50 Memorial Day Recipes That Are Healthy *and* Delicious

By Jess Novak and Lauren Paige
|
May 17, 2021
grilled honey mustard chicken breasts
Image credit: Simply Scratch

Memorial Day weekend is one of our favorite times to get together with friends and family — it’s an important moment of both remembrance and celebration, and it marks the unofficial start to summer. This year, we’ve found a bunch of options that mix up traditional Memorial Day recipes with more adventurous, bolder flavors, giving you a range of options (while always steering clear of refined grains and sugars).  

Read next: The Healthiest Fast Food Orders For When You’re On a Road Trip, According To Dietitians

We’ve divided these Memorial Day recipes into easy-to-peruse categories, from appetizers to drinks and desserts, and also separated make-ahead recipes from those that are grilled and served immediately. We think that cooking should be for everyone, so the recipes we’ve selected here should work pretty easily for most home cooks — with the exception of the popsicles, which require a silicone mold, they don’t need any specialty equipment or advanced skills. Most of these recipes are fairly easy and quick to make, so if the person wearing the apron is as good a grill master as they claim to be, these Memorial Day recipes should be simple, fun, healthful, and delicious. 

Appetizers

memorial day recipes: deviled eggs

It’s always a good idea to have some healthy, tasty snacks on hand, since they’re the best way to avoid blood sugar spikes that lead to hanger (and the resulting, wildly unnecessary family feuds). With lots of fresh vegetables, lean proteins, and big flavors ranging from deviled eggs to grilled shishito peppers, we’ve found some great ways to kick off your cookout.

Make-Ahead Appetizers

1. Caprese Skewers

Exactly like a caprese salad, but in tiny skewer form so it’s easier to snack on while standing up at an outdoor party. You can also swap the tomato out for cubed watermelon and add sliced serrano peppers on top for a fun play on the original.

2. Spanish Tortilla

The classic tortilla is a national dish of Spain, and it’s absolutely perfect for a party. You can make this cold, creamy omelet the day before, then slice into cubes and serve with toothpicks. 

3. Buffalo Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are among our favorite appetizers (especially since we started swapping out the mayo for Greek yogurt) but sometimes it’s fun to add an unexpected-but-familiar flavor, like buffalo sauce and blue cheese. 

4. Mexican Guacamole

This guacamole from excellent recipe author Charbel of My Latina Table is delicious, easy, and authentic. Serve with classic tortilla chips, or opt for crudités like sliced bell peppers, carrots, cucumber, and zucchini sticks.

5. Roasted Beet Dip

This delicious beet dip adds a festive splash of color to any table. This recipe is delicious on its own, but if you want to make it even creamier, you could add a half-cup of cannellini beans or some goat cheese.

Grilled Appetizers

6. Shishito Peppers with Lemon-Yogurt Dipping Sauce

Shishito peppers are the fun snack version of Russian roulette, since every tenth pepper tends to be spicy, and you never know if you’re going to be the lucky winner.  They’re also a great bang for your buck — we usually find them at the local grocery for $4 a pound, and you can often get them at Costco for even cheaper. 

7. Grilled Shrimp Cocktail

Shrimp cocktail is always a hit at any party but doesn’t exactly keep well under the summer sun, so the make-ahead version is a bit of a gamble. In this version, you get a great appetizer to kick off grill time, and the shrimp are sure to get passed around and eaten the second they’re cooked.

8. Peri-Peri Chicken Wings

Peri-peri is a spice blend that originated in Mozambique, and it’s fantastically hot and flavorful — but not at all hard to find. (You can pick up a bottle of peri-peri sauce from Trader Joe’s these days).

9. Grilled Jalapeño Poppers

Jalapeño poppers are a familiar sports bar favorite, but this unbreaded version is much healthier and just as delicious. Consider mixing Greek yogurt-based cream cheese in with the boursin for fewer calories and a creamier texture. 

10. Grilled Halloumi

Halloumi is a semi-hard sheep’s cheese that hails from the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, and it’s pretty unquestionably the most grilling-friendly cheese ever invented. Salty, tangy, and mild, everyone is sure to love this cheese — which can be enjoyed on its own or added to basically any salad.

Sides

Memorial Day Recipes: Spring Quinoa with Asparagus, Peas & Pickled Onion

Image credit: Love and Lemons

Is it just us, or are the side dishes always the secret star to any meal? At Thanksgiving, we’re always just as excited about the mashed potatoes as we are the turkey, and when it comes to a cookout, we’re just as thrilled about sides like watermelon feta salad and asparagus rafts as we are the main course, whether that’s coconut milk shrimp skewers or steak tacos.

Make-Ahead Sides

11. Esquites (Mexican Street Corn Salad)

If you like elote (the beloved grilled Mexican street corn that always makes a great grilling companion), you’ll love esquites, the off-the-cob variation that works beautifully as a summer salad. This is one of our favorite Memorial Day recipes because it’s got so many fun flavors but is such an easy crowd pleaser.

