Family, Friends, Fireworks, and FOOD! How to eat healthy on the 4th of July

The 4th of July.  America’s day of independence. A time for family, friends, fireworks, and of course the best part of this patriotic holiday…FOOD!  Summertime barbecues can add thousands of calories that typically consist of gut-busting menu items such as fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, potato chips, pepperoni rolls, ice cream, and beer.  I’m not saying the holidays aren’t a time to enjoy your favorite summertime meals. Go ahead and treat yourself…but there are some simple tricks and food swaps that can save dozens of calories and fat without suffering your taste buds.

The STARters and stripes

Before you start munching aimlessly on cheese curls and chips, take a look at some simple swaps before the main course is off the grill. Try to fill up on healthy foods first so you don’t overeat throughout the meal.

Veggie Platter – Create a quick and easy veggie platter full or carrots, celery, tomatoes, peppers, and any others you like. Try hummus as a dip instead of creamy and fatty ranch.

Fruit, Fruit, Fruit! Eat any kind you like. Fruit is low-calorie and full of vitamins, nutrients, fiber and water…which will make you feel fuller longer.  Classic 4th of July favorites are watermelon, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupe, and pineapple. To make fruit more appealing and fun to eat, try making colorful fruit kabobs!

 Red, White, and Blue Fruit Kabobs

Salads – Get creative with different types of salads that include fruits and nuts.  Avoid creamy dressings like ranch or bleu cheese that are full of fat and calories.  Top salads with vinaigrettes or balsamic mixed with olive oil.

Spinach and Strawberry Salad Recipe

My mom makes the best Spinach and Strawberry Salad. Each serving contains a mere 235 calories!


        Serves: 8

  • 2 bunches spinach, rinsed and torn into bite-size pieces
  • 4 cups sliced strawberries
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup white sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  1. In a large bowl, toss together the spinach and strawberries.
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the oil, vinegar, sugar, paprika, sesame seeds, and poppy seeds. Pour over the spinach and strawberries, and toss to coat.

Munchies, chips, and dip – Yes, go ahead and have some chips. Just don’t go overboard. Portion control is everything here…the average serving of potato chips is around 11-12 chips (not half the bag!).  Probably the healthiest options are chips that are whole grain and baked, not fried.  In terms of dips, hummus and salsas are great. Salsa is low in calories and full of veggies.  Avoid cheese dips, sour cream, and creamy ranch.  Guacamole is an okay alternative.  Even though guac is high in calories, avocados are packed with healthy fats (monounsaturated fats) that are good for your heart.  Try these healthy chips and dips:

  • Baked Lays – A serving of 15 chips is ony 120 calories and 2 g of fat (compared to Ruffles potato chips that contain 140 calories and 7 g of fat)
  • Baked Tostitos Scoops – This tortilla chip will only cost you 120 calories and 3 g of fat
  • Rold Gold Honey Wheat Braided Twist Pretzels –  8 pretzels is only 110 calories and 1 g of fat
  • SunChips – 16 chips is around 140 calories, 6 g of fat, and is low in sodium.These are one of my all-time favorite chips.  Each serving provides 18 g of whole grains which is about a third of your daily requirement of 48 g/day.
  • Popcorn! – It still gives you something to munch on, just watch out for the butter.

The Main Event

Where’s the beef?  Grilling burgers and steaks is an American tradition.  This 4th of July, aim for buying leaner cuts of meat – 95% lean, top sirloin, top round, or T-bone. Top your burger with a whole wheat bun (and the skip the cheese).  There are some great alternatives to the traditional beef hamburger.   Try a turkey, black bean, tuna, portobello mushroom, chicken, or even salmon burger!  However, if you are at a 4th of July party with no other healthy alternatives, go ahead and eat the burger but without the bun.  This goes for hot dogs as well…just by removing the bun, this can save you up to 200 calories.

Another great option is to cook kabobs on the grill – load a skewer with healthy items such as lean beef, chicken, shrimp, mushrooms, and all the veggies you can fit.  Marinate with olive oil and throw on the grill.

