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Simple & Fun Low-Waste 4th of July Food and Drinks

Looking for ways to prepare festive food and drinks for a low-waste July 4th party spread? Check out this list of ideas for snacks, veggies, desserts, drinks, and more to help you host a festive Independence Day party with friends while sharing plenty of low-waste 4th of July food and drinks.

Low-Waste 4th of July Food and Drinks

Fourth of July celebrations in the United States are all about food, fireworks, and hanging out with friends, and I have an unpopular opinion to share. I really don’t like fireworks. I’ll take fresh summer food all day long – pile up the watermelon slices on my plate – but I’m a hard pass on the fireworks every single time.

These days, I know that fireworks are horrible for the planet. They’re a mess of chemical pollutants. They disrupt wildlife habits and habitats. And they can spark wildfires, particularly concerning lately as droughts lead to more natural spaces ripe for burning.

But despite all of these considerations, I’ve hated fireworks my entire life. I cannot stand the noise. As a kid, we used to watch holiday fireworks from inside my dad’s downtown office building so we could see them but not hear them. And even today, I still prefer to steer clear of big fireworks displays. They are really not my jam.

But Fourth of July food? I’ll take it. Refreshing watermelon. Sweet corn on the cob with plenty of butter, just like my grandparents taught me to eat from their garden. And cold drinks. I’m all in.

Admiring the fireworks tablescape and Uncle Sam-inspired July 4th tablescape that Reese, our resident sustainable design guru, put together made me think about all the food that will land on those plates. If you’re headed to a Fourth of July celebration or planning to host one for friends, here are some ideas for low-waste 4th of July food and drinks to share all around.

General Tips for Low-Waste Fourth of July Food

  1. Local and Organic Produce: Source your fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients from local farmers’ markets or organic suppliers. Supporting local farmers reduces carbon emissions from transportation, and it’s good for the local economy. Organic produce is grown without harmful pesticides. If you have access to it, u-pick produce is a great option to find seasonal produce in bulk, perfect for party planning, not to mention it’s another way to support local farms and reduce the carbon footprint of your food. Win-win-win!
  2. Plant-Based Proteins: Opt for plant-based alternatives like veggie burgers, veggie dogs, or marinated grilled vegetables instead of traditional meat options. These options have a lower environmental impact and can be just as delicious. Alternatively, if you’re not into plant-based options, there are several other ways to reduce the environmental impact of the meat you choose to eat, so try some of these tips too! We incorporate a variety of traditional meats into our family diet, so we use some of these tips to help be more eco-conscious consumers of meat.
  3. Sustainable Seafood: If you plan to include seafood on your menu, choose sustainable options like wild-caught fish or certified sustainable seafood. The Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program offers helpful guides to make sustainable choices. Did you know that there is a growing market for regenerative kelp farming? And these farms create rich habitats for all sorts of sealife that help make our oceans healthier and more flourishing.
  4. Seasonal Salads and Sides: Create colorful salads and sides using seasonal and locally sourced ingredients. This reduces transportation emissions and supports local agriculture. Fresh salads with leafy greens, fruits, and grains can be refreshing and healthy.
  5. Ditch Disposable Tableware: Instead of using disposable paper plates, cups, and utensils, opt for reusable or biodegradable alternatives. You can use regular dishes or consider compostable options made from bamboo or sugarcane pulp. Your local thrift store most likely has tons of inexpensive serving ware to start a collection of reusable dishes for parties at your home. We invested in a set of durable plastic serving ware from Target a couple of years ago that’s perfect for parties so we don’t have to buy disposables. You can also consider borrowing dishes from friends or neighbors since you’ll only need them for a bit.
  6. Drink Responsibly: Offer a selection of beverages in reusable containers. Avoid single-use plastic bottles and opt for homemade iced teas, infused waters, or lemonades served in pitchers. You can also encourage guests to bring their own reusable water bottles. If you really need single-serve containers, consider drinks in aluminum cans, as these are the easiest to recycle. Glass bottles are better than plastic containers when you can reuse or repurpose them, but they’re not as efficient to recycle as aluminum.
  7. Compost Food Scraps: Set up a designated compost bin for food scraps and encourage guests to compost their leftovers. This helps reduce waste and provides valuable nutrients for your garden or local composting facility. Did you really think I’d make it through a post on low-waste food without mentioning composting?!
  8. Plan Portion Sizes: Estimate the number of guests and plan your food quantities accordingly to minimize food waste. Encourage guests to take smaller portions initially and allow them to come back for seconds to avoid excess leftovers. We’ve developed a cultural expectation that serving plates of food can’t ever look empty or near-empty. But if they’re still full at the party’s end, we made too much food! Let them be empty by the end of the party and know you prepared just the right amount of food.
  9. Choose Sustainable Snacks: Opt for snacks with minimal packaging or choose bulk options to reduce waste. Nuts, dried fruits, and homemade popcorn are great choices. If you do buy packaged snacks, choose brands with eco-friendly packaging. There are lots of brands starting to be more mindful about using packaging that is compostable or recyclable.
  10. Donate Excess Food: If you have leftovers, consider donating them to a local food bank or shelter to minimize food waste and support those in need. Did you know there is a Good Samaritan Act that limits liability one might have when donating food to encourage people to donate excess food instead of tossing wholesome food in the garbage?

