You can enjoy foods at a picnic and still walk away with your shorts buttoned. It just means making the right choices—and no, you don’t have to limit yourself to corn on the cob and watermelon. Just skip (most of) the worst choices; the best ones are often just as satisfying.
Choose: Veggies with hummus. Fill up on vegetables first. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas for 60 calories (0 grams of fat). Add 2 tablespoons of hummus (50 calories, 3 grams of fat) and you have a fiber-rich snack for just a little more than 100 calories.
Choose: A hot dog is a lower calorie meat choice. Enjoy one on a roll with your favorite toppings (with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup) and you’ll come out around 300 calories, 17 g fat.
Choose: Coleslaw can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories (83, with 3 grams of fat per cup). Low-cal cabbage is also a rich source of isothiocyanates, compounds that amp up the body’s natural detoxifying enzymes.
Choose: A frozen fruit bar (100 calories, 0 grams of fat) or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream: 140 calories, about 5 grams of fat.
Choose: Light beer. A 12-ounce bottle generally has a little less than 100 calories. Or go for the best choice of all: zero-calorie flavored seltzer or water.
How To Plan a Healthy Picnic:
Take Advantage of Seasonal Fruits & Vegetables
The more colorful produce you add to your menu, the healthier the meal. Choose brightly colored summer fruit such as peaches, berries, cherries and watermelon. Bring some simply grilled vegetables (use a low-fat salad dressing for a marinade) such as corn, zucchini, Portobello mushrooms and red peppers.
Crunchy Appetizers & Low Fat Dips
Pack your cooler with a variety of crisp, raw veggies like cucumbers, carrots, celery, asparagus tips, cherry tomatoes and radishes. Take along a nutritious dip such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, or low-fat yogurt with herbs and spices.
Take a Second Look at Salads
Potato salad, pasta salad, tuna or egg salad… although they carry the word salad in their name, it does not mean they are calorie controlled, or heart healthy choices! Instead of mayonnaise, use dressings made with less oil and more vinegar to save lots of calories. Using salad dressings that contain acidic ingredients such as vinegar or citrus instead of mayonnaise not only cuts fat but helps keep foods safer at room temperature. When making salads use whole grain pasta; try a brown rice salad or whole-wheat couscous salad. Combine cherry tomatoes with green beans and whole-grain pasta and add a little pesto for a nutritious salad that travels well. Your best bet – use lots of salad greens, cooked beans and raw veggies to make a true salad that will fill you up with fiber without the extra calories.
Add Some Whole-Grains to Add Some Fiber
Breads, rolls, and starchy salads can pile on lots of calories. So always check the food labels to make sure you are making reduced calorie choices when selecting your starches. In addition, make them whole grain for added nutritional value, as whole grains have additional nutrients and fiber.
Main Dishes can be Healthy & Light (and not necessarily fried)
Skip the fried chicken, and make a variety of wrap sandwiches. They’re easy, portable, and fun for the whole family. Start with whole grain wraps and fill them with healthy stuffings such as grilled vegetables, lean cold cuts (turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken with low-fat cheese), grilled chicken, hummus and cucumbers. Be sure to add lettuce, tomato and other veggies to your wraps for added fiber. And use mustard, low-fat mayo, or other light condiments to save calories.
Lighten Up the Grill
Buy 93% lean ground beef for burgers (ground turkey breast and veggie burgers are great options too). Choose from a variety of reduced fat, nitrate-free or turkey hot dogs. Top off your selections with low-fat cheese. You can also grill skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin, or any type of fish for a light and nutritious meal. You will save lots of calories with these heart healthier choices.
Beat the heat with plenty of ice water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, and an assortment of low-calorie beverages. Save your calories for the food, and rely on calorie free drinks to hydrate you and quench that summer thirst. You can mix seltzer with a splash of cranberry juice or any fruit juice for just a touch of flavor without too many calories.
A colorful fruit platter or fruit salad is sure to satisfy even the most discerning sweet tooth. Don’t forget watermelon. If you must have cake. cookies, brownies, or cupcakes, keep the portions small.
