Summertime Cooking, The Healthy Way with Elaine Magee, RD


Picnics, barbeques, backyard get-togethers — the joys of summer! But how do you enjoy the fun and food and still eat healthy? Do you really have to give up Grandma Barb’s potato salad and Grammy Betty’s breast, and a light Caesar dressing with croutons. It’s delicious, easy and cool.

Moderator: I always grill extra burgers. My teens can reheat them in the microwave and have burgers for lunch. What are some ideas for good picnic or barbeque foods that are already light?


  • Fruit salad, obviously, is a great picnic addition.
  • Raw veggie platter for nibbling; and I would tell people just to put some light ranch dressing or dip — just buy the bottle of light ranch and squirt it in a bowl. That way you know your kids are getting fruits and vegetables, too.
  • Barbecued chicken , especially if you remove the skin before you barbecue. People don’t realize that half the fat is in the skin. So just take the skin off if you can.
  • A green salad could be light if a light dressing is being used.
  • Watermelon wedges are fun for kids to eat and all good.

Moderator: Do you have any tips for grilling veggies along with meat?

Magee: There’s a couple of ways to do it. You can grill large pieces of vegetables on the grill or you can grill veggie kabobs, where you spread chunks of veggies on a skewer. I usually just use a light Italian dressing for this. Brush a little bit on and man, it’s surprising how great veggies can taste this way. It can be very colorful, too.

Moderator: Pickled veggies make good side dishes, too.

Magee: The important point being that you are eating a balanced meal with lots of light and nutritious side dishes along with your grilled meat, and of course, dessert.

Moderator: What about desserts? What can you recommend as light desserts for a picnic?

Magee: We could make light chocolate cupcakes. I’m assuming a lot of people are using a cake mix and they need to know that you do not have to add any of the oil called for on the box directions. In other words, if the cake mix calls for half a cup of oil, all you need to do is add half a cup of something else instead of the oil. For a chocolate cupcake I like using fat-free sour cream as my oil substitute. It always turns out terrific.

Another light dessert is angel food cake served with fresh fruit. If you want, add a dollop on top of light whipped cream or light Cool Whip.

Cobbling Up a Lighter Cobbler

Member question: In the summer I love to make fresh fruit cobblers. How can I lighten up cobbler? I am already adding flax seed to the topping!

Magee: I actually have a to-die-for recipe for any fruit crisp in my flax seed cookbook, which is called The Flax Cookbook. It’s page 172 of the cookbook. Let me just read off the topping ingredients, because that’s basically where you’re making the changes.

For the crisp topping I use:

That’s it! Basically what we’ve done is decrease the brown sugar a little, cut the butter in half, and used maple syrup in place of half the butter. So the calories have gone down and the fat grams have gone down.

Moderator: I have made your Any Fruit Crisp — it is fantastic! You also have fruit smoothies in there that make terrific cool summertime snacks.

Magee: My favorite is probably strawberry banana-fana smoothie. It has:

  • One cup apple juice
  • Two cups frozen or fresh strawberries
  • Two small bananas or one large banana sliced
  • Two cups vanilla non-fat frozen yogurt or light ice cream
  • 3 tablespoons ground flax seed

This makes three smoothies. Each smoothie has almost 7 grams of fiber, too. They’re delicious. I don’t even like bananas, but I like that smoothie. I can tell you my children’s favorite is peanut butter cup smoothie. And there are lots of other choices, like the Maui mango smoothie.

Moderator: We’ve been talking about summertime foods for most people. But now let’s take a look at those with special needs.

Member question: I am hypoglycemic and I also have difficulties with irritable bowel syndrome. My husband does not have any problems now but diabetes runs in his family. We are on a budget; what foods are best for us? Also, I’ve heard different things about low carbs versus no carbs versus low fat versus high fat, and no meat versus lots of meat. What is best?

