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(Mostly) Guilt-Free Recipes for Your July 4th Bash

Hang out with the fam on the Fourth instead of the veggie tray.

Between the meat eaters, the vegetarians, the calorie-counters and the kids, it can be hard to please everyone at a barbecue. Here are a few recipes that are fairly low-calorie, but still taste great, so you can ditch the veggie tray and enjoy the party.

Grilled Onion Blossom

This is an easy recipe with little prep that basically involves slow-roasting the onion on the grill. The onion will come out super-soft, making it a great, guilt-free and filling side dish for fewer than 100 calories. Instead of cheese and steak sauce, try a beef bouillon cube and a pat of butter, or get creative.

Per serving, you'll need:

  • 1 vidalia onion (or other large onion)
  • 3 tablespoons steak sauce
  • 3 tablespoons Parmesan or mozzarella cheese
  • 1 large sheet of aluminum foil

Take a Vidalia onion (or any large onion), and slice it about three-quarters of the way down the middle; repeat in opposite direction, so that you have an onion that is intact but able to be spread apart. Sprinkle on two to three tablespoons of steak sauce (or soy sauce), and sprinkle with two to four tablespoons of Parmesan or mozzarella cheese. Wrap tightly in aluminum foil and roast on the grill for 40 minutes.

Shish Kabobs

Kabobs are a barbecue classic for a reason: they're fun to make, pretty to look at, and hard to mess up. It's a dish that can please meat eaters, vegetarians and picky kids alike, with only a few alterations.

You'll need:

  • Chicken or beef, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • Fresh veggies, such as bell peppers, onions, eggplant, tomatoes, mushrooms
  • Your favorite marinade (optional)
  • Wooden or metal skewers

Simply cut chicken and veggies into bite-sized pieces and alternate pieces on wooden sticks or skewers, then grill until meat is cooked through. (Marinate chicken in teriyaki sauce or barbecue sauce for a few hours first, for a more robust flavor.)

For a pretty presentation, choose diverse colors of fruits and veggies, like red, green and yellow peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes, etc. Get creative: make some chicken and pineapple kabobs, or dessert kabobs by caramelizing bananas. If presentation isn't a concern,  it might be more efficient to make single-ingredient kabobs (all chicken, all tomatoes, etc.), since you may find your tomatoes mushy by the time your chicken is cooked.

(Mostly) Guilt-Free Bacon, Tomato and Avocado Pasta Salad

This is a recipe that I've lightened up. The original recipe called for mayo instead of yogurt, but I find that the yogurt works just as well and drastically decreases the calorie count. Serves 4, so increase if you're planning on serving it at the family reunion:

  • 6 slices bacon, chopped into one inch pieces
  • 1/2 pound dried pasta
  • 1/2 cup plain nonfat yogurt
  • juice of 1 lemon (I used half a lemon-- the yogurt is tangy)
  • 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes, or sliced plum tomatoes
  • 1 avocado pitted and sliced
  • Salt and pepper to taste

 Cook pasta according to package instructions, strain and run under cool water. Cook bacon, blot and cut into 1-inch pieces. Meanwhile, mix yogurt (or mayo), lemon and garlic together. Then toss everything together, salt and pepper to taste, and refrigerate. You'll want to make this close to when you're serving, because otherwise the avocado is likely to turn brown.

Strawberry Jello Pretzel Salad

Okay, so it's not a totally guilt-free recipe, but it is the recipe that I most associate with summer cookouts, and it's totally worth it. The combination may sound a little odd, but the sweet-salty-creamy combination is always a crowd-pleaser.

For enough to feed a crowd, you'll need:

  • 2 1/4 c. crushed pretzels
  • 1/2 c. melted butter
  • 4 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 large package (6 oz.) sugar-free strawberry jello
  • 10 oz. bag of frozen unsweetened strawberries
  • 8 oz. Neufchatel cheese
  • 1 tub light or fat-free whipped topping (8 oz.)
  • 1/2 c. sugar
  • 9x13 glass casserole dish

 Grease 9x13 casserole dish and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Mix crushed pretzels, butter, and 4 tbsp. sugar until well-combined, and press into bottom of pan. Bake for 15 minutes, allow to cool completely. In mixing bowl, mix cream cheese, whipped topping and 1/2 c. sugar until well-combined. Spread over cooled pretzel crust. Prepare jello according to package instructions, and combine with frozen strawberries, then pour the mixture over the cream cheese mixture and let set.

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