Healthy Swaps To Take Your July 4th BBQ Next Level

By the time Independence Day rolls around, summertime barbeques are in full swing. Here’s what you need to know to give your July 4th bash a healthy makeover.

Before the fireworks steal the show, many of us will be firing up the grill to celebrate the July 4th holiday. A cookout with friends and family is a recipe for fun, but the foods that typically appear at these gatherings often lack in good nutrition. The goal of a healthy lifestyle is to have the best of both worlds—to enjoy such festivities without compromising healthy habits. We’re sharing a few simple strategies to give your BBQ a health-inspired upgrade.


But first…a few general wellness tips for summer get-togethers:

Alcohol consumption – With booze, both quantity and quality matter. First, consider how long you expect to be at your event, so you can come up with a game plan in advance—limiting number of drinks, alternating with sparkling water—whatever helps you stay mindful of your alcohol intake. Second, ditch the sugar-laden drinks for a lighter aperitif. Typically, when it comes to ingredients, the simpler the better. Find a few of our team-tested healthy cocktails (and mocktails) here.

Hydration – Regardless if you choose to imbibe or pass on the alcohol, everyone needs to prioritize hydration. With the summer heat and humidity, it’s non-negotiable, folks. This means reaching for good ‘ol H20 prior to, during, and following your outdoor fun. Often, the sign of thirst means we’re already dehydrated. With that in mind, prevention is key. Tote around a reusable water bottle or find which hydration hacks work best for you to squash any excuse.    

Sun protection – No one seeks out burned skin, especially with unwanted tan lines. However, our judgment of sun exposure gets clouded when we’re partly protected from the sun’s rays from overcast skies or by spending some of our time indoors or under shade. When it comes to sun protection, it’s better to play it safe. Sun damage not only ages our skin, but puts us more at risk for skin cancer. In addition to external protection (sunscreen and shade), consider adding anti-inflammatory foods to your diet to support your skin from the inside out. Foods such as berries, dark chocolate, avocado, leafy greens, tomatoes and cinnamon can help fight free radical damage associated with sun exposure.

Swaps to Healthify Your BBQ Menu

When it comes to improving the nutrient density of your BBQ dishes, you don’t have to sacrifice flavor or crowd-appeal. Swap out the usual suspects for these healthier alternatives that are sure to please both hosts and guests:


1. Instead of: BBQ-flavored chips

Opt for: Seasoned sweet potato fries

Here’s why: The majority of potato chips are made with refined vegetable oils (canola, corn, sunflower, etc.) that are often genetically modified, high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids not to mention pack on calories when turning potatoes to chips. Roasted sweet potato wedges—or fries—offer up a healthy dose of fiber, vitamins and minerals and slower-digesting carbs. Choose olive oil, coconut oil, or avocado oil when roasting (depending on temperature) and flavor with some sea salt, paprika, cinnamon or a dash of cayenne for a little heat.

2. Instead of: Conventionally raised beef burger with a white bun

Opt for:  Organic, grass fed beef or bison burger (skip the bread or choose a gluten-free, whole grain bun)

Here’s why: Farm-factory beef and organic, grass-fed beef widely differ when it comes to nutrition (not to mention environment, or health of the animal). Grass-fed beef contains higher levels of beneficial vitamins and minerals as well as a much healthier ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids. Bison is another good quality protein choice that is lower in fat and calories than beef and offers essential minerals such as iron, selenium, and zinc as well as B-vitamins.

What about the buns, hun? White bread is processed similar to sugar in how quickly it is digested and impacts our blood sugar levels. Refined flour is stripped of the nutrients, too. Your best bet is to just ditch the bun altogether – try replacing with crisp lettuce leafs or just use a knife and fork (gasp!). Should you prefer to have a bun, opt for gluten-free and whole grain and just be mindful of the quantity of carbs on your plate overall. Another option is to grill your protein (chicken, steak, fish) on skewers—no bun needed!

3. Instead of: Traditional potato salad (w/ regular mayonnaise)

Opt for: Avocado or coconut oil-based mayonnaise potato or chickpea salad

Here’s why: Traditional mayonnaise is made from unhealthy fats (soybean oil). Avocado or coconut oil-based versions offer healthier fats and are now available at many grocery stores. You could skip the mayonnaise altogether with this potato herb salad.  Or consider incorporating chickpeas for more protein and nutrients in this anti-potato salad.


4. Instead of: Store-bought veggie tray with ranch dip

Opt for: Colorful crudités platter with hummus and fruit skewers

Here’s why: Creating your own vegetable platter allows you to add more variety and color to the mix. Along with veggie staples (carrots, cucumbers, celery, tomatoes, etc.) try including radishes, endive lettuce, snap peas, purple cauliflower, jicama sticks, or peppers. Offer traditional hummus or beet hummus for dipping in place of commercial ranch (which can be full of unhealthy additives). For fruit, anything that fits on a skewer stick works, but these watermelon, feta, and blackberry skewers are pretty delicious.


5. Instead of: Traditional brownies or cookies (basically any processed sweet)

Opt for: Grilled juicy peaches or mixed berries and coconut whip

Here’s why: Seasonal fruits are bursting with flavor right now and offer more vitamins, minerals and fiber than baked goods. Add coconut whip (or even a scoop of good quality vanilla ice cream) to satisfy your sweet tooth.  

6. Instead of: Patriotic “bomb pops”

Opt for: Homemade red, white, and blue pops

Here’s why: The nostalgic pops we remember from childhood contain dyes, artificial ingredients and high fructose corn syrup (no thanks!). Enjoy a cool treat without all of the junk.

7. Instead of: Bottled water

Opt for: Infused water

Here’s why: As mentioned, staying well hydrated is so important in the summer. While bottle waters are easy to stash in a cooler, a few pitchers of filtered infused water with citrus and herbs is much more appealing, tasty, and likely to get you to your goal of downing more H20. What’s more—plastic is not environmentally friendly, and the chemicals in the bottles can leach in to the water when exposed to heat. You can control conditions once you’ve purchased bottled water from the shelf, but you don’t know what it’s been through to get there.

At the end of the day, holidays are a time to relax and celebrate. At Ascend, we encourage you to ditch the diet mentality and the deprivation or guilt feelings that are often associated with restrictive eating plans. It’s not “all or nothing.” Instead, we encourage you to practice setting yourself up for good choices and learning how to incorporate more food substitutions that help you feel your best.