Magee: First of all, I can understand special needs; I have irritable bowel myself and my dad has had diabetes most of his adult life. Generally, what I’m talking about would work for people with diabetes. For example, people with diabetes are helped by keeping track of carbs, fat, and fiber. That way they discover what combination works best for them and their sugars. So you could enjoy pasta salad and barbecued chicken, for example, you would hopefully be keeping track of the amount of certain foods that work for you.

In terms of irritable bowel, you would probably know which foods are troublesome for your constitution and hopefully could easily avoid them. For me, eating light, in terms of low fat, really helps me personally. I generally do not have any problems eating at a picnic or barbecue, as long as I stay away from the real greasy, fatty foods. I would think with hypoglycemia you would be better off eating smaller, more frequent meals and making sure each meal has quite a bit of fiber and each meal is nicely balanced with some protein and good fats along with good carbohydrate choices.

To answer your question about high-protein, low-protein, high-carb, etc., I personally strongly feel that the low-carb way of eating is just plain wrong. What I think helps most people is to make smart carb choices and to make more balanced meal choices to include some protein and fat along with carbohydrates.

Member question: We’re having a block party cookout and I know one family that’s coming has two diabetic members. As the host, what should I be aware of in offering food?

Magee: You’ll probably want to offer some high-fiber choices; limit sugars and sweeteners when you can; choosing smarter fats will also help, like olive oil and canola oil. But generally people with diabetes can eat anything; it’s a matter of them knowing the portions that work for them. Generally the higher fiber the meal is, the easier on the blood glucose it’s going to be, and then not overdoing certain carbohydrate-rich items.

This is a funny story about my dad who was diabetic (passed away a year ago). He called me one day and told me he was very confused coming home, he couldn’t remember how to get home. He took his blood sugar when he got home and it was really high. So I asked him, “What did you eat two hours before?” He was describing his lunch and he said, “Oh, I had watermelon.” I said, “How much watermelon?” He said, “One.” “One slice?” “No, one watermelon.” The point being, a little bit of watermelon is fine; a lot of watermelon can cause problems. That was the day he learned it’s not that watermelon is bad, you’d be hard-pressed to eat more than 150 calories from a serving because it’s mostly water, but if you eat enough of it, it can cause problems with your blood sugar.

Member question: My aunt always brings baked beans to family gatherings in the summer. What can be done to make baked beans healthier (aside from leaving out the salt pork)?

Magee: Baked beans are really not too bad. They’re very sweet, so if you were making them from scratch, you could cut the sugar a little and instead of salt pork, you could add lean ham, which would give you some of those flavors, but without as much fat. I personally might add a little bit of flax seeds to baked beans because it’s dark in color and the flax seed hides well.

I want everybody to remember that you do not want to eat food that has been out at room temperature for two hours or more.

Moderator: Speaking of that, let’s talk about food safety in the summer.

Magee: Fruit salad is fine, because it doesn’t have animal products in it. If a pasta salad, macaroni salad or meat or eggs are in the sun or hotter than room temperature, it’s safe for less than two hours. Please be careful. Do NOT eat food that’s been out too long. If you’re serving the food, keep those foods on ice, if possible.

Moderator: Any good advice about beverages?

Magee: It’s important in hot weather to drink plenty of water and decaffeinated beverages to hydrate. For the adults drinking the beer, drinking a light or nonalcoholic beer really cuts the calories. For lemonade, I make half Crystal Lite lemonade and half real lemonade and I find it satisfies most people. You basically have half the calories. I love iced tea. Making a fancy herb iced tea, having that all the time in the refrigerator in the summer all the time, is great. And if you make an herb tea it’s decaf, generally.

Moderator: If you like your iced tea sweetened, you can cut the sugar and add to the flavor by adding fresh mint.

Elaine, we are almost out of time. Before we wrap up for today, do you have any final comments for us?

Magee: I just wanted to mention my most recent books. The Flax Cookbook, The Recipe Doctor, and Tell Me What to Eat if I Have . There are also Tell Me What to Eat books for IBS, type 2 diabetes, and menopause.

Moderator: Our thanks to Elaine Magee, RD, for sharing her expertise with us today. Goodbye and good health.