How to navigate summer cookouts with food sensitivities

Ah, summer is here and so are the summer BBQs and cookouts! For most people, this is a reason to rejoice and throw on their favorite gingham sundress. But for people with food sensitivities, it can create a lot of anxiety. To help those of you who resonate with the latter, I put together some tips to get you (happily) through these summer gatherings.

However, if you have a food allergy, you should head to this article about food allergies and BBQs. Food allergies are much more serious as they can cause life-threatening reactions, so there are some extra precautions you should take.

Okay, so are you ready to enjoy summer and tell your food sensitivities they can’t ruin your day? Here are four tips for getting through any food-focused social event:

Eat before you go

I know this one isn’t what you were hoping to read, but if you have food sensitivities, you should always eat before going to social gatherings centered around food. If there’s nothing for you to eat, you’ll end up having a trigger food (or two, or three). Of course, this is your personal choice, and if your reaction isn’t all too bad, it might be something you’re willing or put up with. But if your trigger puts you in pain or creates a reaction that lasts for days, it might not be worth it. Eat before you go so that you’re not hungry the entire afternoon (and hangry, resentful, etc.)

Bring something you can eat

Going to cookouts while having food sensitivities can make you feel excluded from the fun, so bringing something to share is an easy way to work around this lonely feeling. It also keeps the questions about your empty plate at bay, because no one wants to explain what happens when they eat dairy to 3 strangers. I recommend making one of two things to bring for everyone (or both, if you feel so inclined):

The first is a savory dish that will fill you up or tide you over until your next meal. This should be more of a main dish, like a hearty salad or pasta salad.

The second is the thing you crave at cookouts. I love dessert, so I usually bring something sweet that I can enjoy along with everyone else! One of my favorite summer desserts is this gluten free peach cobbler.

And of course, always let the host know that you’re planning to bring something so that he or she can plan accordingly.

Head to the charcuterie board

Not only are charcuterie boards having a moment, but they’re full of single-ingredient foods. In other words, there’s no mystery involved (except for dips!) From nuts to olives to fruit to cheeses, there’s bound to be something on there that you tolerate.

Pack protein bars or other snacks

In other words, be prepared. You’re just more likely to eat something even though your body disagrees with it if you’re really hungry (that’s just life). It should be something you actually enjoy (don’t try to snack on snap peas and cucumbers if that actually doesn’t sound like fun for you). For me, this means GoMacro or Kate’s Real Food bars and a banana.

Understand your tolerance

For a lot of people, food sensitivities(notallergies!!) are on a spectrum. They can tolerate a little, but not a lot. Maybe a small ¼ cup serving of mac and cheese is okay, but 1 cup would put you over the edge. Additionally, some people can tolerate their food sensitivity prepared one way, but not another. An example of this is cooked vs. raw onions. Once you understand your tolerance, you can gauge your comfort level. Always err on the side of caution if you don’t want to be doubled over in stomach pain (or whatever your reaction is).

But here’s mymuch-needed PSA

These tips shouldn’t be used to keep you “on track” with your diet. If you’re avoiding certain foods you love because you think they’ll keep you from your goals - unless your goal is medically necessary, like diabetes management or blood pressure control - you need to switch up your mindset to one of acceptance and embrace some flexibility. If you love BBQ chicken and are bringing a Think Thin protein bar to eat instead, please put. down. the. protein. bar. Grab your favorite food and load up the rest of your plate with nutritious sides. Food is meant to be enjoyed, especially with family and friends!


Emily Smith

PR and Marketing Specialist of Vegetable and Butcher and a self-proclaimed nutrition nerd and sustainability junkie. Emily called DC home for three years before making her way to California. Emily has her master's in Nutrition Education and is a Certified Nutrition Specialist® (CNS®) candidate. She's passionate about helping people learn to use food to fuel their outdoor activities, and in her free time you can find her rock climbing. . You can connect with her on her website and on Instagram.

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