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Healthy food swaps for the 4th of July

Vegetable kebabs istock.jpg

Already tired of backyard barbecues? Your body may be fatigued, as well.

Many of the foods we associate with summer can weigh us down and raise our cholesterol – and they sure don’t help the way we look in a bathing suit. Fortunately, there are still ways to enjoy holidays like the 4th of July without all the empty calories and fat we pile onto our plates.

Chef Mark Bailey, author of the upcoming book “Cooking in Boxers,” said your grill can actually be one of the healthiest places to cook. He suggested the following ideas:

• Veggie kabobs: Grilled veggie skewers (peppers, tomatoes, squash, red onions, etc.)

• Fish vs. red meat: Avoid fatty meats by choosing grilled fish and seafood instead.  

• Choose lean cuts of meats: Lean cuts help reduce fat intake, as opposed to fatty favorites such as hot dogs and sausages.

Chef Bailey also said to ditch the buns and remove the skin from chicken.  And another surprising tip?

“Choose potato salad over pasta salad. Pasta salads tend to be higher in calories. More oil is sometimes used in vinaigrettes than that of mayonnaise in potato salad,” he said.

Pamela Elizabeth, owner of Blossom Du Jour restaurants and a leader in the vegan food industry, suggested still enjoying the same flavors you love but making some easy swaps.

These alternatives mean no meat or dairy, but they also mean your food will have no cholesterol or trans fat. She pointed out: “If you love barbeque sauce, slather it on something like grilled seitan (a meat substitute).”

Want to bring tuna salad in your summer picnic basket, too?  “Mash chickpeas instead of tuna, mix it with some vegan mayonnaise, then melt some vegan cheddar cheese over the top,” Elizabeth said. “You’ve got an “un-tuna melt” that will fill you up without weighing you down.”

But of course, what’s a summer holiday picnic without a burger?

Elizabeth advised to reach for a veggie version. If you don’t want to buy an already-made veggie burger, experiment by making a patty with ingredients like black beans or even shredded beets.

Every summer event needs a great dessert spread, but after following these healthy tips, you want to make sure you don’t ruin all your good eating with calorie-filled cupcakes or cookies.  

Chef Inge Bothma, lead instructor at Natural Epicurean Academy of Culinary Arts in Austin, Texas, said to “think of fruit as a base for your desserts and the possibilities can be endless and very colorful.” She noted you should “take your favorite summer fruit and cut it into chunks, put in kebab sticks, brush on a little melted butter and cook on the grill about 15 minutes or until you see good grill marks on all sides.”

She also said certain fruit salads can double as desserts or side dishes.

“Remember to pick fruit of different colors and buy some cheap small cookie cutters,” Bothma said. “Cutting the fruit into festive shapes like stars means kids and adults will both love digging in.”

While fruit is extra delicious, you can’t have a party in the summer without a cool sweet treat. Solomon Choi, CEO of the national frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles, said frozen yogurt is the smart choice over ice cream.

He pointed out the probiotics in frozen yogurt aid digestion, lower bad cholesterol and boost your immune system.  

“Frozen yogurt is also lower in calories and fat, and you can load up on your daily vitamins by adding lots of colorful fruit,” Solomon said.

He also said if you look for artisan flavors like fresh mango or watermelon tart, real fruit is used right in the yogurt itself. The chain 16 Handles has pioneered a new soft-serve made with coconut water, as well.

“[Coconut water] is one of the best beverages to keep you hydrated during hot days, so what’s better than coconut water in stifling heat? Frozen coconut water,” Solomon said.

Speaking of staying hydrated, beverages are important at any holiday party. But Chef Bailey said, “Forget about mixing up sugar-laced margaritas at your party. Instead mix up some wine spritzers and give your guests some light beer options.”

For non-alcoholic drinks, Chef Bothma said to avoid sugary sodas.

“Instead lighten things up with fruit spritzers with equal parts fruit juice and sparkling water. Throw some fresh diced fruit in for an extra burst of vitamins and minerals.”