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Every year, millions of Americans fire up the grill on the Fourth of July. Though it's a holiday, eating right doesn't have to take the day off. Chef and author Michelle Dudash, RDN, agrees. "There's always a holiday, special occasion or birthday party," she says. "Because the food stays around, one holiday can lead to days of indulgence every year."

Grilling adds effortless flavor without added fat, making it easy to cook healthy food the entire family will enjoy. Go ahead and grill those burgers and hot dogs this Fourth of July, but also consider these options that deliver taste and nutrition:

  • Opt for lean ground beef, turkey or chicken for your burgers. Kids may enjoy veggie burgers made of chickpeas or pinto beans.
  • Because kids love food on a stick, try grilling marinated shrimp or chicken skewers. Add peppers or grape tomatoes for sweetness, fiber and an extra dose of vegetables.
  • Prepare a vegetable plate in minutes with grilled squash, peppers, carrots or cauliflower. Just add a touch of olive oil and your favorite seasonings before grilling.
  • Trade traditional mayo-heavy coleslaw for a fresh carrot salad dressed with plain Greek yogurt, raisins and chopped apples. Kids will love this sweet and crunchy addition to the table.
  • Combine whole-grain pasta, broccoli and colorful peppers to create a healthier pasta salad.
  • Grill pineapple rings or peach halves until their natural sugars caramelize. Make it fun by presenting the grilled fruit on a dessert bar with vanilla yogurt, nuts as sprinkles and fresh cherry toppers.

Exposure to healthy eating and cooking early in life is essential. Dudash encourages parents to involve children whenever possible. "Children as young as two years old can stir or add things to the bowl," she says. Here are some additional ways to engage your kids in your next celebration:

  • Wash
    Let your child rinse and dry a large bunch of grapes or berries for the fruit salad.
  • Stir
    Let them mix pre-measured herbs, spices and lemon juice to create a flavorful Greek yogurt dip or sauce for vegetables.
  • Assemble
    Lay out the ingredients to create grill-ready foil packets of potatoes, peppers, onions and seasonings. Kids will enjoy going down the line, assembling each packet. This is one of Dudash's favorite tips for its convenience, portion control and portability.
  • Chop
    Older children can chop vegetables and fruit, thread chunks of fruits and vegetables onto skewers for grilling, and put together more involved dishes by following recipes.

Getting kids involved with family celebrations and cooking gives them a sense of control and accomplishment. Lending a hand in the kitchen is not only fun, but it encourages kids to taste the fruits of their labor. There's no need for lectures on healthy eating if you show instead of tell. Healthy eating will become the norm for many barbecues and generations to come.

Reviewed June 2015
Marisa Moore, MBA, RDN, LD, is an Atlanta-based registered dietitian nutritionist.


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