If you are trying to figure out the fireworks of your holiday menu and what will make it sparkle for your family and friends – look no further. My July 4th healthy menu planner is here to help. Just updated it for 2016. A collection of recipe and menu ideas, food safety reminders plus plan-ahead tips that will help you celebrate with a smile.
If you have any questions, please comment and I will respond right away. I am happy to help make your 4th of July a success!
Parades, Family Time and Great Food
A native California girl, I grew up in Huntington Beach also known as Surf City USA. My memories of 4th of July are filled with the parade down main street (now in it’s 112th year) and fireworks off the pier, grilling at my mom and dad’s, and spending lazy summer time with family and friends.
The closer it got to dark, the more I excited I was to hunt down the best fireworks displays. I’m still crazy about watching fireworks. It’s not the 4th without them!
July 4th Healthy Menu Planner
To plan your 4th of July menu, get a head count. Know how many you will be feeding. If it’s a crowd, you may want to offer several starters or snacks, 2 main entree options, and a few side dishes, plus dessert and beverages. If it’s a smaller group, maybe one of each will suffice. See the end of the post for a list of recipe ideas and links.
When menu planning, I start with the main dish (protein) and build out my menu.
Grilled chicken is easy, can be marinated ahead and generally works for everyone. For boneless, skinless chicken breasts figure about 6 ounces per adult of raw weight. Instead of grilling whole pieces, you can cut the chicken into chunks, skewer and grill as kabobs.
For bone-in chicken, go by the piece. For adults, 1 chicken breast is usually good. For thighs, you will need about 2 per person. For burgers, you can make either 4 ounce or 6 ounce burgers.
For main dishes such as ribs, figure about 1 pound per person, remembering you will have snacks, sides and dessert.
Share The Load
If the group is bigger than you are comfortable cooking for, it’s ok to ask for help. If people agree to pitch in, don’t be afraid to ask the to make a specific dish to fit within your plan. Give them the recipe if needed. Sharing the work also means sharing financial cost of a holiday celebration for a crowd.
If you have non-cooking people who want to help, have them bring things like heavy paper plates (if you are using them), napkins, cups, ice, and beverages (notes below).
Planning Around Food Allergies, Sensitivities and Special Diets
With so many people having food allergies, sensitivities and special dietary needs, be sure to ask guests ahead of time about food challenges. You don’t want to be caught short handed, scrambling to find something to feed them. It can be embarrassing and frustrating.
The most common troublemakers are wheat and gluten, dairy, nuts and peanuts, soy, eggs, and shellfish. All can be worked around with a little forethought, so don’t stress.
Vegan and Vegetarian Guests
For vegan or vegetarian guests, have big green salads and grain salads as part of the menu options. Quinoa Tabbouleh is a refreshing crowd pleaser (no matter how they eat) that can be made ahead, then assembled and dressed at serving time. If you are doing burgers, veggie burgers could be another option.
And everyone loves a good summer white bean salad with fresh herbs and a light dressing. To make it quick, use no-sodium added organic white beans such as Cannellini beans or Great Northern beans (I like Eden Organics).
Tips For Food Safety
One more big consideration – think about where you will be serving your food. If you are entertaining at home, keeping food safe and cold is easier. If you are transporting to a park, lake or beach, that takes more planning.
- Transport perishable foods in insulated coolers filled with ice or frozen gel packs.
- Perishable food should not sit out for more than two hours and in hot weather (above 90 °F), food should never sit out for more than one hour. Set a timer to keep food safe and remind yourself.
- If you are cooking raw meat like burgers, have separate, clean cutting boards and utensils and do to cross contaminate with cooked foods.
- If handling raw meat, poultry or seafood, use disposable food handler gloves and change between types of raw food, then toss. And be sure to have antibacterial wipes around if there is no sink. For anything that has touched raw meat, cover with a trash bag and transport home.
- If bugs could be an issue, get some inexpensive screen covers to protect food.
- See links to food safety articles at the end for more tips
July 4th Healthy Menu Ideas
Appetizers or Starters
- Steamed Artichokes with Lemon-Garlic Dipping Sauce (or grilled, here)
- Easy Smoked Salmon Dip with Raw Veggies
- Creamy Hummus Dip with Vegetables
- Classic Deviled Eggs
- Rainbow vegetable spring rolls
- Avocado basil dip with rainbow veggies
- Spice Turkey Burgers with Ancho Chili Sauce
- Grilled Lemon-Mint Chicken Breasts
- Oven baby back ribs (oven start, grill finish)
- Grilled Mexican flank steak
- Grilled shrimp (use this recipe but grill instead of roast)
Sides and Salads
- Green Bean Salad with Sweet Tomatoes and Corn
- Southwestern Black Bean Salad
- Ginger Molasses Baked Beans
- Mediterranean Potato Salad
- Quinoa Tabouleh Salad
- Summer White Bean Salad
- Grilled corn on the cob
- Broccoli and cabbage slaw
Sweet Endings – Dessert Ideas
- Sweet Watermelon Wedges
- Fresh Strawberries with Honey-Vanilla Sour Cream Dip
- Honey Nectarine Sorbet (liqueur optional)
- Lemon Almond Polenta Cake (gluten-free, serve with red and blue berries and whipped cream)
- Chocolate Coconut Cranberry Bites
- Mint and Melon Kabobs
- Gluten-free chocolate coconut brownies (new recipe out soon!)
The Best Healthy Beverages
- Sparkling Watermelon-Lime Juice
- “Spa Water” – Fill a large beverage dispenser or large pitchers with filtered water, ice, and slices of lemon, orange, lime, mint, cucumber, or berries. The colors are beautiful and the fruit provides a nice, healthy, boost of flavor.
- For iced tea, try herbal or decaf iced tea. To sweeten iced tea, use Sweet Drops flavored liquid stevia drops in lemon with slices of fresh lemon.
- Skip the soda and sugary, artificially flavored drinks
Planning Notes: What to Do Ahead
Lots can be done ahead. It’s too hard to list all if it here so if you have an questions please comment and I will answer.
- Steam artichokes a day ahead (if serving cold or planning to finish by grilling) and make the dipping sauce.
- Make the smoked salmon dip 1-2 days ahead. Cut the raw veggies and refrigerate.
- Make the hummus a day or two ahead and cut up your vegetables. Place in zip bags.
- Make the sauce for the turkey burgers (if doing burgers).
- Make the burger patties, place on a plastic covered rimmed baking sheet, cover with more plastic wrap and refrigerate (the morning of the 4th).
- Cook the green beans and make the dressing. Finish before serving by adding corn, tomatoes and dressing.
- Hard boil your eggs, peel, halve. Refrigerate the halves unfilled. Make the filing and refrigerate. Fill before serving.
- Make the potatoes completely and refrigerate a day ahead. Same for the white bean salad. These could easily be done two days ahead.
- Make the ice cream base a day ahead and refrigerate. Freeze in your ice cream maker on the morning of the 4th and freeze.
- Slice the watermelon and store a day ahead.
I hope this helps you plan for a wonderful 4th of July celebration with your family and friends. Since much of this menu can be made ahead, it will help to minimize your kitchen time on the 4th.
Happy 4th of July everyone! Celebrate our nations birthday, enjoy your family and friends, and eat well!
Food safety tips for the 4th of July, from the USDA