12. Herb and Mustard Potato Salad

Potato salads don’t have to be a heavy, mayonnaise-y affair — we love this incredibly simple, vegan-friendly play on a German potato salad.

13. Thai Green Papaya Salad

This green papaya salad is perfectly balanced and holds up well in the heat, which makes it an ideal side dish for a cook-out. 

14. Watermelon Feta Salad

Tangy and sweet, this salad is packed with mint, which actually tricks your brain into making you feel cooler — which is a great idea in the heat. 

15. French Lentil Salad with Goat Cheese

A classic salad with a bright, zingy dressing, this is a great option to have on hand as both a side dish and a vegetarian main option.

16. Green Bean Salad with Balsamic Basil Vinaigrette

If you’re looking for a salad that can really stand up to the heat, look no further: a green bean salad is the way to go. Make sure to blanch the green beans for just two minutes and no longer —  you want these to stay crispy-tender, not fully cooked.   

17. Spring Quinoa with Asparagus, Peas & Pickled Onion

This perfectly seasonal, protein-packed recipe is delicious as-is, but it can also easily be made vegan — just leave out the boiled egg and replace the Greek yogurt in the dressing with avocado. 

18. Spicy Cucumber Salad

This simple, flavor-packed side is a great option to bring if you’re invited to a cookout and don’t know what else is going to be on the table. Chances are it’ll be a quiet hit, and there’s no chance you’ll steal the thunder from someone’s aunt’s traditional potato salad.

Grilled Sides

19. Grilled Asparagus Rafts

Asparagus is one of our favorite seasonal vegetables, but grilling it can be a tricky affair that requires expert use of tongs… unless you just skewer a bunch of asparagus together into these ingenious rafts.

20. Grilled Zucchini with Balsamic Glaze

Simple, delicious, tasty, and healthful, this is a crowd-pleasing side that highlights one of our favorite summer vegetables. 

21. Grilled Eggplant Salad with Freekeh

This Middle Eastern-inspired eggplant salad could be made ahead of time, but it would also be amazing served warm right off the grill. 

22. Grilled Caesar Salad

Grilled lettuce? Trust us: heartier varieties like romaine actually stand up really well to the grill, and the process infuses it with a great smokiness.

23. Miso Corn on the Cob

With just six ingredients, this miso corn on the cob is seriously simple to make — but it’s an absolute umami bomb. 

Mains

grilled honey mustard chicken breasts

Image credit: Simply Scratch

From grass-fed burgers to mushroom tikka skewers, these Memorial Day recipes run a wide gamut of flavors and protein sources. We found a few less-expected plant-based options, pescatarian choices, and plenty of white and red meat, so there’s something for everyone.

24. Citrus-Marinated Steak Tacos

These steak tacos are bright, delicious, and crowd-pleasing. You can marinate the flat iron steak the night before so that it’s flavor-infused and perfectly tender for the grill.  

25. Hawaiian-Inspired Chickpea Burgers

Plant-based eaters will be grateful for an option like these protein-packed, well-spiced chickpea burgers topped with pineapple and avocado — instead of another marinated portabella mushroom cap. 

26. Grilled Chicken and Grape Kebabs

Grilled grapes might sound strange, but they’re incredibly delicious — and they’re excellent with chicken. This recipe calls for chicken breast, but we’d consider subbing for chicken thighs, which has a higher fat content that tends to do better on the grill.

27. Coconut Milk Shrimp Skewers 

Fried coconut shrimp is a tasty, classic appetizer, but it won’t win any awards for its health benefits. Consider this marinated, grilled version, which is more delicate, just as delicious, and totally healthful — so it makes a great main dish.  

28. Bulgogi Lettuce Wraps

Swap the sugar for honey, and these lettuce wraps. They can also easily be made into a low-carb option by simply leaving out the rice.

29. Marinated Grilled Salmon

If you really like your guests (or you’re hosting a smaller party) consider making a big plank of grilled salmon. Serve with the skin-on or remove to serve over salad. 

30. Lamb Kofta

A Middle Eastern dish, kofta is made using ground meat — in this case, spring lamb. We love the rich spices (not to mention how fun it is to eat off a skewer). 

31. Blackened Grouper

A classic dish in the south (especially in Florida), there are technically a ton of different ways to prepare grouper, but the only one we really acknowledge is blackening, which is just the most flavorful. 

32. Grass-Fed Burgers

It’s a cookout — don’t overthink it. Make classic burgers using grass-fed beef, which has been shown to have higher concentrations of a variety of vitamins and minerals and a lower fat content than grain-finished.

33. Herbed Honey Mustard Chicken Breasts

Honey mustard chicken is a true crowd pleaser. Serve with whole grain buns for healthful sandwiches or sliced for salads.

