28 June 2016 July 4th foods: watermelon, blueberries and cake batter truffles

When it comes to holiday fare, I’m all about easy. Serve food people like and will eat, that doesn’t involve hours in the kitchen fussing with recipes. Certainly plenty of people feel compelled to create food with a Red White and Blue theme, with some questionable results. Search on Pinterest for “July 4th Food” and you'll find stuff like this:

  • Bacon Cheeseburger Bombs
  • Patriotic Pretzels (coated in red white and blue stripes of frosting)
  • Patriotic Oreo Pops (Oreos with colored frosting)
  • Patriotic No-Bake Cake Batter Truffles

Not exactly the picture of healthy food. That last one has to be the worst “recipe” I’ve ever seen. Basically you whip up boxed cake mix into a stiff batter, with a lot of red food coloring, mix in some colored sprinkles, roll into balls and dip in vanilla-flavored coating. You don’t even bake it! It’s raw batter. Way to ruin the holiday.

Red, White and Blue is great, but not always when it comes to food. Few foods are naturally blue. Blueberries are the obvious one. Dark grapes are blue, at least on the outside. Red is easier, with choices ranging from strawberries to tomatoes to watermelon. White? Potatoes. White rice. Milk, yogurt, cream. Not so many fruits or vegetables, although radishes are red and white. So Red, White and Blue recipes for a July 4th celebration could be limited if you don’t resort to processed foods and a lot of food coloring.


The options for gooey, sugary desserts are endless. Exhibit A: those ghastly Cake Batter Truffles. Then there are cookies made with red white and blue chips or M&Ms, colored gelatin desserts, cakes doused with food coloring, and on and on.

Here are some healthier ideas based on fruit, great for desserts or snacks.

  • Easy: fruit salad made with blueberries, sliced strawberries (white inside) and watermelon chunks. Add a bit more white with banana slices. If you want to add holiday spirit, cut the watermelon into star shapes.
  • Fruit kebabs made with watermelon, strawberries, large blueberries (easy to skewer) and banana chunks.
  • Strawberry bites: Halve large strawberries. Put a dollop (1/2 TB, depending on strawberry size) of vanilla-flavored Greek style yogurt on each strawberry half. Top with 3-4 blueberries.
  • Red white & blue parfait: layer blueberries, vanilla or coconut yogurt and raspberries in clear plastic drink cups, small glasses or parfait cups.


The weather is likely to be hot, so beverages are an important part of the party. While I’m not dissing alcoholic drinks, it’s a really bad idea to drink nothing but alcohol, especially on a hot day. Alcohol is dehydrating, not to mention caloric. So be sure to have plenty of non-alcoholic beverages on hand, preferably with few calories.

Of course, it’s easy to stock up on canned or bottled flavored waters or iced tea. Herbal iced teas are easy and add flavor variety. I like to blend flavors, such as blueberry + mint or peach + a zinger flavor like tangerine. You can also mix herbal and black teas for a refreshing drink.

Infused waters are another great idea, and pretty to boot. There are plenty of combination ideas on Pinterest, or make up your own. It’s best to use fruits that have high water content and a refreshing flavor. Cucumbers are one of the few vegetables that work well for this. I like to add sprigs of fresh herbs, from basil to mint or even fresh oregano or thyme if you have those. A general preparation technique is to soak 2 cups of sliced fruit/vegetables in 2 cups of water in a jar for 1-4 hours in the refrigerator. You can use plain water or seltzer. Then pour over ice. The flavor is subtle and refreshing, and you don’t need sweetener.

Possible combinations:
  • Raspberries, strawberries and mint
  • Cucumbers, limes, oranges and basil
  • Blackberries and peaches
  • Watermelon, cantaloupe, 2-3 slices of lemon and mint sprigs

Liven the dinks up with fruit ice cubes. Freeze raspberries, strawberries, blackberries or blueberries with water in ice cube trays and use in your tea or lemonade.

If you want to be patriotic and historic, check out shrub drinks, which were very popular in Colonial America. Also called “switchel”, shrub is based on vinegar combined with juice squeezed out of fruit, sweetened with sugar. Ginger was frequently added to prevent indigestion from all that vinegar. These days you can buy prepared shrub, or try making it yourself, according to the instructions on The Ultimate History Project (see link above):

Chop up about 3 cups of juicy/watery fruit, like berries or ripe peaches, and mix with 1-3/4 cups sugar. Let it sit in the refrigerator overnight. Use a sieve to strain out the sweetened juice. Add 1 cup of cider vinegar to the juice. Put in a clean bottle (a canning jar would work well), cap securely and refrigerate for 2 weeks, shaking the bottle every now and then. After two weeks, you can drink the shrub by mixing it with seltzer water or club soda, to suit your taste. It will be very sour straight out of the bottle.

