Navigating Cookouts with IBS

Navigating Cookouts with IBS

Published on Friday, July 15, 2022 by Brooke Orr

Cookouts–AKA barbecues, grilling, or roasts are a summer staple that allow meal prep, cooking and eating to be done outside.  

While this style of dining can be enjoyed year round, it is most commonly associated with summer. 

Some of my favorite summer memories include the sizzling sound of food cooking over a fire, the excitement of seeing what friends and family members will contribute to the feast, and the mouthwatering aroma of food cooking on the grill. That smell.  A mixture of smoke and spices wafting through the air that leaves anyone within 20 feet longing for a dinner invitation. 

Well, almost anyone.  

I was talking to a friend about an invite to a cookout we had both received when they shared that they had recently been diagnosed with IBS. They shared how their symptoms and experiences had given them a much different outlook on group dining, including cookouts. They said their angst begins with the invitation; torn between excitement and dread they begin an internal debate- 


If I RSVP "Yes"- will there be anything I can eat that won’t trigger symptoms? Will people look at me differently if I have to bring my own food or ask every ingredient included in the food provided? If symptoms occur will there be a private bathroom I can get to quickly or will there be an air conditioned space I can escape to if the painful stomach cramps leave me in sweats? And the list of worries went on… 


I was honored they felt comfortable enough to share their story and were open to developing a plan to alleviate some of the above mentioned stressors. Our goal was simple- my friend would enjoy cookouts with the rest of us this summer. With their permission I am sharing the plan we came up with in hopes it helps you, the readers, navigate cookouts a little easier- restoring joy to these quintessential summer events.  

Step 1: Contact the host. 

Share only what you are comfortable with while letting them know you have a stomach issue that makes group dining more challenging. Explain that some of those challenges can be alleviated with planning on your part. Ask them to share the menu for the event as soon as they have it and find out if they plan to prepare everything or if it will be a potluck.

Step 2: Evaluate and develop a plan. 

Once you know the menu it is time to cross reference it with your known trigger foods and develop a plan.  

-Is there a protein choice available that is unlikely to trigger symptoms or that you could easily ask the chef to alter? For example, are they making cheeseburgers and you can ask for yours without cheese, or are they marinating chicken and can you ask for yours plain? 

-Next onto the sides. Is your host preparing all the sides themselves? If so it is a little easier to ask about specific ingredients and cooking methods for each dish. Will there be any build-your-own options like a salad bar where you can assemble your food and easily avoid trigger foods, or will each guest bring a side or dessert to share? If the latter is the case I suggest making a safe and hearty side and dessert to share. 

*Remember your recipes are made without trigger ingredients but can still be full of flavor and enjoyed by all. Here are a few examples: The Mediterranean Quinoa Salad and Roasted Pepper Salsa and Easy Guacamole, as well as Sweet & Chewy No-Bake Granola Bars.

Step 3: Think before you drink. 

For some- cookouts aren’t complete without a beer or margarita; however, before indulging understand and ask yourself: which drinks cause symptoms and which do not & how many drinks you can have before symptoms are triggered. Also keep in mind that drinking alcohol on an empty stomach may exacerbate symptoms- a good plan is to sip slowly while you eat and drink a glass of water between drinks. 

Step 4: Always be prepared. 

Let’s say you have done your due diligence and followed the above steps, yet still find the onset of symptoms. Don’t panic- consult your IBS survival kit which can include:

  1. Medicine- such as anti-diarrheal or anti-nausea medication.
  2. Keep Calm or other app with short guided meditation or breathing techniques.
  3. Tea bags- like peppermint or ginger- that can help calm your stomach.
  4. Heating patches, a cordless heating pad, or an ice pack. 
  5. Extra clothes and undergarments, as well as a leak proof bag to hold anything soiled.
  6. An explanation you are comfortable giving. The host is already aware of your stomach issues so one simple phrase may be enough to let them know you will be stepping away from the gathering and to not check on you (or check on you if you wish), and to avoid asking questions when you return.  

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