Here are some ideas for your next picnic menu.
Lemon-Garlic Marinated Shrimp
- 3 tablespoons minced garlic
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon pepper
- 1 1/4 pounds cooked shrimp
Place garlic and oil in a small skillet and cook over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add lemon juice, parsley, salt and pepper. Toss with shrimp in a large bowl. Chill until ready to serve. Transport in a container with an ice pack.
Lighter and Leaner Pimento Cheese
- 1 cup finely grated Cheddar
- 1/2 cup finely grated low-fat mozzarella
- 2/3 cup plain nonfat Greek-style yogurt
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 green pepper, finely chopped
- 1/2 red pepper, finely chopped
- 1 small jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped
- 6 celery ribs, cut into 4-inch pieces
- Garnish: paprika
In a medium bowl, add the Cheddar, mozzarella, yogurt, chives, salt and pepper, green and red peppers and jalapeno. Stir well to combine. Spread 1 tablespoon cheese mixture into each celery rib. Garnish with paprika.
Note: Store remaining pimiento cheese mixture in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 1 week.
Garden Fresh Tortellini Salad
- 1 pound fresh or frozen spinach tortellini
- 1 pound fresh or frozen cheese tortellini
- 1 head broccoli (1 pound), broken into florets and tender stems sliced
- 1 pound carrots, peeled and cut diagonally into ¼-inch slices
- 3 leeks (white part and 2 inches green), well rinsed, dried, and cut into thin julienne
- 1 large sweet red bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1 large sweet yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into julienne
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
- 1 teaspoon dried thyme
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 1/3 cup balsamic vinegar
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper
1. Cook the tortellini in boiling salted water according to package instructions. Remove from boiling water with a large strainer. Drain thoroughly and place in a large mixing bowl.
2. Keep water boiling and add the broccoli florets, stems, and carrots. Cook just until tender. Remove vegetables with a large strainer. Drain and combine with the tortellini.
3. Blanch the julienned leeks 1 minute in the boiling water; drain. Add the leeks, red and yellow peppers, and fresh basil to the bowl with the pasta and vegetables; toss to combine.
4.Combine the dressing ingredients and add the thyme, orange zest, and salt and pepper.
5. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat thoroughly. Sprinkle with Parmesan cheese. Serve slightly chilled.
Sweet Potato Muffins
- 1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
- 1 1/2 cups King Arthur whole-wheat pastry flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg
- 3/4 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons canola oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Coat a 12-cup muffin tin with cooking spray.
2. Add the sweet potato chunks to a pot of boiling water and boil for about 15 minutes. Drain and puree in a blender or food processor or mash well with a fork.
3. In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the egg, applesauce, sugar, canola oil, and vanilla. Add in the mashed sweet potato and mix again. Add to the flour mixture and mix until just combined.
5. Pour the batter evenly into the prepared muffin cups. Bake for about 15 to 17 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the muffin comes out clean.
6. Remove the muffins from the oven. Let the muffins cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn out onto a cooling rack.
Watermelon Squares in Campari
Campari is a bitter, red, aperitif from Italy. It compliments the sweet taste of the watermelon.
One 5- to 6-pound watermelon, halved lengthwise
1/2 cup Campari (or any Aperitifs of choice)
- Using a very sharp knife, slice the rind from the bottom of each watermelon half. The halves will now lay flat on a cutting board.
- Working from top to bottom, trim the rind from the watermelon flesh in 4 cuts, creating 2 large squares. Cut each square in half to make 4 smaller squares. Cut the squares vertically into thirds. Rotate counterclockwise and repeat the cut. Rotate once more counterclockwise and cut into thirds again.
