Celebrate Your Service Member With a Late Summer Cookout

A soldier grills hamburgers
Spc. James Seccombe, a cook with the 1st Theater Sustainment Command (TSC), grills food for Soldiers and family members during a 1st TSC Safety Stand Down/ Organization Day at Thorne Park Fort Knox Ky., June 27, 2019. U.S. Army Photo/Nahjier Williams

The month of August has always felt slightly bittersweet ... yes, it's still summer, but the end is near. Plus, it can be a busy time for military families; perhaps you're welcoming your service member back home, transitioning from PCS orders, or sending the kiddos off to school. But how do you take advantage of the warm weather and unwind during this busy time of year?

For my husband, nice weather = GRILLING. There is nothing he loves more (besides his lovely wife and his country, of course) than drinking a cold one while tossing meat on the grill. Usually it's enough to feed a small army. Come to think of it, oftentimes we do end up feeding quite a few Army soldiers...

While the summer sun is still beating down and the sounds of screaming children playing poolside continue to fill the air, why not plan your own cookout? It's a fun way to bring your family and/or friends together in a low-key environment. This makes it great for any occasion, from celebrating promotions to reintegration. And even if you over-char the drumsticks, they're probably still better than the dreaded omelet MRE, right?

Here are four steps to reach the rank of a lean, mean Grill Sergeant:

1. Think outside the box

Burgers and hot dogs are pretty typical, not to mention heavily processed and chock full of the unhealthy stuff - namely saturated fats and sodium. Impress your guests and trim your waistline by grilling chicken, fish, or lean cuts of beef instead. Double points for marinating the meat beforehand -- try some of these marinade techniques from Allrecipes.com.

2. Spice up the side dishes

Potato or pasta salads are the go-to sides for grilled meats, but they're also prone to spoilage out in the heat. Why not throw some corn cobs on the grill instead? The grill makes pretty much any vegetable crispy and delicious (read: MUCH tastier than mushy microwave veggies!) My family's personal favorites include zucchini, squash, asparagus, and sweet potatoes. Pro tip: prevent veggies from slipping through the cracks by using foil or grill woks. Check out Taste of Home's Top 10 Grilled Vegetable Recipes.

3. Make creative combos

Come up with meals made entirely on the grill. If you can think it, try it! For example, my husband makes the best grilled pork chops with sliced pineapple. (Yes, fruit on the grill. If you haven't tried this, I highly suggest it.) Kabobs are another fun way to incorporate healthy vegetables such as tomato, onion, pepper and mushroom with chunks of chicken, beef, or shrimp. Bonus: they're fun to eat! Get some kabob ideas from Better Recipes.

4. Play it safe

Nothing ruins a party quite like widespread nausea/vomiting/diarrhea, right? Avoid spoilage or cross-contamination during kitchen prep and by the grill. Use clean plates and utensils when handling raw versus cooked meats, wash your hands frequently, and ensure that meat is cooked thoroughly. Read up on more food safety tips from the USDA.

From BBQ dates to backyard parties, cookouts are a summer staple for civilians and service members alike. What's more American than a good ol' barbecue, anyway? (OK, maybe a few things, but you know what I mean.) So grab your service member and make your next cookout healthy, delicious and anything but ordinary.

Do you have any cookout tips you'd like to add? What are your favorite grilled foods? Happy grilling!

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