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Happy birthday, USA! As folks get ready to watch parades march by and fireworks dance in the night sky, celebrate the upcoming Fourth of July with a bang by exploring the sizzling world of America’s favorite July 4 fare. And no, a birthday cake with 248 candles is not on the list.

People mainly eat to celebrate this patriotic holiday. The National Retail Federation conducted a survey with Prosper Insights & Analytics, revealing that 87% of consumers planned to celebrate Independence Day in 2023, spending an average of $93.34 on food items. The survey, fielded to 8,225 consumers in 2023, also revealed that 65% celebrated with a cookout, barbeque or picnic. That’s where the health and wellness professionals can step in.

These professionals, especially dietitians, need to be aware of trends and data to provide relevant and practical advice to patients, consumers and clients, especially around popular food-centric holidays like the Fourth of July. Understanding the most popular foods allows dietitians to provide tailored advice that resonates with regional preferences. By promoting healthier alternatives, such as those inspired by more than 150 recommended recipes in this article, dietitians can help the real fireworks happen in the kitchen.

Food trends

So, what’s most popular? The Fourth of July features classic barbecue items such as grilled hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, watermelon, salty chips and baked beans, Instacart reported. These items rank among the most favored foods sold in the week leading up to Independence Day, reflecting their integral role in the celebrations.

Time2play additionally conducted research on the most popular foods for Fourth of July celebrations in each state, finding that cold salads (potato salad, coleslaw and macaroni salad) are favored in 17 states, deviled eggs in five and baked beans in eight. Texas and Kansas preferred smoked brisket, Louisiana favored smoked ribs and red, white and blue fruit pizza was popular in Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota and Minnesota. This analysis was based on Google search trends for more than 100 different July 4 foods leading up to the holiday in 2021.

When it comes to drinking, almost half of consumers (47%) were expected to buy alcoholic beverages for the holiday in 2023, according to the National Association of Convenience Stores. Among those planning to buy alcohol, the top choice was beer: 68% in 2023 vs. 62% in 2022, followed by wine (35% vs. 31%), ready-to-drink cocktails (27% vs. 23%) and spirits (27% vs. 23%).

In the hot dogs vs. hamburgers debate, Instacart reported that hot dogs are more popular than hamburgers on July 4, with 30 states plus Washington, D.C. purchasing more hot dog buns, while 20 states prefer hamburger buns. The Pacific Northwest and parts of the Northeast and Southeast show a preference for hamburgers. Sales data also revealed that relish sales spiked by 79% during the week of the fourth, outpacing other condiments like ketchup, mayo and mustard. Despite regional preferences, many orders included both hot dog and hamburger buns, highlighting the popularity of both foods.

Consumption statistics from the National Hot Dog and Sausage Council found that in 2023, Americans spent over $8 billion on hot dogs and sausages in supermarkets, reflecting their popularity. Peak consumption occurs from Memorial Day to Labor Day, when Americans eat about 7 billion hot dogs, averaging 818 hot dogs per second. Independence Day alone sees the consumption of 150 million hot dogs, enough to stretch from Washington, D.C. to Los Angeles more than five times. LA leads in regional consumption with 30 million pounds of hot dogs, followed by New York. Notably, Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport consumes six times more hot dogs than Los Angeles International and LaGuardia Airports combined.

A healthier holiday

Classified as processed meat, hot dogs fall into a category of foods identified as known carcinogens by the American Cancer Society. Processed meats, including hot dogs, sausage, ham and cured bacon, are high in sodium, which can lead to headaches, bloating and an increased risk of stomach cancer and dementia when consumed in excess. Additionally, hot dogs contain high levels of saturated fat, which is detrimental to heart health and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease. Thus, while enjoying a hot dog at a barbecue is fine, it should not be a staple in a regular diet. Eating Well recommends these six best hotdog brands. Products selected had no more than 430 milligrams of sodium, 5 grams of saturated fat and 150 calories per serving, ensuring they were special-occasion worthy while aligning with a healthy eating pattern.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends a MyPlate-inspired Fourth of July spread to keep things healthy and delicious. For protein, consumers should choose lean options like skinless chicken breasts, lean cuts of beef, turkey burgers, grilled seafood or homemade veggie burgers. They should fill their plates with fresh summer vegetables by making kabob skewers or foil pouches of yellow squash, zucchini, onions, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes, brushed with a bit of oil and grilled. Create an “everything” salad with at least 10 ingredients, including leafy greens and low-fat cheese. Make half their grains whole grains by using whole-grain buns or preparing a whole-grain salad with quinoa or whole-wheat pasta. For dessert, opt for fruits like ice-cold watermelon or fresh summer peaches or a red, white and blue fruit salad. Incorporate dairy with a yogurt-based dipping sauce or by adding low-fat feta cheese to salads. Stay hydrated by drinking water instead of sugary drinks, flavored with thinly sliced lemons, limes, watermelon or strawberries.

Anne Mauney, MPH, RD, recommends these 12 healthy appetizers and desserts for the holiday. Find 63 festive and healthy dinner recipes from Eating Well including hamburgers, barbecue chicken, fajitas and kabobs. And if that’s not enough, here’s 78 more July 4 healthy recipes from Taste of Home. All of these are great options to pass along to your clients.

In conclusion, as we gear up to celebrate America’s birthday, it’s clear that many consumers’ Fourth of July traditions are deeply rooted in flavorful foods and festive feasts. From beloved classics like grilled hot dogs and hamburgers to regional favorites such as smoked brisket and red, white and blue fruit pizza, these dishes may amp up the spirit of patriotism and community. As health and wellness professionals, understanding these culinary trends allows you to offer tailored guidance that promotes both enjoyment and well-being during this iconic holiday. Here’s to a Fourth of July filled with delicious memories and nutritious choices for all!

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