Those are some great tips for general food preparation and selection for a low-waste Fourth of July party. But let’s get into some more specifics about what exactly to put on your spread of delicious snacks and treats.

Hearty Helpings: Low-waste 4th of July Food

  1. DIY Guacamole: Make homemade guacamole using fresh avocados, tomatoes, onions, lime juice, and cilantro. Serve it with tortilla chips or vegetable crudités. This way, you can avoid packaged guacamole and its associated waste. Also, fresh guac is delectably delicious!
  2. Popcorn Bar: Set up a popcorn bar with different flavored popcorn options like caramel, spicy, or cheesy. Make the popcorn from scratch using bulk popcorn kernels to reduce packaging waste.
  3. Bruschetta: Serve bruschetta with a variety of toppings such as diced tomatoes, fresh basil, garlic, and olive oil. Toast slices of baguette or bread and provide the toppings for guests to assemble themselves. If you have a local baker or can buy bread from your farmers’ market, that’s even better than many store-bought options.
  4. Mini Mason Jar Salads: Prepare individual salads in small mason jars using layers of leafy greens, vegetables, and dressing. This not only reduces waste but also makes for a convenient and portable snack. Thrift shops often have lots of mason jars. But you can also just use upcycled glass jars like jelly or pizza sauce jars. Here are a few tips on how to easily clean glass jars.
  5. Firecracker Hot Dogs: Wrap crescent roll dough around hot dogs to resemble firecrackers. Bake them until golden brown, and use a small piece of string cheese as the “fuse.” These fun hot dogs are sure to be a hit with the kids.

Festive Fruit: Low-waste 4th of July Food

Fruit is perfect for the summer. So many fruits are in season, so you can often find good options locally. They are also refreshing ad nutritious in the summer heat. Particularly when you need a lot of fruit for a party, consider buying bulk to reduce packaging or even finding a local u-pick farm where you can carry home your harvest plastic-free.

  1. Fruit Kabobs: Thread a variety of fresh fruits like watermelon cubes, pineapple chunks, strawberries, grapes, and blueberries onto skewers. The colorful kabobs make for an attractive and refreshing treat. These blueberry caprese skewers are festive and seasonal. Blueberries are in season around the Fourth of July for us which makes them easy to find locally. You could even add in some strawberries to round out the patriotic red, white, and blue theme.
  2. Fruit Salsa: Create a fruit salsa by combining diced watermelon, mango, kiwi, and strawberries with a squeeze of lime juice. Serve it with homemade cinnamon tortilla chips for a sweet and tangy snack. I’d eat the fruit salad as is, and adding the cinnamon tortilla chips really steps it up a notch!
  3. Mixed Berry Salad: Toss together an assortment of fresh berries such as strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries. Sprinkle a bit of mint or basil for added freshness and garnish. You might be able to find a lot of these berries at farmers’ markets this time of year which means they will have far less packaging and a much lower carbon footprint than many store-bought alternatives. You could probably even return the fruit containers on your next visit or bring your own containers to the market and leave the paperboard berry baskets with the farmers.
  4. Citrus Salad: Create a vibrant citrus salad using a combination of orange segments, grapefruit, and lime slices. Add a touch of sweetness with a drizzle of honey or maple syrup and a sprinkle of fresh mint. And you can definitely compost all those citrus peels, despite some misconceptions about citrus and compost.
  5. Fruit-Infused Water: Slice up refreshing fruits like lemon, lime, cucumber, or watermelon, and place them in a large pitcher of water. Let it infuse in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving. This naturally flavored water is a refreshing and hydrating option, not to mention that it looks gorgeous on a serving table when it’s a pop of color to an otherwise boring jug of water. If you really want it to be festive, consider watermelon-infused water, cucumber-infused (or unflavored) water, and blueberry lemon water to give the presentation a patriotic red, white, and blue theme.
  6. Fruit Popsicles: Blend together a mixture of fresh fruits, such as watermelon, strawberries, and pineapple, with a bit of juice or yogurt. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and freeze them for a healthy and refreshing frozen treat.
  7. Grilled Pineapple: Cut fresh pineapple into rings and grill them until they caramelize. The smoky sweetness of grilled pineapple makes for a delightful and refreshing dessert. If you’ve already got the grill out anyway for classic summer recipes, this could be an easy addition to the hot grates of the grill.
  8. Berry Parfait: Layer fresh berries, yogurt, and granola in individual glasses or jars to create a delightful and visually appealing fruit parfait. It’s a refreshing and nutritious option. There are so many really neat glass cups and bowls at thrift stores if you’re looking for an affordable alternative to single-use plastics that also ups the aesthetic and can be reused many times over.
  9. Fruit Smoothies: Blend together a combination of your favorite fruits, yogurt or plant-based milk, and ice to create delicious and cooling fruit smoothies. You can offer a variety of flavors to cater to different preferences. If you’d like, add a reusable or compostable straw with a fun star or flag decoration on it. Cut a couple of slits into a DIY cardboard or cardstock star or flag and three the straw through the decoration. You can recycle or compost them after the party.
  10. Fresh Fruit Platter: Prepare a beautiful fruit platter using a variety of seasonal fruits such as watermelon, berries, grapes, and pineapple. Buy whole fruits to minimize packaging waste and compost any peels or scraps.