Black Bean Burger Recipe

Black Bean Burgers are a great alternative to the traditional beef burger. This recipe is only 198 calories and 3 g of fat for each black bean patty!


Serves: 4

  • 1 (16 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 green bell pepper, cut into 2 inch pieces
  • 1/2 onion, cut into wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 egg
  •  1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon Thai chili sauce or hot sauce
  •  1/2 cup bread crumbs
  1.  If grilling, preheat an outdoor grill for high heat, and lightly oil a sheet of aluminum foil. If baking, preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C), and lightly oil a baking sheet.
  2.  In a medium bowl, mash black beans with a fork until thick and pasty.
  3.  In a food processor, finely chop bell pepper, onion, and garlic. Then stir into mashed beans.
  4.  In a small bowl, stir together egg, chili powder, cumin, and chili sauce.
  5.  Stir the egg mixture into the mashed beans. Mix in bread crumbs until the mixture is sticky and holds together. Divide mixture into four patties.
  6.   If grilling, place patties on foil, and grill about 8 minutes on each side. If baking, place patties on baking sheet, and bake about 10 minutes on each side.

Hot DogsI’ll be the first to admit that hot dogs are absolutely delicious and are perfect for outdoor grilling. If you are throwing some hot dogs on the grill, aim for ones that are less than 150 calories, <14 g of fat (no more than 6 g saturated fat), and less than 450 mg of sodium.

  • One of the best hot dog brands to choose is Hebrew National 97% Fat Free Beef Franks.  One frank is a mere 40 calories, 1 g fat (0 g saturated fat), and 520 mg sodium.
  • One of the worst hot dog brands to choose is Ball Park Beef Franks.  One frank costs nearly 190 calories, 16 g fat (17 g fat saturated), and 550 mg sodium.

Chicken – Fried chicken is definitely a 4th of July staple.  However, fried chicken adds hundreds of calories, fat, and the dreaded saturated fat.  An easy swap is to grill, bake, or sauté chicken breasts instead of frying them.

All-American Side Dishes

Baked Beans – Beans are a great side dish for cookouts.  Beans are filled with fiber to help fill you up and aid with digestion.  A 1/2 cup of cooked baked beans contains 120 calories, 1 g fat, and 5 g of fiber.

Coleslaw – Coleslaw isn’t the worst option to put on your plate. A 1/2 cup of coleslaw is around 150 calories, 8 g fat, and 350 mg sodium.

Corn on the Cob – Typically I’d say corn is a healthy option, but I’ve seen too many people pour a stick of butter and slop a ton of salt on their cob.  I’d say eat the corn on the cob, just go easy on the butter.

Veggies – Load up with any fresh or cooked veggies you can find…broccoli, corn, green beans, carrots, tomatoes, bell peppers, onions, zucchini.  Even throw them on the grill for that great grilled taste.

Potato and Pasta Salads – Don’t let the words potato “salad” fool you into thinking it’s nutritious…it’s loaded with mayonnaise. A 1/2 cup of potato salad will run you around 200 calories, 12 g fat, and 560 mg sodium.  Pasta salad is definitely a better choice over the potato salad. Make a healthier version by using whole grain pasta, low fat dressings, load it with veggies, and skip the cheese.

Flag Down the Desserts

Fruit Salad – Okay, okay. Maybe it’s not what you think of when you want a dessert, but fruit can be a low-calorie option for curbing your after-dinner sweet tooth.

Ice Cream Sandwich – One of summers best dessert options. Typically will only run you 160 calories.

Cookies – Here is a healthier version of the chocolate cookie made with whole wheat flour.

“Healthier” Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Chip Cookies made with whole wheat flour. One cookie contains 124 calories.


