Ideas for a Summer Meal

Just because the village isn’t doing its beloved fireworks this year doesn’t mean we can’t celebrate Independence Day with our family and friends on a smaller scale. 

Last month, I wrote about the term ‘nutrient density’ and how that applies to what we eat. In a nutshell, some foods have more nutrients for their weight than others, such a kale or lean ground beef, and we want to aim to eat more of those.  This summer, I challenge you to incorporate more nutrient-dense foods into your gatherings. 

We’re still having a few families over for the 3rd, and I’ll be asking our guests to bring sides to share to keep it easy.  However, in a perfect world and with infinite time and resources (ha!) I’d make all the dietitian-approved dishes myself.  Perhaps my ‘dream menu’ will give you some ideas for your event this year.  Here’s what I’d serve:

BBQ chicken – Chicken has less fat than traditional burgers and hot dogs, and saves additional calories by omitting the need for buns, use a lower-sugar or no-added-sugar sauce if you’re really feeling ambitious!

Kale Salad – Instead of iceberg lettuce, made a green salad with more energy-dense kale.  I make a version with hardboiled eggs (a protein option for vegetarians), as well as avocado, shredded carrot , cherry tomatoes, corn and pecans, dressed with a lemon-garlic vinaigrette.  I’ve been making this salad for years and it’s delicious. (Here’s the recipe: ‘Chopped Kale and Collard Green Salad’ from the June 2013 issue of Country Living Magazine.) By not having a mayo-based salad out on a hot day, you lessen the risk of food-safety issues, too.  

Bean salsa – Consider serving one meatless dish for any vegetarians (or anyone else choosing not to eat meat) at your gatherings.  An easy option that’s also a crowd favorite is a bean salsa and tortilla chips.  Mix two or three types of beans (usually a combination of black, pinto and black-eyed peas), corn, red onion, tomato and avocado with a lime juice vinaigrette and add some jalapeno for heat.  Garnish with cilantro.  If you’re feeling fancy, you can make your own tortilla chips, too!

Watermelon – always a hit with adults and kids alike, easy to prepare, full of fluid to help everyone stay hydrated on hot days and low in calories – it’s a win-win!

Homemade popsicles  – it’s as easy as freezing a bit of watered-down juice in popsicle molds!  Gauge your water-juice mix by the age of the kids; the younger they are, the more watered-down they should be.  Instead of the food-dye-and-high-fructose-corn-syrup versions sold in plastic sleeves, the homemade kind from juice are healthier AND more sustainable; plus you won’t be picking up freezie pop wrappers the kids dropped all over the yard!

After all these nutrient-dense items, it’s time to splurge on a truly delicious dessert: a homemade flag cake!  White cake decorated with blueberries, strawberries and homemade whipped cream, it’s both beautiful and a treat worth the calories.  I’ve always wanted to make one of these from scratch; perhaps this year will be the year! Simply prepare a sheet cake, either from a box or homemade) and whip some heavy cream with a little sugar, and then decorate with berries and whipped cream.  Berries provide natural sweetness, antioxidants and fiber, while homemade whipped cream is less-rich than a cream-cheese or buttercream icing, and doesn’t have the artificial flavors and preservatives found in whipped ‘toppings.’

May your Independence Day barbeques be full of delicious, nutrient-dense foods that become new favorites!  Perhaps this WILL be the menu for our party…if I get a little help. 

Next month: ideas for a meatless barbeque!

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