Serve a Savory Healthy Fourth

— Written By Christine Smith and last updated by Kim Davis

Tomorrow millions of Americans will fire up the grill to entertain family and friends. It’s the one time of year that you look forward to the nostalgia of the good ole’ days with lots of classic American dishes like grilled chicken, ribs, hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, and Mom’s apple pie.

Nothing rounds out a summer day quite like a meal cooked on a backyard grill. So, what’s on your menu? Have you been serving up the same old favorites year after year and want a makeover, but do not know where to start? If so, why not start by serving a wide variety of foods with a good balance of healthy and traditional favorites. Think out of the box about different ways to prepare some of your old favorites. Be sure you include dishes with varying textures, color, and flavors to keep guest returning for more.

Here are a few tips to help you beef up those traditional favorites.

Potato Salad:  If you are used to peeling your potatoes, leave the skins on. It will save you time, add fiber, color, and texture to the dish. Make the salad using lite salad dressing or reduce-fat mayonnaise. You can also substitute non-fat sour cream for the dressing or make your own yogurt cheese dressing. Add red bell pepper and celery for crunch. Top with sprinklings of turkey bacon.

Grilled Burgers:  Instead of using ground beef, substitute ground turkey or use half ground turkey and half ground chuck. Making this small change will reduce fat calories significantly and not alter the taste. To intensify flavor add a few drops of liquid smoke, fresh garlic, and herbs

Grilled Chicken:  One way to improve grilled chicken is to add fresh grilled pineapple and herbs accompanied with grilled grape tomatoes. This will impress guest, taste magnificent, and look good on the plate.

Vegetables:  Instead of serving the traditional slaw as a side dish, plate up a serving of hot grilled vegetables. Try grilling yellow squash, zucchini, corn, potatoes, eggplant, or whole green beans. Kids will even come back for seconds.

Seafood:  Take a break, put away the deep fryer and put the fish or shrimp, on the grill. Careful, it’ll take only minutes. Grill baskets can be helpful for delicate items like fish. Just make sure you oil the inside of the basket.

Kabobs’:  If you really want to impress guess, serve an assortment of kabobs’ instead of traditional meats. Thinly slice meat or cut into chunks, marinade in favorite sauce, thread on skewer alternating with vegetables, grill and enjoy!

As you enjoy family and friends this 4th remember to follow proper food safety rules and keep an eye on food temperatures.

Cooking the food:   Meat and poultry should be thoroughly cooked. Do not try to judge doneness by appearance or the color of juices; it’s best to use a meat thermometer to check for safety and doneness. Large cuts of beef like roasts may be cooked to an internal temperature of 160°F for medium. Poultry should reach 180°F.

Marinades:  Marinades can be made from a combination of fruit juices, wines or spritzers, herbs and spices, garlic, onions and peppers. Some marinades also help to tenderize. If you want to use some marinade for a dip or basting sauce, reserve a portion in advance. Don’t reuse marinade that’s been used on raw meat.

In the midst of planning your celebration don’t forget to make plans to involve your guest in activities that require movement. Why not take a walk around the block with guest, invite guest to participate in an “oldies dance off contest,” play Frisbee, catch, or have a sack race with the kids? You get the idea, just move for health and fun. Guest will leave your celebration talking about how much fun they had eating and moving for together.

Christine Smith is an Extension Agent in the department of Family & Consumer Sciences with N.C. Cooperative Extension, NCSU, Wayne County. Information on other services available can be found online at or call me at 731-1525 for additional information.