If vinegary Colonial American shrub isn’t your thing, you could try hard cider, another common beverage in the American colonies. John Adams, one of the Founding Fathers, started his day with hard cider.

Side Dishes

I’m not about to discourage people from eating burgers or hot dogs or ribs or any other popular July 4th BBQ foods. If you’re watching calories, you have to use good judgment as to how many portions you have and what toppings you use. If you enjoy those foods, let the side dishes be the healthier and lower calorie options.

Take advantage of the summer vegetable season by serving simple grilled vegetable along with the burgers and brats. Whole small zucchini or summer squash, sliced eggplant, corn on the cob, pepper halves and fruit like peach halves or pineapple slices can all be grilled. Simply brush lightly with oil and grill until done. A big platter with a variety of grilled vegetables makes a lovely presentation.

Colorful Coleslaw

Here’s a cole slaw I love to make for BBQ meals. It’s a large recipe, making more than enough for 8-10 people as a side dish:

  • 1 Napa cabbage
  • 1 red cabbage
  • 1 red onion
  • 3 large carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
  • optional: 1 cup sliced radishes
  • cider vinegar
  • olive oil
  • mayonnaise
  • salt and pepper to taste
  1. Trim and wash the cabbages and shred in a food processor, using the shredder attachment, not the chopper blade. Put shredded cabbage into a very large mixing bowl
  2. Peel and mince the red onion (you could briefly pulse in food processor instead of chopping with a knife). If you don’t care for too much onion, use only half, or buy a small onion.
  3. Peel the carrots and shred.
  4. Wash and trim the celery and slice thin.
  5. Mix everything together in the bowl. Add 1/4 cup of the vinegar and mix well. Add 1/2 cup olive oil (or oil of your choice, such as canola). Now start adding mayonnaise, well after 1/4 cup. Only add enough mayonnaise until the salad ingredients are barely coated. You don’t want the salad to be all about mayonnaise.
  6. Add salt and pepper to taste. Let it sit in the refrigerator for an hour before serving, to blend the flavors. Add more vinegar to taste if necessary. The flavor should be tangy, not oily or heavy.

Black Bean Salad

One of my absolutely favorite dishes to prepare in summer is black bean salad. Here’s a recipe adapted from the one in my book "Feed Your Vegetarian Teen". The key is using leftover cooked corn, sliced off the cob in chunks. The recipe is plenty for 6-8 people as a side dish:

Combine everything in a large bowl:

  • 2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 to 1 jalapeno, seeded and minced
  • 1-2 ripe avocadoes cut into chunks
  • 2 large ripe tomatoes, sliced
  • 2 ears cooked corn, kernels sliced off in large pieces
  • fresh lime juice (start with 2 TB, add more to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 chopped scallions
  • 1/2 cup minced cilantro

The great thing about this salad: you don’t need any oily dressing. And you can add feta cheese or fresh mozzarella to make it more of a main dish, which happens to be vegetarian-friendly.

Tired of hot dogs? Try this Marinated Flank Steak.

Flank steak is a very lean steak, lower in calories than fattier cuts, a nice change from burgers and hot dogs. The key is not to over-cook it, and to marinate it to add moisture. I found this recipe in a magazine years ago, and everyone loves it. You’ll need a 1 to 1-1/2 lb flank steak.

Make the marinade a day ahead, by mixing together:

  • 1/2 cup soy sauce
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup sweet vermouth
  • 3 TB fresh lemon juice
  • 1-1/2 TB Worcestershire sauce
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 TB dry mustard powder OR 3 TB Dijon
  • 2 tsp black pepper

Put the mixture in a gallon zip lock along with the steak. Zip it shut and lay flat on a large plate. Refrigerate overnight. Grill the flank steak about 5-6 minutes per side, preferably to medium. Discard the marinade.

Put all this food together and you’ve got a pretty impressive spread for a healthy summertime BBQ picnic.

Donna P. Feldman MS RDN

Nutrition journalist at Radio Nutrition

Co-host: Walk Talk Nutrition podcast.

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Holidays / Parties/July 4th / Independence Day

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