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Labor Day weekend marks the unofficial end of summer – one last chance to have the whole family together for a cookout before the temperature and leaves begin to drop.

Evanston is home to not one, but three, farmers’ markets (Downtown, Ridgeville and West End), so there is no reason not to feature healthy fresh fruits and vegetables on the menu. Mangos, melons, pears and plums are all part of September’s bounty. A colorful fruit salad with heart-healthy nuts tossed in, such as almonds, cashews or walnuts, helps lower cholesterol levels, the Mayo Clinic reports.

Get everyone to eat their vegetables with sliced squash and eggplant on the grill – and do not forget corn on the cob. Beans are in season, too, so try a three-bean salad or baked beans. If the weather is warm, it is best to avoid serving foods made with dairy products, such as egg or potato salad.

If organic beef or free-range chicken are not in the budget, buy the leanest affordable cuts of meat. Make turkey burgers, and be sure to have some veggie burgers and tofu dogs on hand for vegetarians. Be sure to fully cook all meat and meat-like products.

For beverages, try some organic beers or use seasonal fruits to make punch. Offer sugar-free soft drinks in aluminum cans, set out a container of sun tea (from a fair-trade source) and have a pitcher of sugar-free juice on hand for children. Serve beverages in BPA-free plastic cups, stainless steel or aluminum bottles. (No Styrofoam or paper cups, please.)

Healthy desserts can range from “I scream for ice cream” (low-fat and/or low-sugar) to fruit juice bars with no added sugar. Add a plate of home-made brownies or cookies for a traditional crowd-pleaser.

As for the grill itself, opt for a gas or electric model. If charcoal grilling is the only option, buy lump brands harvested from sustainably managed forests rather than briquettes, which can contain coal dust or other toxic additives. Switch from lighter fluid, which releases harmful fumes, to an electric or chimney starter.

Raid the remnants bin at the local fabric store for cotton material to use for a table runner and cloth napkins. Mix and match a darker solid color (that will not show spills) with a festive print, again in a darker color. Place a few small plants in pretty containers on the table rather than cut flowers.

Reusable utensils, plates and bowls made from bamboo are available. Biodegradable dishes and utensils made from corn or potato starch and sugarcane
can be found as well. Look for these products in natural food markets such as Whole Foods.

Encourage guests to bring their own lidded reusable containers (aluminum, glass, plastic or stainless steel). Empty margarine tubs, plastic takeout containers and other repurposed containers work well, too. Set out a roll of aluminum foil and some empty plastic bread bags to help avoid leaks.

Placing recycling bins near serving tables makes cleanup a snap – guests can just drop aluminum cans, recyclable plastics and glass containers right in. Use a non-toxic cleaner for the grill and scrub it with a natural-bristle grill brush.

Contact Eco Gal at ecogal247@yahoo.com. Her blog may be found at http://askecogal.blogspot.com.