Veggie Bites: Low-waste 4th of July Vegetable Snacks

  1. Veggie Skewers: Create colorful veggie skewers using a variety of seasonal vegetables like cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, zucchini, and mushrooms. Choose reusable metal skewers instead of disposable ones. If you don’t have reusable ones available, you can compost wooden skewers after guests are done using them. Be sure to leave compost buckets out for collection with signs to help guests know where to put their waste.
  2. Sweet Corn on the Cob: This is one of my favorite summer foods when done well. We’ve always added butter and some salt, but there are lots of ways to prepare it. Be sure to compost the husks as they have lots of nutrients they can put back into the soil for next season’s harvests!
  3. Veggie Platter with Dips: Create a colorful veggie platter featuring a variety of sliced vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, and celery sticks. Serve them with delicious dips such as hummus, guacamole, or yogurt-based ranch dip. If possible, look for veggies without packaging (and be sure to avoid the flimsy plastic bags hanging out around the produce section at the grocery store – you really don’t need them).
  4. Veggie Sliders: Make mini veggie sliders using plant-based patties or homemade vegetable patties. Top them with lettuce, tomato slices, and your favorite condiments. Serve them on slider buns for a flavorful and veggie-packed treat.
  5. Grilled Vegetable Skewers: Skewer an assortment of vegetables like zucchini, bell peppers, cherry tomatoes, onions, and mushrooms. Brush them with olive oil, sprinkle with herbs, and grill until tender. The smoky flavors make for a delicious and healthy option. Be sure to compost the skewers if they are wooden after you’re done eating. One less thing to land in the trash is always a win.
  6. Zucchini or Carrot Fritters: Make savory fritters using grated zucchini or carrots mixed with flour, herbs, and spices. Pan-fry them until crispy and serve them with a dipping sauce of your choice. This is perfect for summer when zucchini is in season and plentiful at farmers’ markets.
  7. Stuffed Bell Peppers: Cut bell peppers in half, remove the seeds, and fill them with a flavorful stuffing of quinoa, vegetables, and cheese. Bake them until the peppers are tender and the filling is cooked through. you might even be able to find quinoa in bulk at a local store in your community with other bulk grains.
  8. Stuffed Mini Peppers: Fill mini bell peppers with a mixture of cream cheese, herbs, and spices for a delicious and bite-sized appetizer. This avoids the need for disposable plates or utensils.
  9. Veggie Spring Rolls: Prepare fresh spring rolls using rice paper wraps filled with a colorful combination of julienned vegetables like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and lettuce. Serve them with a peanut dipping sauce or soy sauce for added flavor.
  10. Vegetable Salsa: Create a refreshing salsa using diced tomatoes, bell peppers, corn, onions, and cilantro. Add a squeeze of lime juice and season with salt and pepper. Serve it with whole-grain tortilla chips or as a topping for grilled dishes. We have a great vendor at our farmers’ market that sells locally-made tortillas, so that’s a great addition to salsa made with local tomatoes when it’s available.
  11. Caprese Skewers: Skewer cherry tomatoes, fresh mozzarella balls, and basil leaves, and drizzle them with balsamic glaze. I’m not a huge tomato fan, but I can make an exception for Caprese.
  12. Vegetable Crudité Cups: Serve individual cups or jars filled with a mix of colorful vegetable sticks like carrots, cucumbers, bell peppers, and cherry tomatoes. Add a small portion of hummus or a healthy dip at the bottom of each cup for added flavor.