        Makes 2 dozen cookies

  • 1/2 cup(s) instant oats
  • 1/2 cup(s) whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon(s) baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon(s) salt
  • 1/3 cup(s) light brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup(s) honey
  • 3 tablespoon(s) unsalted butter, softened
  • 3 tablespoon(s) canola oil
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon(s) vanilla extract
  • 1 large egg
  • 3/4 cup(s) pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 1 cup(s) bittersweet chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Grind or process oats in a blender or food processor to a fine powder, scraping down the sides as necessary. Whisk the oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl until well combined.
  2. Beat brown sugar, honey, butter, oil, and vanilla in a large bowl with an electric mixer until well combined. Beat in egg until combined. Add the dry ingredients and beat on low speed until combined. Stir in pecans and chocolate chips (or chunks). Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour or overnight.
  3. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat.
  4. Drop level tablespoons of chilled dough onto the prepared baking sheet, at least 2 inches apart, to make 8 cookies at a time. Bake the cookies, in batches, until just golden, 7 to 9 minutes. Cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring to a wire rack to cool.

Patriotic Beverages  

There’s nothing like having an ice cold drink on a hot summer day, but drinking too many sweetened beverages, sodas, and juices can add many unwanted calories.  The best trick is to stick to good old water…it has no calories and will keep you hydrated in the hot sun.  If water gets a little boring, add a  lemon, lime, cucumber, or a flavored Crystal Light packet to spice things up (this adds only about 5 calories a packet).  If you are looking for a drink with a little more kick, however, here are some go-to alternatives for you to try.

Juice – Make sure the container says 100% juice, if not then it is probably packed full of sugar.  Try these healthy juices (numbers based on an 8 oz serving):

  • Tropicana Pure Premium Orange Juice – 110 calories, 22 g sugar, and 250% of your vitamin C.
  • Tropicana Light Lemonade – 10 calories, 2 g sugar (made with Splenda)
  • Simply Grapefruit – 90 calories, 0 g fat, 18 g sugar
  • V8 Fusion Light – 50 calorie, 0 g fat, 10 g sugar
  • Langer’s Zero Sugar Added Cranberry -30 calories, 0 g fat, 8 g sugar

Beer – Stick to light beers and avoid dark brews and ales. Don’t overdo it…moderate drinking is considered 1 drink/day for women and 2 drinks/day for men.

Here are your best beer options (12 oz):

  • Michelob Ultra -95 calories, 2.6 g carb, 4.1% alcohol
  • Yuengligh Light -98 calories, 6.6 g carb, 3.8% alcohol
  • Amstel Light -99 calories, 5.5 g carb, 3.5% alcohol
  • Guinness Draught – (not to be confused with Guinness Extra Stout) 126 calories, 10 g carb, 4% alcohol
  • Beck’s Premium Light – 64 calories, 4 g carb, 3.8% alcohol
  • Miller Lite -95 calories, 4.2% alcohol
  • Bud Light -110 calories, 4.2% alcohol
  • Corona Light – 109 calories, 4.5% alcohol

Here are your worst beer options (12 oz):

  • Sierra Nevada Pale Ale – 200 calories, 12 g carb, 5.6% alcohol
  • Samuel Adams Triple Bock: 340 calories
  • Sam Adams Cream Stout -190 calories, 24 g carb, 4.9% alcohol
  • Sam Adams Boston Lager – 160 calories, 18 g carb,4.8% alcohol
  • Guinness Extra Stout – 176 calories, 14 g carb, 6% alcohol
  • Blue Moon – 171 calories
Cocktails/Wine – Not a beer drinker? Sugary mixers in cocktails can add some serious calories to your drinks. (A pina colada can top close to 500 calories!) Instead, stick to these classic healthier cocktails:
    • Screwdriver – (6 oz) 130 calories
    • Bloody Mary – (8 oz) 140 calories
    • Champagne – (5 oz) 127 calories
    • Mojito – (8 oz) 180 calories
    • Red or white wine – (5 oz) 120 calories
    • Mimosa – (4 oz) 75 calories

Hopefully these helpful tips will allow for a healthy and delicious 4th of July…HEALTHY COOKING!  🙂