Healthy Alternatives for Your Next Picnic Menu

Hey, Boo-Boo! What’s in your pic-a-nic basket?

By Lisa Taranto Butler

Spring seems to bring out the best in us, doesn’t it? We feel more energetic, our bodies start to shed that unwanted winter layer, and we begin to make plans for sunny days ahead. Why not maximize your Vitamin D intake while enjoying some time with your favorite someone and plan a healthy picnic? There’s no need to buy a bucket of fried chicken to lug to your favorite outdoor spot. Just take a moment to plan your provisions with your heart and waistline in mind, and your picnic will carry itself.

Plan Ahead If You Can

Sometimes, a forgiving schedule may allow us a couple of hours or even a couple of days to plan a pleasurable picnic. But, for the most part, the success of an outdoor soiree depends on variables out of our control like a possible rain shower, flying pests and an occasional burst of Kansas wind.

But if time is on your side, take a few minutes to jot down who’s on your invite list and note if they are children or adults. Children can chow down on some tasty picnic food and not even notice if it is chock full of fiber or disease-fighting antioxidants. And any picnic-loving adult just wants to be invited, so why not keep their health in mind and take into consideration any diet restrictions or concerns?

So, instead of making the usual mayonnaise-laden chicken salad or serving from a fried chicken bucket, pack the perfect picnic with healthy foods. Your waistline will thank you and your arms may look svelte after carrying a basket full of fit choices.

The Spread

A basic picnic includes an entrée of some sort (which many times is a sandwich), a side item or two and a little dessert. All of these picnic choices can be fun and light without sacrificing flavor.

ENTRÉES: Aim for the main portion of the picnic to be light and easy, but still filling. Try sandwiches on 100 percent whole-wheat grain bread with a lean protein like chicken, tuna or low-sodium, low-fat deli meats. Condiments should be simple and low calorie. Try mustard in all flavors-like spicy brown, honey, and Dijon to spice up the taste. Opt for other lighter fixings such as salsas, tomatoes, greens, roasted peppers and relish.

In a hurry? Forget those fatty beef burgers and pre-made sandwiches at the supermarket or fast-food restaurant. Forgo that bucket of fried chicken for an easy and fairly inexpensive rotisserie chicken you can pick up at the grocery store. Your cholesterol levels will thank you.

SIDES: Instead of the usual chips and French onion dip, make a quick and healthy side with crunchy veggies like carrots and broccoli sticks with hummus for dipping. Make your own hummus by processing a rinsed and drained can of chickpeas with minced garlic, salt, pepper and other seasonings with a little olive oil for smoothness. Exchange a little chicken broth in place of some of the oil and you have a super dip with less fat and calories.

In a hurry? Steer clear of that supermarket deli counter. Keep in mind, most of the vegetables like green beans and corn are laden with lard as well. And don’t think the premade veggies salads are any healthier. The base for the dressings is typically oil and sugar, and the chefs don’t skimp on these when making them to feed the masses. If you’re planning a last-minute picnic, grocery stores have super salad bars with heart-healthy choices. Look for already-chopped veggies and packets of low- or no-fat dressing.

DESSERTS: Just because your outdoor eats were good for you doesn’t mean that dessert has to be disastrous. Stay in a healthy frame of mind by lifting your dessert to a lighter fare. A healthy dessert can be decadent as well as undemanding. Depending on how hot the temperature gets or how much time you have to prepare, dessert can be as simple as some fresh fruit or a little more time consuming like fresh-made cookies and shortcakes.

For cookies, mix fiber filling oats, cinnamon and applesauce to make them stick. Add chocolate chips to appease the chocolate lovers. Make your own shortcakes with a light baking mix and top with fresh berries and peaches. Better yet, mix a large tub of low-fat cottage cheese, with a can of drained crushed pineapple and a few spoonfuls of light whipped topping for a fresh dessert anyone can love.

In a hurry? Most bakeries and larger grocery chains offer gluten-free and sugar-free goodies for those with diet restrictions who are also watching their waistline. Try some of their lighter options and make sweet treats healthier by cutting them into “mini” sizes. For an easy, self-contained and portable option, top 100 calorie packs of chocolate pudding with a dollop of whipped topping and a sprinkle of mini chocolate chips, and you will satisfy any sweet tooth. Just make sure the temperature allows for refrigerated items or bring an iced-down cooler to keep food temperatures in check.