Decadent Dessert: Low-waste 4th of July Treats

  1. Red, White, and Blue Fruit Skewers: Thread fresh strawberries, blueberries, and banana chunks onto skewers to create patriotic fruit skewers. Kids will enjoy these colorful and healthy snacks. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you could swap out the bananas for marshmallows. It’s not the healthiest swap, but I know my boys go bananas for marshmallows!
  2. Watermelon Stars: Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to create watermelon stars. These are so refreshing and perfect for summer. You can also add a touch of mint if you’re feeling fancy. And be sure to compost the watermelon rinds (if you don’t use them for something like pickling). They are great for worms and all those compost microbes!
  3. Fourth of July Popcorn: Coat popped popcorn with a mixture of melted white chocolate or yogurt chips, and then toss in red and blue sprinkles or colored sugar. Let it cool and then serve it in individual cups or bowls. Alternatively, you could mix them with red, white, and blue M&Ms or small chocolates if you can find those in the bulk section of your local grocery store.
  4. American Flag Fruit “Pizza”: Make a fruit pizza using a sugar cookie crust, spread a layer of cream cheese or yogurt as the “sauce,” and arrange blueberries and sliced strawberries in the shape of the American flag on top.
  5. Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches: Prepare homemade or store-bought ice cream sandwiches and roll the sides in red, white, and blue sprinkles or crushed freeze-dried strawberries and blueberries. Freeze them until firm and serve as a cool and tasty treat.
  6. Star-shaped Sandwiches: Use a star-shaped cookie cutter to cut sandwiches into festive shapes. Fill them with kid-friendly favorites like peanut butter and jelly or cream cheese and cucumber.
  7. Red, White, and Blue Smoothies: Blend strawberries and blueberries (separately) for layers of red and blue. Add plain or vanilla yogurt and a touch of honey to create a layered red, white, and blue smoothie. Pour each layer carefully and let the kids enjoy the colorful and nutritious drink.
  8. Fourth of July Fruit Pops: Make homemade fruit popsicles using a combination of red and blue fruits like strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries blended with yogurt or juice. Pour the mixture into popsicle molds, insert sticks, and freeze until solid.
  9. Red Velvet Cookies with Star Candies: Whip up a batch of red velvet cookies with DIY icing and top with a fun blue star (if your icing skills can match that task). Check out this beginner’s guide to zero-waste baking if you’re looking for some tips about how to keep baking at home as low waste as possible.

