Healthy Twists on Fourth of July FavoritesPosted on Jul 1st 2011 10:00AM by Emma Gray
As early as 1777, large dinners were being organized in Philadelphia to celebrate the one year anniversary of American independence. During the years that followed, Fourth of July celebrations only grew, evolving into a mix of public and private celebrations -- often conducted outdoors. On July 9, 1812 The Maryland Gazette recounted "a handsome dinner prepared by Mr. Isaac Parker, on the College [St. John's] Green, under the shade of that majestic Poplar."
Although we might not mark our community events by specific trees, most of us certainly get into the Fourth of July spirit with an outdoor celebration (or two) in the company of friends and family. If you are focused on eating well, though, Independence Day can be a minefield of sodium, fat and calories, served up on an American flag plate. However, you can have your (red, white and blue) cake and eat it too -- by making healthy choices.
We turned to the experts to put together a list of some Fourth of July classics, each with a healthful twist. Check out these ideas to get inspired for the long holiday weekend:
Burgers and hot dogs seem to be present at any bonafide Fourth of July cookout. Librarian Ameritus at American University, James Heintze, said that our modern BBQ is steeped in history. "The foods that were served [at early Fourth of July celebrations] depended on what was available locally. Up in New York and Boston, barbecue grilling was very popular ... around 1810 they were already barbecuing large amounts of beef and pork."
Unfortunately, many pre-prepared hot dogs and hamburgers aren't very healthy. An average ground beef patty contains 230 calories and around 16 grams of fat. Roberta Larson Duyff, registered dietician and author of "American Dietetic Association Complete Food and Nutrition Guide," says that the key to making these dishes healthier is simply looking for leaner options -- and avoiding unnecessarily fattening toppings.
1) If you want to stick with beef hot dogs and burgers always look for lean meat -- at least 90 percent lean.
2) Skip toppings like cheese, bacon and mayo and substitute them for plant-based options, which contain phytonutrients. Registered dietitian and co-founder of AppforHealth.com, Katherine Brooking, suggests adding a slice of avocado (a healthy fat) for texture and taste.
3) If you're not attached to beef, try a turkey burger, portabello mushroom or a piece of grilled fish -- all of which will save you calories.
Meat chili is another delicious -- but not always nutritious -- cookout food. One cup of meat chili can add up to around 300 calories and 13 grams of fat, especially if you make it from a can. Food writer Gary Allen calls chili, "one of the greatest Mexican dishes never invented in Mexico," explaining that it originated in Texas, gaining popularity during the mid-19th century. Luckily, this is a southern treasure that's easy to adjust if you don't want to miss out on it.
1) Duyff suggests going vegetarian -- or at least cutting down on the meat. "[Chili is] a great way to fit beans into your meal!"
2) Buy lean meats -- such as lean, ground turkey -- instead of traditional ground beef.
Potato salad is often synonymous with "drenched in mayo." According to Allen, this is because the dish didn't gain mainstream popularity until commercial mayonnaise became available in 1907! Even home-prepared potato salads are often worse calorically than a hamburger!
1) Cut down on mayo or use a substitute. Brooking suggests olive oil.
2) Add more ingredients! Gussy the dish up with nutrients using celery, green peppers and red peppers.
3) One of Duyff's favorite alternatives to the traditional potato salad is a sweet potato version, which will provide partygoers with dietary fiber, Vitamin B6 and potassium! "Just don't make it too mushy," says Duyff.
It's all too easy to finish off an entire bowl of chips and dip before you know it -- especially at a party. Filling up on chips can be a dangerous habit, though as one 8-ounce bag of salted chips often contains upwards of 1,000 calories and 80 grams of fat. Mayo-laden dips aren't much better.
1) Stay away from deep-fried chips. Instead opt for a baked version -- or make your own whole wheat pita chips in the oven!
2) If you want to skip chips all together, Duyff suggests using vegetable dippers, such as hicama, which will still give you that crunchy texture.
3) When it comes to dip, cut out the mayonnaise. "Bean dips or just a tomato salsa are great [options]," says Brooking. She also suggests substituting greek yogurt for sour cream or mayo if you're making your own dip.
French fries are an American favorite that pop up everywhere from sporting events to college dorm rooms. The first printed recipe for french fries appeared in a French revolution-era cookbook, "La Cuisine Republicaine" -- so serving them at an Independence Day event seems quite appropriate. According to Allen, these "pomme frites" were also a personal favorite of Thomas Jefferson.
10 processed french fries (baked in your home oven) contain around 67 calories and 3 grams of fat. (But let's be honest -- who ever eats just 10?)
1) Brooking's #1 tip? "Don't drown them in salt! Sodium is really a problem for people these days," she says. Add minimal salt or skip it altogether in favor of herbs such as rosemary.
2) Make your own. Simply cut up a potato (or sweet potato) into sticks and put them on a tray with a little bit of olive oil. Then stick the tray in the oven and bake until the sticks begin to brown (usually around 20 to 30 minutes).
When the sun in blazing -- which it often is on the Fourth of July -- cold drinks play an role important at any party. Historically, fruit punch and lemonade were two of the most popular, Independence Day choices (along with wine). "In 1855, lemonade cost a penny a glass in New York City on the Fourth of July. And it was often served in wooden pails," says Heintze.
We may have moved away from wooden pails, but fruit punch and lemonade are still summertime classics. Unfortunately, they often are loaded down with artificial flavoring and extra sugar. "People are going to drink what's available, so offer [healthy] drinks if you're having a party," says Duyff.
1) Fill up pitchers of ice water garnished with fresh, in-season fruit -- such as peach slices and raspberries. Make it carbonated water for an extra kick!
2) Squeeze your own lemonade and leave the excessive sugar out.
3) Brooking suggests offering guests some unsweetened, iced tea.
Although the traditional American apple pie is actually of English origin, it's still an insanely delicious Fourth of July staple. According to Heintze, pies of all kinds were popular at early Independence Day celebrations -- especially fruit pies because of the summer season. One slice of prepared apple pie has around 400 calories and 19 grams of fat in it. However, "you can't mess with Grandma's pie," says Duyff. So instead -- tweak it!
1) Transform the crust. "Crusts are really high in calories and saturated fats," says Duyff. Substitute traditional shortening for a trans-fat free vegetable one. Whole wheat crusts can also be purchased at a grocery store. And stick to one crust.
2) Make your own filling. Avoid the sugary syrups often present in canned fillings and cut down on the sugar present in your homemade recipe.
3) Think outside the box and make fruit pies that use fresh, seasonal ingredients such as berries and peaches.
It turns out that even the Founding Fathers had a love affair with this sweet treat. "Thomas Jefferson had brought [ice cream] recipes back from France and George Washington bought an ice cream maker in 1784," says Allen. And according to Heintze, ice cream really took off in the DC-area after Dolly Madison (first lady to James Madison) gave it her seal of approval. Often, Independence Day celebrations were marked with city-wide, free ice cream.
Today, one serving of vanilla ice cream contains 7 grams of fat and 137 calories.
1) Opt for a sugar free or reduced fat ice cream. Breyer's offers a variety of healthier options.
2) Add some fruit! "[Traditional] ice creams were made with fresh fruits available from gardens," says Heintze. "Cherries and raspberries were extremely popular." To emulate the country's origins, add some fresh fruit to your ice cream -- or as Brooking suggests, use fresh fruit in a homemade greek yogurt pop!
3) Sorbets are another great (low-calorie) option.