5 Healthy Recipes for Your Summer Cookout

A culinary and nutrition expert shares recipes for your Fourth of July festivities that are both tasty and healthy.

This Fourth of July holiday, Americans are expected to spend about $9.5 billion on food for their cookouts and barbecues, with staples like burgers, steak, and hot dogs topping their grocery lists.

Marti Wolfson, culinary nutrition coordinator at Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen

But if you’re looking to swap in some healthier options for your menu, it’s possible to do so without sacrificing taste, says Marti Wolfson, a culinary nutrition coordinator at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen. “The swaps can still be enjoyable and delicious,” she adds.

Below, Wolfson shares some healthy ingredients to try subbing in this holiday, along with some recipes that can help bring the flavor to your picnic or potluck.

Hot Dog Swap: Turkey Sausage

Turkey sausage is lean poultry that is high in protein. It also contains tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, which is the happy neurotransmitter,” Wolfson says. The herbs, apple, and onions in the recipe below are also packed with essential nutrients from B vitamins, minerals like potassium and magnesium, and antioxidants such as quercetin.

Turkey Apple Sausage

Serves: 8

  • 1 pound ground turkey (or ground chicken)
  • 2/3 cup apple, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup parsley or cilantro, finely chopped
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
  • Spritz of fresh lemon juice
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes
  • Extra virgin olive oil


  1. In a large bowl, combine the turkey, apple, onion, parsley or cilantro, cumin, salt, pepper, lemon juice, and red pepper flakes. Mix well. Wet hands and form into eight evenly sized patties.
  2. In a saute pan, add just enough oil to coat. Saute patties over medium heat for around 4 minutes per side, until nicely browned. Add a tablespoon of water and cover to steam until the meat is cooked through; the meat thermometer should read 165 F in thickest part of patty.

Beef Burger Swap: Veggie Burger

“These veggie burgers are high in fiber and antioxidants from the black beans and sweet potatoes,” Wolfson says. “Diets high in fiber have been linked to improved metabolism and heart health, and antioxidants may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.”

Black Bean Sweet Potato Burgers

Serves: 8

  • 1 1/2 pounds sweet potatoes (smaller potatoes cook faster)
  • 1 cup cooked quinoa
  • 1 cup old-fashioned oats (use certified gluten-free oats if avoiding gluten)
  • 1 can (15 ounces) black beans, rinsed and drained (or 2 cups cooked black beans)
  • Half a small red onion, diced
  • 1/2 cup lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons cumin powder
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 teaspoon chipotle powder or smoked hot paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • Avocado oil


  1. Preheat the oven to 400 F. Slice the sweet potatoes lengthwise down the center. Place the sweet potatoes cut side down on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast until they yield to a gentle squeeze, 30 to 40 minutes or longer. Once the sweet potatoes are cool enough to handle, remove the skin and roughly chop the insides. Set aside to cool completely.
  2. Use a food processor to grind the oats until they are broken up, but not as fine as flour.
  3. In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of your electric mixer, combine the cooled sweet potatoes and quinoa, black beans, onion, cilantro, cumin, chili powder, chipotle or paprika, and salt. Use a potato masher or big mixing spoon to mix well. It’s OK if the black beans get smashed in the process.
  4. Sprinkle the ground oats over the mixture and mix well with a big spoon until the mixture holds together well enough to be shaped into patties. If possible, cover and refrigerate the mixture for best results.
  5. Using a 1/2 cup of the mixture at a time, gently shape it into patties about 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Use your hands to gently flatten the burgers and smooth out any jagged edges. Repeat the process for each patty; you should end up with 8.
  6. Heat 1 tablespoon of avocado oil in a large cast-iron or nonstick skillet over medium heat. When it is hot, place several burgers in the pan, leaving enough room to flip them. Cook until browned and heated through, 3 to 4 minutes per side. Add 1 tablespoon of oil to the skillet for each pan of burgers you fry.

Macaroni Salad Swap: Bean Salad

“In place of a traditional mayonnaise-based pasta salad, a bean salad is a healthy and delicious side dish. It offers good-quality protein and fiber, which can mitigate blood sugar spikes,” Wolfson says. “This recipe also includes tons of herbs, which offer important nutrients and phytochemicals that help support your body’s natural rhythms.”

Three-Herb White Bean Salad

Serves: 4

  • 2 cans of organic cannellini beans
  • 1 bunch parsley, coarsely chopped
  • 1 small bunch rosemary, minced
  • 1/2 small bunch basil, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces chunk Parmesan, roughly chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, diced
  • 1 brightly colored bell pepper, diced
  • 1 small cucumber, seeded and diced
  • 1 pint organic cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
  • 1/2 cup fresh pitted olives, halved
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Place the first 10 ingredients in a bowl and toss together.
  2. In a separate small bowl, mix the lemon juice, olive oil, and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. Pour the dressing over the bean salad and toss until combined.

Tortilla Chips Swap: Pita Chips

“Making your own pita chips allows you to cut down on the saturated fats, added salt, and preservatives found in many store-bought chips,” says Wolfson. “Look for a 100% whole wheat or grain-free pita.” Use of olive oil and sea salt instead of vegetable oil, which is saturated fat, also helps makes the recipe below healthier.

Homemade Pita Chips

Serves: 8-10

  • 4 rounds of pita bread
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt


  1. Preheat oven to 400 F. In a small bowl, combine the extra virgin olive oil and seasonings; stir to combine.
  2. Cut pita bread into triangles. Put pita bread in a large mixing bowl and drizzle with olive oil mixture. Toss with your hands until evenly coated.
  3. Arrange pita chips in a single layer and bake at 400 F for 8 to 12 minutes. Flip halfway through. Bake until crisp, golden, and firm.

Sour Cream Dip Swap: Beet Hummus

Hummus contains healthy fats coming from the olive oil and tahini, and in this recipe the beet gives it a beautiful color along with being high in nutrients, such as fiber, folate (vitamin B9), manganese, potassium, iron, and vitamin C,” says Wolfson.

Beet Hummus With Za’atar

Serves: 2 cups

  • 3 cups chickpeas, cooked
  • 1 small red beet, cooked and peeled*
  • 2 small cloves of garlic, chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup tahini
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup ice water
  • Garnish: za’atar, paprika, sumac, or fresh herbs


  1. To prepare the beet, leave it a little wet and wrap in foil. You can either steam it in a steamer basket or roast at 425 F for 30 to 40 minutes, or until a knife can easily pierce through. Let it cool. The skin should easily peel off.
  2. In a food processor, blend the garlic, lemon juice, cumin, paprika, and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Add the tahini and blend again.
  3. As the food processor is running, slowly drizzle in the ice water until the tahini becomes lighter in color, with a saucelike consistency. Add the chickpeas and beet and blend for a minute, or until the beet is smooth. Salt to taste.
  4. Garnish with preferred spices or herbs. Serve with vegetables or crackers.

Marti Wolfson is a chef and coordinator at NewYork-Presbyterian Hudson Valley Hospital’s Chef Peter X. Kelly Teaching Kitchen. She specializes in food therapy, functional nutrition, and mindfulness practices that help prevent and heal chronic illnesses. She is also a certified health-supportive chef and has been a nutrition educator for 15 years. 

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