplant, Vidalia or red onion slices, and bell pepper halves, all work well. Slice onion, squash, or eggplant into ¼-inch slices, brush with olive oil, and lightly season with salt before grilling. For bell peppers, seed and quarter large peppers, halve smaller ones. Coat with olive oil, season and lay on the hot grill. Turn the veggies about every 2 minutes until they are tender.
- Think outside the burger and frankfurter box. Sure, burgers and dogs are easy and delicious, but poultry and fish are wonderful on the grill too (especially if you are watching your sodium intake). Marinate some shrimp or boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Or you can cut the chicken into chunks, marinate it for 2 hours, then skewer with slices of onion, pineapple, and bell pepper for a delicious kabob. Grill a whole salmon filet and everyone can slice the portion they like.
TIP: It might be worth investing in a grill plate to make grilling fish a cinch. A fish grilling plate has larger holes or slats but protects the fish from disappearing into the grill rack or fire. Grilled fish is also great for fish tacos.
- Instead of an old-fashioned mayonnaise-laden macaroni salad, try a pasta and vegetable salad that is tossed with a vinaigrette dressing.
- Instead of a traditional creamy potato salad, try roasting potatoes with olive oil and garlic or truffle oil. Or serve a mixed green salad tossed with greens, sliced strawberries, slivered almonds, and a vinaigrette.
- Instead of a traditional creamy coleslaw, try tossing chopped cabbage with slivered almonds, sliced strawberries, chopped green onions, and a store-bought ginger vinaigrette dressing (mix and allow to sit in the fridge for an hour or two before serving).
- Always add some seasonal fruit to the table. This can be as simple as adding a platter of sliced melon, a bowl of grapes, a bowl of berries, plums, or nectarines to the table.
- Along with the fruit, include a veggie platter. Try my lightened-up artichoke dip. Serve with whole grain crackers and raw veggies while everyone is waiting for dinner.
- Instead of a bucket of soft drinks for the children, purchase small water bottles or mix up your own lemonade. You can mix up the lemonade with less sugar, and a child may drink less of it when it is served in a smaller cup. Bonus: you’ll have less waste.
- For the grown-ups, summertime is a great time to try some lighter white wines. Try a Pinot Grigio, a Riesling, or a Sauvignon Blanc. On a hot day, you can lighten these up by serving them over ice topped with sparkling water. Garnish with a strawberry or a slice of orange or cucumber.
Create a simple mocktail bar. Place a variety of sparkling waters and 100% fruit juice on the bar as a non-alcoholic option. Add bowls of sliced strawberries, mint leaves, or cucumbers for garnishes. This makes it easier to stay hydrated, and not overdo it