Ask JJ: Healthy Cookouts

05/21/2015 12:20 pm ET | Updated May 21, 2016

Dear JJ: My downfall usually occurs during summer cookouts. I have a few glasses of chardonnay, become a little too relaxed, and find myself mindlessly munching on whatever's nearby. With the upcoming warm season, do you have any suggestions to avoid these catastrophes?

Warmer weather means more time outdoors, and gathering with friends often centers around eating.

With a little planning and the right mindset, grilling out or otherwise cooking out doesn't mean you must succumb to potato salad, syrupy alcoholic drinks, high-sugar impact concoctions, or whatever else unhealthy resides on the buffet table.

You also needn't become a wet blanket or otherwise abstain from festivities when you employ these strategies.

Focus first on the healthy stuff.

Load up on lean protein, healthy fats, lots of leafy and cruciferous veggies, and slow-release high-fiber carbs like quinoa. These foods balance blood sugar and stabilize your appetite so you're less tempted to devour your friend's homemade strawberry crumb cake.

Stay mindful.

We frequently multitask when we eat, sipping pinot noir in one hand while engaging in stimulating conversation. As a result, we're often not aware what we shovel into our mouths.

Be completely present at your next cookout and make friends and festivities, not food, your central focus. According to Dr. Susan Albers, you'll reap more benefits than you might realize.

"During the past 20 years, studies have found that mindful eating can help you to 1) reduce overeating and binge eating, 2) lose weight and reduce your body mass index (BMI), 3) cope with chronic eating problems such as anorexia and bulimia, and reduce anxious thoughts about food and your body and 4) improve the symptoms of Type 2 diabetes," Albers writes.

Don't arrive hungry.

You know the scenario. You arrive at the party famished and immediately grab a margarita. Thirty minutes later, your host hasn't even fired up the grill yet so you grab a handful of chips with dip, hazily promising yourself you'll get back on track tomorrow.

"Fasting all day in prep of a big barbecue is the worst thing you can do," writes Keri Glassman. "You'll slow down your metabolism and wind up overeating - a double whammy!"

Instead, arrive at social occasions pleasantly full. You'll still enjoy the food while devoting more attention to your friends rather than bee lining towards the bacon mozzarella flatbread.

Stay hydrated.

I'm talking water, not tequila! Thirst sometimes comes disguised as hunger, and a glass of water can stabilize your appetite and help you eat less. One study found people who frequently drink up had 44 percent greater weight loss compared with non-water drinkers, whereas another study found drinking just one eight-ounce glass of water could increase metabolic rate by 30 percent.

That doesn't mean you can't enjoy a glass of wine if you drink. Just make sure you have two glasses of water for every alcoholic beverage. And no, six glasses of water does not give you permission to down three beers.

Bring your own.

Don't let a cookout dictate what you eat. If you can't host, offer to bring your own dish. Kale chips with guacamole or crudité with hummus are big hits. Grilled chicken breasts or a healthy salad also become welcome additions to cookouts. Even if everything else is a disaster, you'll have one healthy dish.

What strategies would you add here to make your next cookout healthier? Share yours below. And keep those great questions coming at