~ These ingeniously healthier recipes are ideal for summer’s warm temperatures and lighter appetites! Whether you’d like a side dish to cook on the grill, or a make-ahead picnic salad, we’ve got irresistibly delicious, healthy side dishes for all your summer cookouts, BBQ parties … and even weeknight family dinners! ~
Summer recipes are all about light, fresh, sun-drenched flavors. Healthy flavors.
We all crave lighter recipes when the temperatures rise.
And of course, if you’re like me (and most everyone else I know), when summer rolls around, you’re on the lookout for healthier, lightened-up options more than ever. I mean … as I pull on shorts and tank tops and swimsuits … it does kind of make me a leeeeettle more conscious of how a high-calorie, high-fat meal is going to feel hanging out at my waistline later.
Summer cookouts and BBQs are such easy opportunities to roll out favorite healthy side dishes!
Nutritious fruits and vegetables are at their flavorful best, so it’s simple to showcase them in salads and grilled side dishes. Pull them together with refreshingly light dressings or sauces, maybe a handful of crunchy nuts or a savory sprinkling of cheese … and you can easily elevate even the most humble produce to something truly special.
Whether you’re simply grilling a weeknight family meal, or planning a blockbuster holiday cookout party … I’ve got lots of terrific side dish ideas for you!
To make things easier, I’ve divided the recipes into two sections:
#1 Favorite summer side dishes that AREN’T grilled – which includes classics like pasta salad, broccoli salad, potato salad and all those healthy side dish ideas that don’t require you to fire up the BBQ … and …
#2 GRILLED side dishes you can cook up, right alongside your main course (without heating up the kitchen!).
No matter what you choose, these delicious recipes promise great flavor with a lighter, healthy twist that’s just perfect for sunny-day summer cookouts!
Healthy Side Dishes for a Cookout
NON-Grilled Side Dishes (aka Picnic Classics)
From pasta salad to coleslaw, all the classics are here! But rest assured, they're all a little lighter, a little leaner. Fabulous for warm-weather summer parties!
Pasta Salad is an absolute must-have at cookouts and summer picnics. But traditional pasta salad recipes are typically loaded with unwanted fat and white carbs. This easy recipe has all the bold flavors you love, but a few simple tweaks make it so much healthier, too. It's a match made in Heaven alongside our zesty Italian Grilled Hamburgers (hint hint)!
I created this slaw specifically to cozy up next to BBQ meats, and it's become one of the all-time most popular summer recipes on my entire site. The lightened-up dressing is the perfect middle ground between creamy, deli-style coleslaws and tangy vinegar slaws. Even better? It only takes about 5 minutes to toss together!
Grape Salad is a summertime fave. This updated version features a lighter, healthier vanilla-cream cheese dressing (yay – no guilt here)! But it’s still every bit as refreshingly sweet and delicious as "traditional" recipes.
This fantastic, super-easy recipe is so yummy and SO versatile! You can toss it together with either fresh, raw corn or with toasty, grilled corn. And you can serve it as a dip with tortilla chips, or as a side salad (or both!). You can even make it ahead, too. With this recipe, you’ve got LOTS of options! (Pssssst ... try this next to Easy Grilled Fajita Burgers with Guacamole!)
This lightened-up adaptation of classic potato salad works on a lot of levels! Oven-roasting the potatoes adds wonderful flavor and texture, and is arguably easier than the traditional peeling-and-boiling route. Although it still uses (a little) mayo in the creamy dressing, it relies on healthier, cleaner avocado mayo – and suggests you can swap Greek yogurt if you prefer.
This speedy side dish is an updated riff on the beloved Bean Salad recipe served at the iconic Nick Anthe’s restaurant for more than 30 years. It’s uniquely delicious, but with no cooking and just a bit of quick chopping, it’s also ultra-fast. (Like, 7 minutes FAST!)
A lighter version of the cookout favorite! The creamy sauce in "typical" fresh broccoli salad recipes usually contains mayo, sugar, and white vinegar. This recipe swaps most of the mayo for 2% Greek yogurt, swaps the sugar for a little honey, and uses more complexly flavored cider vinegar instead of white. The dressing is still a perfect mix of tangy and sweet, but the clever substitutions mean the final calorie count is lower (and definitely more swimsuit-friendly!).
