How to Pack a Healthier Picnic
Warmer weather months are great for afternoon picnics. You can sit, relax, catch up with friends and family and enjoy good food. Unfortunately, many common picnic foods are on the higher calorie side (like macaroni salad or potato chips). If you're trying to watch your weight or just stick to a more nutritious diet, these picnic foods may throw you off track. Instead of indulging in a variety of these items, make something a little healthier, lower in calorie and more nutritious. You can still enjoy an outdoor meal, but without the added guilt.
Making Healthy Choices
Choose leaner cuts of protein.Depending on what you're bringing for your picnic, you should consider choosing leaner cuts of protein. This can help save on total calories and fat.
- The leaner and lower calorie protein choices include: lean beef, poultry, seafood, nuts, beans, tofu and low-fat dairy products. Try low-sodium deli meats, chicken salad made with Miracle Whip (as opposed to mayo), hummus dip instead of ranch, string cheese, a salmon wrap, potato salad with herb vinaigrette (instead of mayo), etc.
- Also measure the portion sizes of your protein. Whether you're making sandwiches or burgers, keep your total calorie intake in check by sticking to an appropriate portion size. Weigh out 3 – 4 oz or measure out about 1/2 cup per serving of protein.
- If you're grilling out for your picnic, be careful about what you choose to grill. For example, choose the 93/7 ground beef to help save on total fat for your burgers. Or consider using ground turkey instead. Grill chicken breast instead of bringing fried chicken, or choose turkey or chicken sausage over pork sausage or hot dogs.
- If you're packing sandwiches, use low-sodium and all natural deli meat with low-fat cheese.
Serve fruits and vegetables as side dishes.You can save a lot of calories and really boost the overall nutrition of your picnic by serving fruits and vegetables. These can act as great nutritious side dishes.
- Both fruits and vegetables are naturally lower in calories, but very high in vitamins, minerals and fiber. Adding these to any picnic can help make it a little healthier.
- You still need to measure out the portions of these foods as well. Whether you make a fruit salad or a tossed salad, stick to 1/2 cup of fruit, 2 cups of salad or 1 cup of vegetables per serving.
- Great side dish ideas include: fruit salad, a tossed green salad, sliced cantaloupe wrapped with prosciutto, sliced tomatoes with low-fat mozzarella or a broccoli and cauliflower salad.
Use 100% whole grains.Picnics also typically contain at least one or more grains. Whether it's the sandwich bread, hamburger buns, or crackers, grains make up a big part of picnic foods.
- To boost the nutrition of grains, choose 100% whole grains. These are higher in fiber, protein and other essential minerals compared to more refined grains (like white rice or white bread).
- Whole grains should be measured as well. Measure out 1 oz or about a 1/2 cup of grains. Choose 100% whole grains like: whole grain bread, whole wheat pasta, brown rice, or quinoa.
- If you're going to make burgers or sandwiches, choose 100% whole grain breads, rolls or even wraps. You can also find white whole grain items that can help little kids be more willing to try these nutritious foods.
- Whole grains can also make a great side dish. You can do a quinoa and roasted vegetable salad, tabbouleh, or toss barley or farro in with a kale salad.
Pack a lighter dessert.It's nice to be able to lounge in the warm weather and enjoy a sweet ending to your picnic. Try to choose desserts that aren't overly loaded with sugar and fat.
- Just because you want to pack a healthier picnic, this doesn't mean that you have to skip dessert. You can still enjoy a sweet treat without blowing your whole meal.
- Think of foods that are naturally sweet that are also nutritious. Fruit, yogurt and even whole grains can come together for a healthier and lighter picnic treat.
- Try to avoid common picnic desserts like: pie, ice pops, brownies, cookies or s'mores.
- Instead, make your own desserts and choose something that is fruit based. Fruit is naturally sweet, contains natural sugar and is lower in calories.
- For example, you can serve vanilla yogurt with sliced fruit and a sprinkle of cinnamon or grill pineapples or peaches for a super sweet ending to your picnic.
- If you want to treat yourself to something a little more indulgent, go for a mini sized dessert. Make mini cupcakes or mini pies to keep the portion size small.
Always pack water.In addition to all the great nutritious food you'll pack, don't forget about the beverages. Stick to hydrating fluids that aren't loaded with sugar and added calories.
- Many popular summer drinks contain more sugar and calories than you'd think. Whether it's lemonade, sodas, fruit punch or a mixed drink, these items can tip the scales in terms of calories.
- Instead, stick to clear hydrating fluids. Water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea or flavored waters are great options.
- If you want to make something more special, consider making infused waters and homemade "sodas." Infuse water overnight with your favorite blend of sliced fruit, vegetables and herbs (like strawberry basil or cucumber and orange). Homemade "sodas" are simply made by adding in 1/4 cup of 100% fruit juice with 8 oz of seltzer water.
Avoiding High-Calorie Picnic Foods
Limit creamy sauces and dressings.Probably the most popular and common group of picnic foods are those that have creamy dressings and sauces. Although tasty, these contain a ton of calories and fat.
- Common picnic foods that fall into this category are: coleslaw, potato salad, macaroni salad, meat salads (like tuna salad or egg salad), and dips (like ranch dip or buffalo chicken dip).
