When you think July 4th, everyone has certain food traditions that come to mind. For my family, potato salad is a staple at our picnic. For others, Fourth of July is synonymous with soda and potato chips, hot dogs and hamburgers, fried chicken, coleslaw, ice cream, or all of the above.
There is also a running theme for each of these answers – high fat, high sodium and/or high sugar. This year, try replacing some of the unhealthy options with these tasty, healthier foods.
Danger Zone: Beef Hamburger
Try grilling lean turkey breast or bison burgers – or even go vegetarian and opt for a bean or veggie burger. Be aware that condiments contain sodium and unhealthy calories from saturated fat and sugar, so it is a good idea to limit ketchup, mayonnaise, bacon, and cheese as much as possible. Instead of piling on these condiments, choose mustard or veggies to enhance the burger’s flavor. Choose a whole wheat bun to round out the burger.
Danger Zone: Hot dogs
Turkey kielbasa is a better choice than a hot dog. It is has less fat and more flavor than typical hot dogs. Again, choose a whole wheat bun.
Danger Zone: BBQ or Fried Chicken
Chicken may be a good choice unless it is slathered in BBQ sauce or deep fried. Instead, try grilling herb-seasoned skinless white meat chicken. This method omits the high-sugar BBQ sauce and high-fat frying oil. Step your grilled chicken up a notch by making kabobs layered with lots of vegetables like grilled peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, onions, and summer squash.
Danger Zone: Chips
Baked whole wheat pitas and fresh veggie trays with hummus and salsa for dipping is a good alternative to chips. If you just can’t resist the chips, then choose a baked option.
Danger Zone: Pasta/Potato Salad or Coleslaw
Traditionally, the offending ingredient in these foods is the high-fat mayonnaise base. For healthier salads, season them with vinaigrette or by mixing in low-fat mayo, fat-free sour cream and plain low-fat yogurt instead of full-fat mayonnaise. For potato salad, avoid the mayo altogether by tossing together roasted potatoes, diced tomatoes, roasted corn, black beans, and onions with a sprinkle of your favorite herbs and a dash of olive oil. For pasta salad, use whole wheat pasta, and for coleslaw, add crisp, flavorful fruits like pineapple or papaya for added flavor and moisture without added fat.
Danger Zone: Baked Beans
Beans are a great high-fiber, low-fat food. If you make baked beans, make them vegetarian with no pork fat or bacon. Consider also reducing the amount of added sugar in your baked beans recipe. You may decide to make a three bean salad instead of the traditional baked beans.
Danger Zone: Soda
Mixing sparkling water with a splash of fruit juice and a slice of lemon, lime or orange is a refreshing lower sugar treat. Unsweetened tea dressed with fruit is also a festive option.
Danger Zone: Strawberry Pie or Fruit Cobbler
Instead of a high-fat baked dessert, opt for a festive red, white, and blue trifle. Alternate layers of sugar-free pudding, fresh blueberries and strawberries, and cubes of angel food cake for a patriotic, tasty, and a healthy alternative. Fresh melon slices, berries, or any other fresh fruit will be a hit with the kids and adults.
Another 4th of July danger zone is uncontrolled portion sizes. It is important to stick to appropriate serving sizes for all foods. For example, the appropriate serving size for pasta salad is ½ cup. Also, watch the alcohol intake. Alcoholic beverages are usually full of empty calories, so it is best to limit or avoid alcohol.
Finally, any celebration should include a healthy dose of exercise. Get up out of your lawn chair to play ball with the kids, run through the sprinkler or walk or bike to your destination if possible. Your body will thank you for following these guidelines on July 5th and beyond.
–Stacy Moretz is a registered dietitian with Corporate and Community Health.