This ultra EASY salad gets an extra boost of flavor from vibrant, crunchy peppers. It’s a signature summer recipe from one of the very best cooks I’ve ever known – my Oma! And, it only takes 5 minutes to make!
This Healthy Macaroni Salad is made with a lighter dressing, but Kathryn promises you and your guests won’t even taste the difference! Note that she mentions options for healthier pastas, and also for making the dressing even lighter and leaner still.
This showstopper 7-Layer Salad takes those iconic potluck layered salad recipes to whole new heights (literally!). Piled high in a trifle bowl, it’ll be the “Oooooh … who made that?” hit of the cookout. But we’ve got shortcuts and make-ahead tips to ensure that it’s quick and simple, too!
Crisp cucumber, kicky red onion, tangy feta cheese, cooling mint, and juicy-sweet watermelon combine in this colorful watermelon salad. Sound like an unlikely combination? Amanda promises, "Once you try it all together you’ll keep going back for more."
Superfoods like Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale, and cabbage are accented with crunchy pistachios and sweet-tart dried cranberries, and then drizzled with a fantastic balsamic and maple syrup dressing. But don't worry ... everyone will be much too busy reaching for second helpings to notice that this incredibly delicious salad is also so darn good for them. Shhhhhh ... it can be our little secret!
Summer parties and potlucks always seem to have at least one version of Cowboy Caviar on the buffet table. I'm just gonna bet that this one's unlike any other version you've ever tried. And I'm betting that it just might be your new go-to. It's THAT good! Like, everybody-asks-for-the-recipe good.
Did you get assigned to bring the deviled eggs to the cookout? Well, that doesn't have to include a filling made with mayo or even ranch dressing or sour cream. Nope! This clever, protein-packed recipe is wonderfully, uniquely delicious ... and also so much more nutritious! (Try our "regular" Hummus Deviled Eggs, too!)
Showcase garden-fresh beans and perfectly ripe tomatoes in this pretty salad, sprinkled with slivered almonds and parmesan cheese. Bonus: it easily doubles to serve a large crowd! Be sure to check out the suggestions for yummy swaps and substitutions to adapt it to what you have on hand. (Need an entree idea? This would be so nice with Homemade Grilled Pizza!)
In this sunshine-y fruit salad recipe, the best, in-season fresh fruit is tossed in a simple honey lemon dressing. The dressing is not only delicious, but also helps to keep the fruit from browning. Brilliant!
Sweet and savory, soft and creamy, these beans have the exact texture and flavor you’d hope for in a baked bean. With all of this jam-packed flavor, you’d think it had been cooking for hours on the stove. But, thanks to your pressure cooker, this recipe cooks in a fraction of the time of traditional versions!
Love potato salads, but not the idea of quite so many carbs? This healthy potato salad recipe adds in nutrient-rich green beans and roasted red peppers, along with Kalamata olives, briny capers, and a Dijon-spiced vinaigrette.It's naturally vegan, made without eggs or mayo, and bursting with zesty flavors. Lovely served warm or chilled, brightened up with fresh dill, parsley, or mint!
This unique, extra-easy recipe is ready in 5 minutes flat – a perfect side dish to make when a last-minute cookout party invite comes your way! And, these peas don't have to be served right after you make them. They're also delightful chilled, and they rewarm well – so they’re a great make-ahead recipe if you like to plan in advance!
So much Tuscan-inspired flavor in every bite! Tender kale is combined with cannellini beans, fresh summer basil, red onions, roasted red peppers, feta, parmesan, and both sun-dried and fresh tomatoes. Mmmmmm ... all draped in a honey-balsamic vinaigrette. We even show you a clever way to make healthier flatbread croutons like those salad kits you see in the grocery stores!
As recipe creator Kristine exclaims, "This easy cucumber salad always takes me by surprise! Who knew that such a simple, healthy salad would have everyone going back for seconds?" It's fresh and nourishing, with crisp cucumbers and red onion in a tangy dressing. If you'd prefer a creamier dressing, try this no-mayo Creamy Cucumber Salad recipe. Or, if you'd like an Asian-inspired version, try this Easy 5 Minute Asian Cucumber Salad.
A stunning showcase of summer's best! Delicious summer corn and sweet-tart cherry tomatoes are perfectly accented by chunks of creamy avocado. Super simple and incredibly fast … with absolutely no cooking needed! (Attention sweet corn lovers: we have a complete collection of Corn Salad recipes for you, plus lots of helpful sweet corn prep tips.)
