Healthy picnic fare is indeed on the menu

Date Published: 
June 20, 2014

Summer is the time for enjoying the outdoors. Hot sunny days make it the perfect time of year to have a picnic, but don’t forget about nutrition when packing your picnic basket.

Start with whole-grain breads, rolls, wraps or pitas for sandwiches. Plant-based sandwich fillings include hummus, seasonal vegetables, avocado, beans, baked tofu, falafel, grilled eggplant and portabella mushrooms. For non-plant choices, choose leaner meats: white meat chicken or turkey, tuna or low-fat or reduced-fat cheeses. Peanut butter is always a favorite and does not require refrigeration.

Boost your vegetable intake by adding cut-up tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers or onions. When choosing a condiment, it is best to either use less mayonnaise or a lower-fat version of it. Consider trying an alternative to mayonnaise, such as plain yogurt, hummus, olive oil or pesto. Mustard and salsa are fat-free alternatives.

Make salads using whole grains. Some options include whole-grain pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa and bulgur. Add more seasonal vegetables, such as red, green and yellow peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions and green and yellow squash. Increase the fiber by tossing in some beans, nuts, seeds and fresh or dried fruit.

Be aware that the salad dressing, whether it be mayonnaise or oil-based, can be high in calories. Use less dressing or a lower-fat version and watch portion sizes.

Satisfy a sweet tooth with fresh fruit, which can help replenish fluids when out in the hot sun. Fig bars, vanilla wafers, graham crackers and animal crackers are alternatives to richer, higher-calorie cakes and cookies. Cakes, cookies and brownies can be made at home with fewer calories, and less sugar and fat.

Quench your thirst with lower-calorie beverages, rather than sweetened ones. Water is the best, and always make sure to have plenty available.

One last thing: Keep food safety in mind. Don’t ruin your day by getting sick from spoiled food. Pack perishable foods in coolers, with enough ice or frozen gel packs to keep the temperature of the cooler below 40 degrees. Pack the most perishable foods closest to the ice.

Make sure all cooked foods are completely chilled before packing. Leftover foods need to go back into the cooler immediately. Bacteria can begin to grow within an hour or two if food is out of its proper temperature zone.

Summer is here for such a short time, so let’s enjoy it while we can. Pack your picnic basket and cooler now, and head for the beach, state park, Little League field, back yard or wherever the sun beckons you.

If you are planning on being in the sun for any length of time, protect your skin by using sunscreen and wearing the appropriate clothing, sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat!

Kim Westcott, MS, RD, LDN, CSO, has been a registered dietitian at Beebe Healthcare since September 1993, working in a variety of positions supporting the nutritional needs of the customers in the school-based wellness centers, outpatient facilities, in-patients and those attending community events.