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Five Keys to a Fun and Healthy Labor Day Menu

Labor Day is traditionally the unofficial end of summer. Many people see it as an opportunity to shop the sales or watch a football or baseball game, but others look forward to kicking back and enjoying some time with family and friends at the park, the beach or in their own backyard. When most Americans plan a warm weather get together, the first thing they think of is food.

“We often consider Labor Day to be summer’s last hurrah,” observed registered dietitian Kimberlee Alvari, director of Food and Nutrition Clinical Services at Washington Hospital. “So, we want to relax and enjoy ourselves without a lot of rules and restrictions. But, there are still a few things you should do to take care of yourself and feel good throughout the day.”

Here are Alvari’s top five recommendations:
1. Stay hydrated.
It’s likely to be hot this Labor Day, so drink plenty of water, infused iced teas or other low calorie, non-alcoholic beverages, especially when you are outdoors.

“One of the biggest offenders on a holiday like Labor Day is alcohol,” she said. “Wine, beer and cocktails contribute calories that can add up very quickly while contributing zero nutrition to your diet.”

She suggested trying “mocktails” or a good light beer and limiting wine drinking to moderate amounts. A 5 ounce glass of wine is 120 calories, and the same amount of light beer is about 100 calories.

2. Contribute to the table.
If you are invited to a gathering, offer to bring one or more dishes to share. That’s your chance to add something healthy, like fruit salad, to the menu. And, you’ll always know there will be healthy food available, even if everyone else brings chips and dips.

Roasted Corn & Edamame Salad and Light & Fresh Potato Salad are two nutritious and delicious salad recipes that have been popular at community events sponsored by Washington Hospital, as well as in the Hospital’s café.

3. Consider kabobs.
Chances are, if you are hosting a Labor Day meal, it will include something from the grill. For a main dish, consider having something on a stick that includes local produce, both fruits and vegetables, along with a small amount of lean meat.

“Kabobs can take a little more time to prepare, but you can do it ahead, so you’ll be able to spend more time with your guests,” advised Alvari. “Grilled fruits and vegetables are delicious because they sweeten up as they cook and the flavors can be wonderful.”

Small pieces of skinless, boneless chicken are always a good choice for grilled kabobs. The meat cooks fast so you don’t have to worry as much that it is at a safe temperature. You can also consider partially microwaving the chicken first to get the internal cooking started and then finish off on the grill.

Other ideas:

  • Marinate the kabobs before cooking.
  • Serve light dipping sauces for your guests to enjoy with the finished kabobs.
  • Grill a basket of fresh veggies.

4. Top it off with smart treats.
If you want something sweet to round out your Labor Day meal, stay away from the heavier desserts and consider fruit. Strawberries are a great late summer option.

“One cup of strawberries—sweet enough so they require no sugar—are delicious and beautiful with a couple of tablespoons of whipped cream, and that’s only about 100 calories,” stated Alvari. “Or, the last of this season’s stone fruit is still available, so think about grilled peaches sprinkled with a small amount of brown sugar. They look beautiful, and you can add a little bit of low fat vanilla ice cream for extra flavor and sweetness.”

Another fun option is root beer floats with diet root beer and reduced-fat vanilla ice cream. They are festive and total around 120 calories each, if you add just one scoop of ice cream.

5. Add activities to the menu.
Include physical activity or active games in your Labor Day celebration. That way, you can get some exercise while you enjoy the party. Swimming, playing Frisbees and other outdoor games is fun and will get everyone moving.

A last piece of safety advice from Alvari: With outdoor meals, it’s as important as ever to keep food safe. Don’t cross-contaminate raw meats with other foods by using the same plates, utensils or containers without washing them between uses.

Finally, stay mindful about the temperature of your food. Check the internal temperature of grilled meat with a thermometer, and keep cool food like salads cold by covering and placing them on ice in a cooler when not being served.

“Food can stay outside safely for up to two hours,” said Alvari. “However, if the day is above 90 degrees, the safety of the food only lasts for about an hour.”

Learn more For more information and ideas on healthy picnicking and barbequing, go online to To find out more about Food and Nutritional Services at Washington Hospital, visit