This is a healthier remake of the classic potluck favorite! It features a low-sugar, olive oil-based dressing, crispy brown rice ramen noodle topping, and tons of veggies. I love the suggestion that you can opt to use diced mango instead of the usual mandarin oranges, to change things up a bit!
Showcasing both chickpeas and white beans, this salad includes your favorite Mediterranean vegetables, briny olives, cheese, and fresh herbs. Satisfying and healthy, tossed with a red wine vinegar and lemon juice dressing.
It's really not a proper summer party without veggies and dip, right? But these eye-popping raw veggie skewers are so much more fun than a plain-old veggie tray! Bonus: if your kiddos are in that "I'm booooored" summer groove, this is a fun project to get them involved in cooking or with hosting a backyard barbecue.
With 5 stars on nearly 200 reviews, this is a must-try! It's light, refreshing, and full of crunchy vegetables and fresh herbs. And, it's ideal for cookouts and potlucks since it can be made up to a day in advance (and dressed just before serving), and is terrific served cold or at room temp.
Fresh, raw, and so healthy! Replacing couscous with nutritious minced cauliflower in this light and summery salad not only WORKS, but it's totally delicious! So terrific with the dried cranberries, apricots, green onions, and sliced almonds, all drizzled in a tangy orange, honey, and cider vinegar dressing.
The magic of this simple recipe is that fresh mozzarella has a creamy texture and light flavor which easily picks up the zippy notes from fresh herbs, a tang from the garlic, and richness from a high-quality extra-virgin olive oil. Wonderful with colorful, juicy cherry tomatoes. And really ... you can’t help but love a dish that’s fresh and beautiful yet takes about 10 minutes of your time!
Just a few simple ingredients yield bold, bright flavors in this spin on trendy tabouli! This pumped-up version of the classic recipe adds super-nutritious kale and swaps protein-packed, gluten-free quinoa instead of the traditional bulgur wheat. All the tabouli flavors and textures you love, with healthy advantages you’ll feel great about. No wonder it's been dubbed "exploding GOOD"!
This vitamin C-rich salad is full of antioxidants! It combines baby spinach, spicy arugula, fruit and berries with a smattering of cheese. Tossed with a simple honey-citrus dressing, this salad is as tasty as it is pretty!
Full of caramelized veggie flavor that really comes alive when tossed with tangy fresh lemon and herbs. This salad is overflowing with healthy ingredients and can be eaten warm or chilled. Christy promises that it's "... near magical ... and easier to prepare than you might think too"!
Garden-fresh peppers truly shine in this bright, crisp salsa recipe. Serve it alongside our grilled Taco Burgers with Creamy Salsa Dressing, or offer it with crunchy tortilla chips. A family favorite that dates back to a memorable beach reunion!
Besides being incredibly nutritious, quinoa is also a great backdrop for flavor combinations. This gorgeous salad includes confetti greens, sun-dried tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, cheese, and a fabulous balsamic vinaigrette. I've been making it for nearly 20 years, and it's always a tremendous hit!
This summery masterpiece features an unexpectedly delightful mix of sweet and savory components, with juicy watermelon, ruby beets, crunchy walnuts, and Manchego cheese. The homemade Creamy Lemon Dressing is the perfect addition to tie it all together!
Thai and Japanese flavors are intriguingly combined in one gorgeous but easy salad recipe. Refreshing cucumber is terrific with salty peanuts, feta, onion, summer basil, and bright lime ... finished with a flavor-drenched dressing!
Creamy, bright, and packed full of (hidden) spinach, this healthy pasta salad just happens to be vegan-friendly, too. If you're an avocado fan, this one's definitely for you, since avocados make a double-appearance, in both the dressing and the salad itself! (Psssst ... for lots more uniquely fantastic, plant-based side dish ideas, check out our full collection of Vegan Pasta Salads.)
I have to admit: I've never quite understood why old-fashioned recipes like this used to be called "salads." Or whether they should actually be eaten as a side dish or a dessert. Either way, this one's too special to miss. So I'm just gonna throw this recipe idea out there, and let you decide when to serve it! (And BTW ... we've got specific directions on how to change this up with patriotic colors if you're serving it for Memorial Day, 4th of July or Labor Day.)
