Healthy-ish Hot Dogs, Brownies, and Baked Beans for the 4th


What Most People Eat: Processed meats cooked at really high temperatures

How to Make It Better: There are a lot of excellent reasons to avoid processed meats, in general, and to especially avoid those that have been charred. If you want to learn more about the carcinogens and atherosclerosis-promoting compounds created naturally and during processing in these foods, google “N-nitroso,” “heterocyclic amines (HCA),” “polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons “PAH),” and “Trimethylamine N-oxide (TMAO).”

If you want grilled meat or poultry, your best bets are probably grilled chicken. If you like eating fish, grilled fish is another good idea. Whatever you choose to grill, marinating the protein ahead of time, grilling using indirect heat, cooking meat in the microwave for a few minutes before grilling, and flipping frequently decreases the formation of those carcinogens. If you must eat a hot dog on the 4th, look for one with no more than 400 mg of sodium and no more than 3 grams of saturated fat. Check out:

  • Applegate Uncured Turkey Dogs
  • Jenny-O Turkey Franks
  • Applegate The Great Organic Uncured Hot Dog
  • Applegate Uncured Beef Hot Dogs
  • Boar’s Head Lite Skinless Beef Frankfurters

Specific Recipe Ideas:

Herbs and plenty of veggies round out this recipe for Grilled Chicken Ratatouille.

What’s more refreshing than the taste of mint on a hot day? Try this Minty Grilled Chicken for a fresh take on chicken, which can be pretty dull. Oh, and add some extra mint to your fruit (a pinch of mint and a squeeze of lime juice jazzes up any fruit salad). 

Ketchup can be high in sugar. Why not top your dog with this spicy Confetti Corn Hot Dog Topper instead?

Who doesn’t like buffalo chicken flavored foods? OK, I’ve met, like, three people. For the rest of you, why not try some Buffalo Chicken Sliders this year?

If you’re ready to take a big step towards meatless living, here’s a recipe for Vegan Carrot “Hotdogs.”

If you have a vegetarian coming to your soiree and can find some Jackfruit where you live, these BBQ Jackfruit Sandwiches are supposed to taste like pulled pork.


What Most People Eat: Mayo-based salad

How to Make It Better: Realistically, the only way to make this type of salad healthier is to use mayo with a different fat profile, drastically decrease the amount of mayo used, or use a different dressing altogether, like Greek plain yogurt or lite sour cream.

Specific Recipe Ideas:

This recipe for Macaroni Salad uses low-fat mayonnaise and reduced-fat sour cream while adding veggies in the form of onion, baby spinach, edamame, and celery.

The Creamy Potato Salad here uses both reduced-fat mayonnaise and low-fat plain yogurt for creaminess and calls on fresh parsley, red onion, pickles, capers, chives, and anchovy paste for flavor.

If you don’t care for a creamy salad, Giada’s Grilled Potato Salad is dressed with lemon juice, zest, extra-virgin olive oil, Parmesan, and basil and parsley.

If you want to try something truly unique this year, how about some Creamy Strawberry and Avocado Salad?


What Most People Eat: Baked beans

How to Make It Better: Gobs of brown sugar and ketchup, along with a nice amount of bacon fat isn’t good for anyone (although it sure does taste good). Anything you can do to cut back on those ingredients is bound to help. Beans are indeed one of the healthiest foods in existence, so let’s not ruin them if we don’t have to.

Specific Recipe Ideas:

These Slow-Cooker Baked Beans are healthier, but still contain bacon, if you’re a bacon lover. They probably use significantly less than the recipe you usually use does, but you’ll still get the flavor. A little bit of bourbon, maple syrup, and molasses add flavor with just a fraction of the sugar content of other bean recipes. This is a crockpot recipe, and they need 6-8 hours to cook, so put them on in the morning!

This recipe for Perfect Pinto Beans contains plenty of flavors, including three thick-cut slices of bacon and several spices. The beans have to soak overnight and then cook for 3 hours the next day, so it’s another one to start early.

If you want to save time, these Quick Classic Baked Beans are cooked mostly on the stovetop and then broiled for a few minutes.


What Most People Eat: Brownies

How to Make It Better: You can’t make any brownie that tastes decent into a “health food,” although I love to watch people try. The best that you can do is minimize the damage and enjoy every single morsel.

Specific Recipe Ideas:

These Sweet Potato Brownies are higher in protein, iron, and fiber than a regular brownie and still taste decadent.

These Black Bean Brownies don’t contain any flour and have three grams of fiber, three grams of protein, and 115 calories each.

Be brave, and you won’t regret it. This recipe for Chocolate Brownies with Tofu contains no butter, oil, or eggs, and they are delicious!

As with every holiday and special event, my best advice is to walk around the table and check out everything that’s there BEFORE starting to fill up your plate. You gotta’ prioritize! If you cook corn on the cob for yourself every once in a while but never take the time to prepare baked beans – go for the baked beans! If chocolate chip cookies aren’t that special to you, but you never eat apple pie – pass right by those cookies and go for a (small) slice of pie. If you go into this with the idea of eating all day perfectly, you are most likely setting yourself up to feel disappointed. This leads many people to eat even more (as in “I blew it, might as well eat some more unhealthy stuff and start over tomorrow”). Go into this with the mindset of doing the best that you can while still enjoying your day, and you’ll be much further ahead.