34. Plant-Based Mushroom Tikka Skewers

These mushroom skewers rely on almond milk yogurt and plenty of spices to infuse these mushrooms with big, bold flavor. An excellent plant-based option that vegan guests are sure to love. 

35. Marinated Fish Skewers 

These skewers can be made with any of a variety of white fish, so they’re flexible, tasty, and seriously budget-friendly. We love the spice blend, which is inspired by Middle Eastern Sephardic Jewish cooking.

Desserts

berry pops

Image credit: Fork Knife Swoon

These desserts range from creamy frozen treats to hot-off-the-grill delicacies, but they all have one thing in common: they use zero refined sugar. Some of them get a little extra sweetening boost from honey, maple syrup, or dates, but many others derive their sweetness solely from the best source possible: fresh fruit.  

Make-Ahead Desserts

36. Creamy Coconut and Mixed Berry Popsicles

These DIY popsicles are as pretty as they are tasty (and they’re way better for you than store-bought). For a vegan option, just swap maple syrup for the honey. To make them especially belong among Memorial Day recipes, layer strawberries and blueberries for a patriotic effect. 

37. Fudgy Almond Butter Blondies

Made with tons of almond butter and coconut flour, these blondies are definitely protein-packed — and while they’re 100% sweetened (hi, maple syrup and coconut sugar) they contain exactly zero refined sugar.

38. No-Bake Fruit Pizza

With a crust made out of dates and cashews, a creamy filling made from Greek yogurt, and an array of fresh fruit on top, this has to be one of the healthiest pizza recipes we’ve ever seen. 

39. Blueberry Pie Bars

No added sugar or oil are needed to make these gooey blueberry pie bars, which are sweetened only with fruit — and taste fantastic.

40. 4-Ingredient Strawberry Frozen Yogurt

Making homemade ice cream is a fun project, but it takes ages and the result is often not what you’d hoped for. This strawberry frozen yogurt, on the other hand, is foolproof, fast, and super healthy. Win/win/win.

41. Homemade Fudgesicles

These fudge popsicles are rich and delicious, but the ingredients are pretty wholesome. They’re totally worth shelling out for some silicone molds (you’ll use them all summer long anyway).

Grilled Desserts

42. Grilled Figs with Balsamic Glaze and Goat Cheese

This is one of those dishes that tastes incredible, is seriously elegant, and is basically impossible to mess up. It’s a perfect dessert, but it could also be served as an appetizer (or you could do both).

43. Honey-Rum Grilled Bananas

So simple, tasty, and summery, this is a great option to pair with a rum-based cocktail. However, please note that alcohol doesn’t burn off as quickly as you might think, so it’s not a great fit for anyone who avoids alcohol. 

44. Grilled Stone Fruit with Honey Lemon Yogurt Sauce

Stone fruits like peaches, plums, and apricots take beautifully to the grill. Dust a little cinnamon and cardamom in the pit for a little added flavor. 

Pitcher Drinks 

watermelon agua fresca

These thirst-quenching beverages will keep your crowd hydrated and happy. The alcohol-free blends are great for everyone (and also make excellent mixers) and the cocktails are super low-ABV patio sippers. We like to keep a two-gallon dispenser filled with water on hand, too, just to make sure everyone’s staying hydrated in the heat. If you feel like getting fancy with it, you can throw in a couple slices of cucumber and some lemon rounds, too.

Alcohol-Free

45. Peach Iced Tea

Like a Southern sweet tea, but without all the refined sugar (and a big hit of fresh, juicy peach flavor). This is a wonderful drink on its own, but could easily be made into a cocktail with a splash of bourbon.

46. Watermelon Agua Fresca

This is an incredibly refreshing summertime drink. We like to throw in a few handfuls of mint before blending and simply leave out the sugar (honestly, watermelon is sweet enough on its own). This is ideal as-is, but would also work well with tequila or mezcal. 

47. Honey Lavender Lemonade

The addition of a little lavender elevates anything — including a simple honey lemonade. This one is sure to be a hit with folks of all ages (and for those who drink spirits, it would be delicious with vodka or gin). 

Patio Sippers

48. Earl Grey Gin Punch

We tend to double the amount of tea than the recipe calls for, and replace the sugar with a cup of orange juice, so the ratio should end up being more 1:3 alcohol:mixer, making this a light, refreshing cocktail that doesn’t pack too much of an, ahem, punch.

49. Pitcher Palomas 

Palomas are just a perfect summertime drink, given that it has a big base of grapefruit juice and sparkling water, after all. We love that this drink is mostly hydrating ingredients with a little kiss of alcohol, perfect for a cookout. 

50. Coconut Lime Cilantro Cooler

A cocktail based in ultra-hydrating coconut water is just a seriously good idea when it’s hot out. If you’ve never tried muddling cilantro in the bottom of a cocktail before, we recommend the practice — it’s weirdly great. 

Read next: 20 Summer Salads That Are Almost Too Gorgeous to Eat

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