GRILLED Side Dishes
If you're firing up your grill, anyway, then why not grill some delectable sides, right along with your main course? You'll get wonderful flavor ... and you don't have to heat up the kitchen by using the stove or oven. So smart, and so delicious!
Juicy, sweet, just-picked corn is one of the true joys of summer. It's even more irresistible with some smoky, toasty notes, served straight off the hot grill! Grilling your corn is really simple to do, and we've got great tips on our favorite way to do it (hint: definitely without the husks).
Here's a scrumptious recipe that starts with grilled sweet corn ... and adds the popular flavors and textures of Mexican elote. It's easy and can be mostly made ahead (perfect for busy summer days). Plus, after extensive testing, we’ve found a couple handy tricks for keeping it lighter, as well! For another grilled corn salad recipe idea, be sure to try this 4-ingredient Chili-Lime Grilled Corn Salad, too!
Thick-cut veggies are chargrilled, then tossed in marinade for a quick and simple cookout side dish. This takes very little effort at all! Yet, it's infused with so much flavor, not only from the marinade, but from the grill itself. Fresh, healthy, and really beautiful with a variety of vibrantly colored vegetables!
What a scrumptious way to impress your guests – making a fancy-looking side dish right on the grill! Packaged polenta is grilled, and then topped with creamy mozzarella, and heaped with balsamic tomatoes and basil. Mmmmmmm ... so very good! (For more "fun with polenta" be sure to take a peek at our mini grilled Taco Burger Sliders on Polenta, too.)
Cooking green beans on the grill is an easy, tasty way to enjoy one of summer's star vegetables. The beans turn our tender and smoky with crisp edges. Hints of warm, smoky spices further highlight their grilled essence.
Thick, beefy portobellos lend themselves so well to grilling! In this recipe, the mushrooms are marinated before you grill 'em, and then crown your glorious creation with a fresh, flavor-packed bruschetta topping. Terrific as a side, and this recipe can double as a main dish if you have vegetarian guests at your cookout.
Add some drama to your table with these vibrant, sweet, caramelized carrots! And since you'll want to make these again and again, be sure to check out the ingredient swaps to vary the recipe a little and match it up to your main dish.
You'll be amazed how sweet watermelon gets when it's grilled! Combined with sour lime, savory fish sauce, and spicy chilis, it makes for a brilliantly simple, yet complexly flavored side dish that balances all the flavor notes.
This lovely, simple recipe tosses fresh asparagus with olive oil, garlic and lemon juice, and then grills it to perfection before adding a final flourish of savory parmesan cheese. It's an absolute family favorite! Or, for a similar vibe, try Grilled Broccolini, which has long, thick stalks that are perfectly suited to grilling. Either veggie would be great with grilled Lemon Garlic Chicken!
A fresh take on the "caprese" craze! What’s amazing about this salad is not only the mixture of bright, Florida-inspired flavors, but also how this fresh dish ranges between sweet and salty. It's definitely a salad for even the “non-salad-lovers" on your guest list!
So elegant! Perfect if your cookout is a little more upscale. Lightly grilled zucchini encases a lemony feta-cream cheese filling. Serve it atop your favorite marinara for a boldly delicious presentation!
You know I love grilling pineapple! In this tropical recipe, golden pineapple spears are basted with a sweet and spicy glaze. So pretty! And with great tips for pepping up the heat or dialing it back, depending on how kicky you like things.
This grilled salad features perfectly charred asparagus, corn, and red onion, all tossed with a bright and flavorful vinaigrette, white beans, fresh herbs, and creamy feta cheese! It comes together quickly, and you can swap in your own favorite summer veggies.
Specifically designed for cooking in pellet smokers, this recipe works with a variety of different wood pellets for different flavor nuances and degrees of smoky flavor. There are also lots of ideas for switching up the toppings and even substituting different types of potatoes.
You only need 3 ingredients for this recipe! The mild bitterness of bok choy is highlighted with toasted sesame oil, a light char from the grill, and a bit of sweetness from sweet chili sauce. With plenty of tips, including how to use "regular" bok choy if you can't find "baby"-sized.
And while they’re not exactly “side dishes” I definitely recommend setting out an enticing pitcher of our infused Cucumber Water or our fruity Lemon Lime Cucumber Water. So very refreshing on a warm summer day!
Enjoy your cookout, friends!
And enjoy how great you feel sharing healthier side dishes that still win raves … but don’t weigh you down!