Plastic-Free July Eco-Challenge: Day 4- Freedom from Plastic, Made in America

It’s the Fourth of July, and while many of us will celebrate our country’s independence, I wanted to help you break free from plastic this festive grilling holiday.

Picnic with a Purpose

Last year, my mother-in-law got us a fantastic gift for our anniversary. It’s a picnic backpack, complete with all utensils, cups, plates, a blanket, napkins, and even a place to slide a bottle of wine to keep cool. We love that backpack and used it nearly every week while I worked evenings at the local state parks.

Picnics are a summer staple, and going plastic-free shouldn’t keep you from enjoying the most of a cherished tradition. It just takes a little planning, and small considerations to have a successful meal in nature while still preserving our natural world.

  • Ditch plastic ware, use bamboo or regular utensils. We purchased bamboo utensils once a few years ago which came in a nifty holder, but you can totally use regular utensils. The thrift store has TONS of forks, spoons, and assortment of knives for you to rummage through and find the perfect travel set.
  • Don’t get your sandwiches, or salads, or to-go containers packaged in plastic. Request paper wrap, cardboard boxes (for salad), or bring your own container to fill with goodness. Whole Foods has a wonderful salad bar, with no plastic containers. They will even tare your own containers and let you fill up before heading out on your adventures.

Get Your Grill On

Besides being one of the most environmentally friendly ways to cook your food, grilling is healthy, and can support a plastic-free experience.

  • If you need your meat for a Fourth of July barbeque, seek assistance from your meat department. They often have steaks, ground beef, chicken, and seafood which you can get without the plastic. Ask for them to wrap the meat in just paper, and most markets will happily oblige.
  • Skip the hotdogs. Really? Do you really NEED the hotdog? The dogs are wrapped in plastic, the buns are wrapped in plastic, most of your condiments are in plastic containers. Again, if you need the meat, go with ground beef.
  • Go veggie. I KNOW! That’s sacrilegious. But I’ve made some tasty meatless burgers in my time, and they also can be made without any plastic packaging, wraps, or containers. For a sample recipe for grilling meatless, look at the bottom of the post.
  • Go Paleo. Skip the buns and use veggies as the vehicle for your burgers. Grilled eggplant, portabella mushrooms, or zucchinis are delicious. They also cut your carbs drastically (much healthier for you), cut calories (so you can eat more), and save the plastic wrap your buns come in.

Get Fresh

Fresh food is always better than packaged. Avoid the plastic bags and just wash your produce when you get home.

  • For condiments on your burgers, use fresh ingredients- a head of lettuce, fresh whole tomatoes (not the cherry tomatoes in the plastic container), red onion, avocado, mushrooms, and red bell peppers. Grill the bell peppers and mushrooms for a wonderful flavor.
  • Grill some fruit. Never done it? Trust me, you’ll LOVE it. If you are in the south reading this (hi, mom and other mom), get those peaches on the grill. You will thank me for this. Pineapple, bananas, and even watermelon are great to grill, too. Serve with some ice cream and it’s like heaven.

Get Saucy

Make your own sauces. It’s time consuming, I get it. But the taste is worth the effort, trust me.

  • Make your own barbeque sauce with 16 oz tomato sauce, ¼ cup balsamic vinegar, ½ or 1 tsp paprika, 2 cloves garlic minced (about heaping teaspoon), salt and black pepper. Combine everything in a saucepan and simmer for about 10 minutes. Store in a mason jar in fridge for up to 5 days.
  • Salsa is simply a couple ripe tomatoes, a little bit of chopped red onion, cilantro, lime juice, green bell pepper (optional), cumin, and chili powder. Salt if you want. Blend in a food processor, ninja, or even a regular blender. All ingredients are to your taste so make it as you want it.
  • Avocado ranch takes some time to prepare, but I really like it. Soak ¼ cup cashews in warm water for 30 minutes. Afterward, place the cashews, ¼ cup olive oil, 1 avocado (peeled and pitted), ¼ cup apple cider vinegar, ¼ cup water, 2 Tbsp lime juice, 1 garlic clove (about 1/2 tsp minced), and 1 tsp dill weed in a food processor or ninja. Blend until smooth, adding water 1 tablespoon at a time to reach desired consistency. Keeps for only a few days in the fridge, so enjoy it quickly. You can dip veggies in it, chips, put it on salads, or whatever.

Fourth of July is a special holiday in this country. Make it special for the planet by eliminating a lot of plastic we use for just one day. Pass on the plastic and keep up the fantastic work you have started.



  • 2 cups instant polenta
  • 1-2 Tbsp raspberry or apricot jam
  • 1/2 tsp chili flakes
  • 1 Tbsp thyme
  • 1/2 cup veggie stock
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 lemon
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil, divided
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Make polenta according to directions. Set in refrigerator for an hour to cool.
  2. Preheat grill over medium heat. Brush polenta with one tablespoon olive oil and grill for 5 minutes on each side, reducing heat if necessary, until golden and crispy.
  3. Halve, peel, and thinly slice the shallots. Cut lemon wedge into wedges. Heat a pan over medium heat. Brush remaining tablespoon olive oil onto pan. Add shallots and pinch of chili flakes and cook for 2-3 minutes, tossing, until soft. Add stock, and bring to a simmer. Add thyme and up to 2 tablespoons jam. Stir to thoroughly combine. Simmer until thickened to a glaze consistency, about 4-5 minutes. Taste and season with salt, pepper, and 2 lemon wedges.
  4. Serve polenta with glaze drizzled on top.

2 Responses

  1. So far every food item we have made for ourselves has tasted better then the one we can purchase at the store because we can tailor it for our tastes AND it’s more healthy!

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