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Healthier Summer Party Foods

July 7, 2015

Although the 4th of July holiday—the granddaddy of the summer grilling season—has passed, summer cookouts are far from over. While some people fret over the temptation of sweets and rich foods during December holidays, lovers of all snacks cool and savory can stray drastically from their health conscious ways while staring at summer party favorites like potato salad, macaroni salad, chips, taco dip, cheese dips and salty grilled proteins.

Through trial and error, I’ve found some healthier substitutes for high-sodium and dairy-based summertime potluck favorites:

Potato or macaroni salad: Oh, that mayonnaise! Tasty? Of course. Full of artificial ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oil? Maybe, depending on the brand. Worst of all, anyone at your patio party who is vegan or has dairy restrictions will have to miss out on these tasty side dishes. We don’t want people to miss out.

I’ve found that substituting dairy-free spreads like Veganaise or Earth Balance for mayonnaise in your favorite creamy salad recipes tastes just as good, especially when you add a splash of healthy oils such as olive. The texture is just as creamy and delicious, and most people won’t even guess that the salad they’re devouring is dairy-free (sometimes it’s fun to trick people). Some dairy-free brands have a fat content per serving equivalent to mayonnaise, but the vegan brands mentioned above are made with ingredients such as GMO-free canola oil and apple cider vinegar.

Dips: Taco dip is always a hot seller at parties, but the traditional seasoned base of sour cream and cream cheese is loaded with fat and calories. I make taco dip with a base of seasoned refried pinto beans or black beans, which offer lots of protein and fiber, and then I top that with a very thin layer of a seasoned sour cream and cream cheese mixture (vegan options of both are available at Outpost Natural Foods, Good Harvest Market and other health foods stores). Top the dip with chopped romaine or other deep green lettuce, tomatoes, onions and sliced olives. Skip the shredded cheddar cheese and serve the dip with chips made from GMO-free corn.

Speaking of dips, other dairy free dips such as humus or eggplant dip served with warm grilled pita bread are healthier choices and can win over even the most traditionally-minded eaters at parties.

Meats and veggies: High fructose corn syrup, sodium and monosodium glutamate sneak into many barbecue sauces and premixed grill seasonings. These condiments are actually very easy to make from scratch. Here are two tasty recipes for barbecue sauce and barbecue seasoning rub:

For the latter, I reduced the salt by one-third. It still tasted great.

Many packaged vegetarian meat substitutes have astronomically high sodium contents. Veggie kabobs are a better choice and can be made with slices of squash, mushrooms, tomatoes and onions, seasoned with oil, salt and pepper. If time permits, homemade meat-free burgers with bean or nut bases taste great. They can be time-consuming to make and will often stick to the grill, so be sure to grill them on a sheet of lightly oiled aluminum foil. If you choose to go for it, here’s one of my favorite black bean burger recipes:

Cheers to a happy and healthy summer party season!

Sheila Julson is a freelance writer and regular contributor to Natural Awakenings magazine.

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