Independence Day brings to mind memories like pool and beach parties, plenty of fireworks, and BBQs with family and friends. These BBQs can also bring about a spread of foods that make you feel less than your best. No matter the holiday, or any day, "healthy" doesn't necessarily mean the lowest in calories.
Calories matter, but you can also make eating choices that are focused on high-fiber, gut-friendly foods or vegetarian-friendly options that are not just healthier for you but better for the environment.
Additionally, when your focus is on eating unprocessed, whole foods — meaning those that contain minimal ingredients and are as natural as possible, such as vegetables, fruit, or meat — you'll automatically be obtaining less added sugar, more antioxidants, more vitamins, and minerals, and usually less fat and calories overall. Here are some tips for healthier BBQ swaps.
1. SWAP red meat burgers FOR lean turkey or chicken burgers
Typical beef burgers might taste great, but they're relatively high in both calories and fat, including saturated fat and cholesterol, which aren't recommended for anyone with heart or metabolic issues.
Lean chicken or turkey burgers make great lower-calorie subs because they're full of protein and B vitamins, including B3, B6, B12 which are needed to keep your energy up.
You can boost the flavor of leaner burgers by topping them with sliced avocado, which is packed full of healthy monounsaturated fats, sliced tomato and onion, your favorite mustards, and a bit of ketchup. Adding ingredients like sea salt, dijon mustard, fresh herbs, and shallots to burgers made from scratch can also add lots of flavor. Don’t forget about meatless burger options, too, like those made from beans, which are also chock full of protein.
2. SWAP traditional potato salad FOR baked potatoes
Pack your potato salad with fiber and antioxidant-rich veggies by swapping mayo for vinegar or mustard-based dressings to season the salad. Try balsamic and dijon with olive oil, scallions, chives, and basil or your preferred herbs. You’ll have arguably more flavor but way fewer refined oils.
You can further improve the nutritional value of this side dish by adding chopped red onion, diced pepper, celery, carrots, or any other veggies.
And if you prefer to keep things even simpler, try roasting whole potatoes (whether sweet potatoes or regular) on the grill wrapped in tin foil, then top with a little sea salt and your favorite healthy condiments such as a bit of aged cheddar cheese and chives.
3. SWAP mayo-based macaroni salad FOR veggie-packed pasta salad
Just like potato salad, macaroni salad is full of less-than-stellar ingredients including pasta made with refined wheat flour and mayonnaise. A more nutritional alternative is a homemade pasta salad made with a variety of veggies.
For a boost in fiber, try using whole grain pasta such as whole wheat, quinoa, or lentil, then add your favorite veggies—raw, cooked, or even blanched—such as chopped broccoli, onion, cherry tomatoes, red peppers, and asparagus.
Chopped olives, sun-dried tomatoes, and fresh basil also make great additions. Toss your pasta salad in a healthy olive oil dressing made with good quality oil and vinegar, and add some fresh parmesan or mozzarella balls if you'd like a cheesy taste.
If you’re really craving the creaminess of a mayo-based pasta salad, try making your own mayo with egg yolks, olive oil, mustard, and salt and pepper. Or you can try plant-based options like mashing avocado until it’s creamy or creating a paste out of cashews or almonds.
4. SWAP chips and queso dip FOR a bean-salad
Beans are a low-calorie food that are full of satiating fiber, plant-based protein, and other nutrients such as folate, iron, potassium, and magnesium. Eating more beans and legumes is linked with better weight management, heart health, and improvements in gut health.
If you don't plan on serving veggie burgers at your BBQ, but you have some guests that avoid eating meat, then a bean salad makes a great protein option for the vegetarians/vegans who you're entertaining.
You might not think that a bean salad sounds very tasty, but one made with cilantro, fresh lime juice, corn, and diced peppers and onions can actually be a real crowd-pleaser. You can use a variety of beans to add different colors and textures — such as chickpeas, kidney, and black beans — and toss in a dressing made with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, celery, onion, and parsley.
Still eager for those chips? We cannot blame you! Try a bean dip with your chips, instead of jarred dips or processed quesos.
5. SWAP hot dogs FOR meat-free burgers or "sausages"
With the rise in popularity of plant-based diets, it's now pretty easy to find meat alternatives in most grocery stores. However, many packaged "veggie dogs" and burgers tend to be made with processed ingredients like soy isolate and lots of preservatives.
If you're up for the challenge (and it's a fun, relatively easy challenge), consider making your own homemade veggie burgers or dogs made with healthy ingredients like brown rice, oats, flax seeds, beans, cooked veggies, and mashed sweet potato.
There are endless variations on veggie burgers or dogs depending on your taste preferences, such as those that have a spicy kick, a falafel-like taste, or a Mexican or Indian flare. You can even keep it simple and make grilled portobello or eggplant burgers topped with avocado and hummus.
The great thing about homemade meatless options is that they're full of fiber, protein, healthy fats, and nutrients such as iron, zinc, copper, manganese, and magnesium, as long as you're using whole grains, seeds, and beans (as opposed to processed soy and wheat ingredients that are hard to pronounce).
6. SWAP ice cream sundaes FOR vegan whipped coconut cream and berries
If any of your guests avoid dairy, whether due to following a plant-based diet or for allergy concerns, then coconut alternatives to ice cream and whipped cream are a lifesaver.
To make coconut whipped cream, which can be a good source of healthy fats called medium-chain triglycerides, you'll need canned full-fat coconut milk or canned coconut cream along with an electric mixer. Powder sugar and vanilla extract give the cream its signature sweet taste, but you can cut the sugar based on your preferences.
For a dose of fiber along with antioxidants including anthocyanins, ellagic acid, and resveratrol, use a little of your cream on fresh berries such as blueberries and strawberries, which are very in season in the summer!