- The mayonnaise, sour cream, full-fat buttermilk and sugar are what tip the scales in terms of total calories.
- Instead of these high-calorie items, try swapping them out for something lower in calories. You can try using plain yogurt or Miracle Whip instead of mayo or using light sour cream and buttermilk.
Skip the chips and crackers.Grabbing a bag of prepackaged chips and crackers is an easy side for your picnic; however, these foods are also highly processed and can be high in calories as well.
- The plus side of grabbing a bag of chips or box of crackers is that these foods are shelf stable. They won't go bad in the heat and don't need to be refrigerated; however, one serving of chips can be over 150 calories (and there are usually many servings in a bag).
- Limit items like: potato chips, buttery crackers, cheese puffs, nacho chips, party mixes or pita chips.
- If you do want to choose a bag of chips or crackers, go for 100% whole grain items. Baked corn chips, whole wheat pita crisps or whole wheat crackers are better than potato chips or buttery crackers.
- However, the best bet would be to serve dips like hummus, ranch dip or even guacamole with sliced raw vegetables.
Limit alcohol intake.Alcoholic beverages are another common part of picnics. Although tasty and fun, limit these higher calorie drinks in favor of calorie-free liquids.
- Health professionals recommend that you should limit your total alcohol consumption to a max of one serving per day if you are a woman and two if you are a man. One serving is 12 oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1.5 oz of liquor. Stick to the recommended servings if you decide to drink at the picnic.
- Also, choose alcoholic beverages without a lot of added calories or sugar. For example, mixed drinks or sangria are higher in calories and sugar since they are generally mixed with fruit juices.
- If you drink, try a lower calorie beer or red wine; however, the best beverage choice is water, sparkling water or unsweetened iced tea.
Using Recipes for Healthy Picnic Foods
Make your own fruit kebabs.A fun and very nutritious item you can bring on your picnic are fruit kebabs. Let everyone make their own so it's a fun and interactive dish.
- Before you leave for your picnic, prepare the ingredients for the kebabs. Count out two wooden skewers per person. Also, cut up the following fruits into 2" pieces: pineapple, grapes (don't need to be cut), watermelon, cantaloupe, and strawberries. You can change the fruit based on your preferences.
- Place all the cut fruit in a sealed container and keep refrigerated until you're ready to make the skewers.
- You can serve the kebabs plain, but its nice to serve with a sauce. Mix together 1 cup of low-fat vanilla greek yogurt, 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon and a drizzle of honey. Stir to combine and then store in the refrigerator until ready to use.
- Have everyone make their own kebabs and then dip their kebabs into the yogurt sauce.
Serve homemade pomegranate soda.If you want to bring along a more exciting beverage in addition to water, consider making your own homemade fruit sodas.
- Because this drink will loose its fizzy quality, do not prepare the sodas until you are ready to consume them.
- Chill a bottle of 100% pomegranate juice (or another favorite 100% juice) and a bottle of sparkling water or seltzer.
- Mix in about 1/4 cup of the pomegranate juice with 6 – 8 oz of the sparkling or seltzer water.
- Add in a few ice cubes and a few pomegranate seeds for decoration. Serve immediately.
Bring along homemade garlic hummus and veggies.Skip the chips and dip in favor of hummus and veggies. High in fiber and protein and low in calories, this is a great dish to bring on a picnic.
- Make your hummus before going to the picnic. Store in an airtight container until you're ready to serve.
- In the bowl of a food processor, add in one can of drained chick peas, one clove of garlic, 1/4 cup of olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon of pepper, 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of tahini or peanut butter (tahini is a little expensive and sometimes hard to find).
- Process the hummus until smooth and creamy. Scrape down the sides of the processor and taste to adjust for seasonings.
- Slice some of your favorite vegetables to serve along with your hummus. You can serve baby carrots, cut celery, cucumber slices or sliced bell peppers.
Make a grilled chicken and quinoa salad.Instead of sandwiches, burgers or fried chicken, make a healthier main course for your picnic. Start with a quinoa and grilled chicken salad full of vegetables.
- Prep this salad ahead of time so that all the flavors can come together before you serve it at the picnic.
- In a large bowl, combine the following: 2 cups of cooked quinoa, 1 cup chopped grilled chicken breast, 1/2 cup of sliced green onions, 1 cup of halved grape tomatoes, 1 cup of diced cucumber and 1/2 cup of roughly chopped basil.
- In a small bowl, make the dressing. Pour in 1/2 cup of olive oil, 1/4 cup of lemon juice, 1 teaspoon of dijon mustard, one minced garlic clove, 1 teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Whisk together until combined.
- Pour the dressing over the salad (as much as you'd like) and stir until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust for seasonings. Keep salad refrigerated until ready to serve at your picnic.
- If you don't want to bring all healthy foods to your picnic, choose to replace some of your higher calorie picnic favorites.
- If you do have something higher calorie (like potato salad), keep the total calories in check by having a smaller portion. 1/2 cup is a good limit/goal for most high-calorie foods.
Video: How to pack a healthy Scandinavian picnic
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