- Serve in large paper cups with 2 tablespoons of Campari drizzled over the top
- Picnic Perfect Recipes (fitnessandfeta.com)
- Healthy Salads: Creamy Buttermilk-Herb Potato Salad (thismamacooks.com)
- Your Best and Worst Food Choices At A Barbecue (wdok.radio.com)
- 17 Nutritionist-Rated Salads in Washington (washingtonian.com)
- Save Over 700 Calories at Your Cookout with These Easy Swaps (self.com)
Years ago, Italians often took three hour lunch breaks and ate mutli-course meals. As times have changed, it is more rare for Italian families to gather at the table during lunch and have a full home-made meal. Italy’s economical situation is such that many mothers have had to take on full-time jobs, children are in school until mid-afternoon and most people do not have time to go home during lunch time. Typically, people working in offices have a 1-hour break and eat lunch at a bar or pasticceria, that offers foods to go, such as fresh made sandwiches, prepared salads, or square slices of pizza or stuffed focaccia. Italian sandwiches aren’t multi-layered, American style sandwiches but, usually, just simple focaccia bread with a few lean slices of prosciutto, some sliced tomatoes with mozzarella or pecorino cheese. Italian pizzas are very thin. have limited toppings and are usually vegetarian. Bread without butter and salads are also very common at lunch. Pastas are also popular and usually full of vegetables. One exception is on Sundays, many families will have a large, 2-3 hour lunch and often eat this meal out in a restaurant.
As a child growing up in an Italian-American home, I remember Sundays were pretty much reserved for family. My father would take us to visit our grandparents or other relatives while my mother prepared the Sunday meal. Sunday lunch was really dinner but held early in the afternoon. After my grandmother died, when I was quite young, my grandfather would often join us for Sunday dinner. As my children were growing up. I tried to make meals an important time to be together and we kept some of the traditions built around meals. Lunch, however, was lunch – a quick meal. Through the years I have gravitated toward lighter and healthy selections for lunch.
My favorite food for lunch is soup, so I keep a number of containers in the freezer to pull out when I feel like soup for lunch. Salads or typical items found on an antipasto tray are also a favorite.
Below are two soup recipes that are substantial enough for lunch and two salad recipes that I hope you will enjoy.
Tortellini Soup with Escarole
- 1 shallot, chopped
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2-32 oz. cartons low sodium chicken broth (8 cups)
- 1 bunch escarole (or 8 cups spinach) washed and cut into 1 inch pieces
- 1-9 oz. pkg. fresh tortellini
- 1/4 cup chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
- salt and pepper to taste
- Parmesan Cheese
In soup pot, heat oil and saute shallots for two minutes.
Add both containers of chicken broth and bring to a boil.
Add tortellini, return to boiling, reduce heat to low, cover the pan, and simmer about 5 minutes.
Add the escarole and simmer until the greens are wilted.
Add parsley and salt and pepper to taste. Serve soup with shaved Parmesan cheese strips.
- 1 lb. dried brown lentils ( about 2 1/2 cups)
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1 large potato, diced
- 1/2 cup medium pearl barley
- 8 cups water
- 4 cups low sodium chicken broth
- 1-16 oz can diced tomatoes, no salt added
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
Cover the lentils with water in a large bowl. Let soak for 1 hour. Drain and rinse.
Heat oil in a large soup pot and add garlic, onion, celery, carrots and potato.
Cook, stirring several times, for 10 minutes.
Add water, chicken broth, lentils and barley. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover pot and simmer 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Check the lentils and barley, to see if they are tender, after 45 minutes.
Add tomatoes, oregano salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.
My favorite salad is made of fresh tomatoes and fresh mozzarella cheese.
Tomato and Mozzarella Salad
- 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 2 large vine-ripened tomatoes, sliced 1/4-inch thick
- 1/2 cup fresh basil leaves
- Freshly-ground black pepper and salt to taste
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Alternate fresh mozzarella slices with sliced tomatoes, overlapping, in a circular design on a serving plate. (See photo)
Tear fresh basil leaves and sprinkle liberally over the slices. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
Just before serving, drizzle with top-quality extra-virgin olive oil.
- 1/4 cup slivered red onion
- 1/4 cup chopped celery
- 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or 1- 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed)
- 8 ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 tablespoon drained capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
- Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste
Whisk olive oil and lemon in a salad bowl. Add remaining ingredients and toss well. Chill.
Serve over tender lettuce leaves (such as, Bibb).
I like to top this salad with leftover shrimp or grilled tuna. Roasted red peppers are also a good addition