How to lighten up your holiday cookout

Fourth of July weekend calls for fireworks, friends, family and delicious food! Avoid an explosion of calories by planning ahead and preparing dishes that feel special, yet somewhat sensible. Sarah Mohrman, RDN, CD, MA, dietician/coordinator wellness and marketing, Parkview Physicians Group – Cardiology, shares ways to be healthier – but still happy – this holiday weekend.

On the grill …

Instead of brats, try a healthier alternative. Chicken brats* or nitrate-free** chicken sausages in a variety of flavors are great options.

Instead of a traditional burgers, try ground bison, buffalo patties or chicken burgers*. If you prefer something more traditional, opt for natural 93-97-percent lean ground beef. Save calories by skipping the bun and loading your burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and other healthy veggies.

Instead of standard hot dogs, look for nitrate-free** turkey or chicken hot dogs.

Instead of the standards, grilled chicken or fish are always great choices! Try marinating your meats with naturally acidic ingredients like vinegar and citric juices. Marinades help to keep the meat moist and also to serve as a barrier from the high grilling temperatures, which can be carcinogenic.

On the side …

Skip the potato salad or other starchy options and opt for a lettuce-based salad (such as the Pear Pomegranate Spinach Salad (recipe below) to fill up half of your plate.

If the grill is crowded with meaty entrees, roast some veggies inside. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees and lightly spray a pan with cooking spray. Fill the pan with your favorite vegetables – broccoli, asparagus spears, mushrooms, bell peppers, onions or any of your favorites. Lightly spray the vegetables and sprinkle on dried thyme, garlic powder and black pepper. Roast for about 20 minutes for an easy side dish.

Round out your plate with a vibrant red, white and blue fruit component such as the Blueberry, Strawberry and Jicama Salsa (recipe below).

On the dessert table …

Whip up something with less sugar that still feels like a treat. You won’t feel deprived when you dig into Red, White and Blue Cheesecake Fruit Skewers with a Yogurt Fruit Dip (recipe below). They’re so festive and delicious!

Edamame Dip

12-16 ounces frozen shelled edamame
1 can no-salt-added black beans
1 can fiesta corn
6 green onions
¼ cup chopped cilantro
1 large tomato, diced
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
3 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

  1. Cook edamame and allow to cool.
  2. Mix the remaining ingredients together in a bowl and combine with edamame. Chill for at least 1 hour or possibly overnight.
  3. Serve with baked chips or enjoy as a side dish.

Pear, Pomegranate and Spinach Salad      

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
3 tablespoons extra­ virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt and pepper, to taste


2/3 cup chopped pecans
3/4 cup pomegranate arils
3 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup dried cranberries
2 Bartlett pears (firm but ripe), cored and sliced
9 ounces baby spinach

  1. Whisk together all Dressing ingredients in a bowl to blend well.
  2. Place all Salad ingredients in a large salad bowl, drizzle with desired amount of Dressing and then toss to evenly coat. Serve immediately.

Adapted from a recipe featured by Williams Sonoma

Blueberry, Strawberry and Jicama Salsa

1 cup fresh blueberries
1 cup diced strawberries
1 cup diced jicama
1/3 cup chopped cilantro
1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 tablespoons finely chopped jalapeno pepper, stemmed and seeded
Juice of 1 large lime
Salt, to taste
Tortilla chips, for serving

  1. In a medium bowl, combine blueberries, strawberries, jicama, cilantro, red onion, jalapeno, and lime juice. Stir until well combined. Season with salt, to taste.
  2. Serve with tortilla chips at room temperature or chilled.

This salsa is also great with grilled fish or chicken. It is best eaten the day it is made.

Adapted from a recipe featured on the blog, Two Peas and Their Pod

Red, White, and Blue Fruit Skewers with Cheesecake Yogurt Dip

Dipping Sauce

4 ounces 1/3 less fat cream cheese, softened
1 cup fat free Greek yogurt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup sugar


14 ounces angel food cake, cut into 1-inch cubes
72-84 medium strawberries (about 3.5 pounds), stems removed
1 pint blueberries
24-28 skewers

  1. In a medium bowl, combine the cream cheese with yogurt, vanilla and sugar. Mix well until sugar dissolves; set aside.
  2. Thread 3 strawberries and 2 cubes of cake onto each skewer, alternating between strawberries and cake. Finish each skewer with 3 blueberries. 
  3. Place finished skewers on a platter and refrigerate until ready to eat.

Adapted from a recipe featured on

*Chicken brats and burgers are available at Jameson Specialty Meats locations. They also offer a gluten-free alternative of their chicken burgers upon request.

**Nitrates in processed meats have been linked to heart disease, diabetes and colorectal cancers.  

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