Thirst Quenchers: Low-waste 4th of July Drinks

  1. Red, White, and Blue Mocktail: Create a layered mocktail using different colored fruit juices or flavored soda. Start with a layer of cranberry or pomegranate juice, followed by a layer of blue sports drink or blueberry juice, and finish with a layer of lemon-lime soda or sparkling water. The layers create a patriotic effect.
  2. Fruit-Infused Sparkling Water: Prepare a large pitcher of sparkling water infused with fruits and herbs. Use a combination of red and blue fruits like strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries, and add in sliced cucumbers, lime slices, and mint leaves. The colorful and refreshing drink will be a hit.
  3. Watermelon Agua Fresca: Blend fresh watermelon chunks with a splash of lime juice and a touch of sweetener, if desired. Serve it chilled for a refreshing and hydrating drink with a vibrant red color.
  4. Lemonade Stand: Set up a DIY lemonade stand with different flavored lemonades. Offer classic lemonade, strawberry lemonade, and blueberry lemonade. Provide biodegradable or reusable cups and straws for a sustainable touch. My mom is a sucker for flavored lemonades. This would be right up her alley.
  5. Homemade Iced Tea: Brew large batches of iced tea using organic and fair-trade tea bags. Offer a variety of flavors like hibiscus, green tea, or herbal blends. Add natural sweeteners like honey or agave syrup, and serve them in reusable pitchers or dispensers. And no doubt, my mom would mix her lemonade with iced tea for her own Arnold Palmer.
  6. Fresh Herb-Infused Cocktails: Create unique and flavorful cocktails using fresh herbs from your garden. Muddle herbs like mint, basil, or rosemary with fruits and mix them with sparkling water, tonic, or a splash of alcohol for a refreshing and aromatic drink. Bonus points if you have your own herb garden and can use fresh herbs from your collection. Be sure to compost the leftover fruit and herb remnants so they don’t end up in the landfill.
  7. DIY Soda Bar: Set up a DIY soda bar with a selection of natural and organic sodas in various flavors. Provide different garnishes like fresh fruit slices, herbs, and flavored syrups for guests to customize their drinks. This is a great way to offer carbonated drinks that aren’t in single-use packaging. If you don’t have a soda machine, consider asking in your Buy Nothing group if you can borrow one or see if you can buy one secondhand through Facebook Marketplace or eBay.
  8. Frozen Fruit Smoothies: Blend frozen fruits like strawberries, blueberries, and bananas with yogurt or plant-based milk to make colorful and refreshing smoothies. Serve them in reusable cups with biodegradable or reusable straws.
  9. Patriotic Ice Cubes: Freeze red and blue fruits like cherries, strawberries, blueberries, or edible flowers in ice cube trays with water. These festive ice cubes can be added to water, lemonade, or cocktails for a patriotic twist. I love that this idea is both festive and totally functional!
  10. Sustainable Wine or Beer Selection: Offer a selection of sustainably produced wines or local craft beers. Look for brands that prioritize environmentally friendly practices and packaging.
  11. Patriotic Layered Smoothies: Create layered smoothies using fruits with red, white, and blue colors. Blend strawberries with yogurt or coconut milk for the red layer, bananas with yogurt or coconut milk for the white layer, and blueberries with yogurt or coconut milk for the blue layer. Pour each layer carefully and garnish with fresh berries.
  12. Festive Ice Cream Floats: Make ice cream floats using natural and organic sodas or sparkling water and add a scoop of your favorite ice cream. Choose red, white, and blue flavors like strawberry, vanilla, and blueberry for a patriotic twist.
  13. Sparkling Fruit Punch: Combine sparkling water or soda with a mix of fruit juices like cranberry, pineapple, and orange. Add fresh fruit slices and a splash of lime or lemon juice for a refreshing and bubbly fruit punch.
  14. Herbal Mocktails: Create unique mocktails using fresh herbs and botanicals. Infuse sparkling water with herbs like lavender, thyme, or sage, and add a splash of citrus juice and a touch of sweetness using natural sweeteners like honey or agave syrup.
  15. Refreshing Cucumber Lemonade: Blend cucumber slices with lemon juice, water, and a natural sweetener to create a refreshing and hydrating cucumber lemonade. Serve it chilled and garnish with fresh mint leaves.
  16. Agua Fresca Bar: Set up an agua fresca bar with a variety of flavors like watermelon, cantaloupe, and cucumber. Blend the fruits with water, a touch of lime juice, and a sweetener of choice. Provide cups, ice, and garnishes for guests to mix and match their favorite flavors.
  17. Herbal Iced Tea Blends: Brew a variety of herbal teas like hibiscus, chamomile, or mint, and let them chill. Create a DIY tea station with different herbal tea options, sweeteners, and garnishes like lemon slices or fresh herbs for guests to customize their iced tea creations. Did you know that many tea bags can be composted so long as they do not have metal or plastic incorporated in them?
  18. Fruit Spritzers: Combine sparkling water or soda with freshly squeezed citrus juices like orange, lemon, or lime. Add in muddled berries or herbs for added flavor and serve in reusable glasses with biodegradable straws.
  19. DIY Flavored Water Station: Set up a self-serve flavored water station with pitchers of chilled water and an assortment of sliced fruits, herbs, and even cucumber or citrus-infused ice cubes. Guests can create their own customized flavored water combinations.

DIY 4th of July Tablescape Ideas

After you decide what to make for your festive Fourth of July party, be sure to check out the amazing DIY tablescape ideas we’ve shared to go along with the delicious drinks and food. This Uncle-Sam inspired 4th of July tablescape is a bit more upscale and this fun Fireworks 4th of July tablescape is bright and loud, just as you’d expect from a firecracker-inspired tablescape!

What other ideas do you have for a sustainable Independence Day? Do you have favorite low-waste 4th of July food and drinks you plan to bring to your event? Share them in the comments so we can check them out!

Jen Panaro

Jen Panaro, founder and editor-in-chief of Honestly Modern, is a self-proclaimed composting nerd and an advocate for sustainable living for modern families. In her spare time, she’s a serial library book borrower, a messy gardener, and a mom of two boys who spends a lot of time in hockey rinks and on baseball fields.

You can find more of her work at Raising Global Kidizens, an online space to help parents and caregivers raise the next generation of responsible global citizens.

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