Healthy Summertime Picnic Ideas
With a little careful planning, you can turn a picnic lunch into a nutritious spread that kids and adults alike will enjoy
By Jane Schwartz Harrison, RD, Contributing Writer
Whether it’s a day at the beach, a local park or your own backyard, picnics are a great way to celebrate an event. Picnics also offer a chance to relax and pass the time with friends and family on a beautiful day.
But typical picnic foods are often not as nutritious as they could be. They may include high-calorie and high-fat foods. With just a little careful planning, though, you can create a nutritious picnic spread that kids and adults alike will enjoy.
Choose nutritious appetizers
Raw veggies are crisp, delicious and easy to pack. Always rinse vegetables before cutting or serving. Prepare pre-cut bags of celery, carrots, multi-colored peppers and cucumbers. Sliced cherry tomatoes and cut-up radishes are also great options.
- There are many tasty and nutritious dips you can use. Skip the ranch and take along hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, low-fat yogurt or cottage cheese blended with herbs and spices.
- Fresh fruit such as cut-up grapes or melon are easy and fun at a picnic.
- Whole-grain crackers and low-fat cheese (light cheddar, low-fat string cheese or mini part-skim mozzarella balls) are a great option, too.
- For adults and older children, a small amount of unsalted mixed nuts can take the hunger edge off until lunch or dinner is ready.
Tweak your salads
Classic picnic salads typically include potato, pasta, tuna or egg salad. Often made with mayo, these sides tend to have higher amounts of fat and calories.
- Mix low-fat mayonnaise with thick Greek-style yogurt instead of full-fat mayo.
- For extra fiber, use whole-grain pasta, brown rice, barley, quinoa or beans as your salad base.
- Use extra greens and/or raw veggies in proportion to grain or pasta. This cuts the overall calories and fills you up with extra fiber and nutrients to boot.
- Prepare a big chopped salad with lots of different veggies cut up into small bite-size pieces.
- Top your greens with your pre-cooked leftovers. Thin-sliced steak, chicken strips, sliced pork and pieces of salmon are all great choices. Be sure to keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
Bring heart-smart sandwiches
Looking for a healthy meal idea? Consider some of these options.
- Use whole-grain tortilla wraps or pitas. Stuff them with grilled vegetables, grilled chicken, hummus or lean cold cuts (turkey, ham, roast beef or chicken).
- Add lettuce, tomato, roasted peppers, cucumber and other veggies to your wraps for added fiber and nutrition. Use hummus, mustard, low-fat mayo or avocado as a condiment.
Fire up the grill
If your picnic site has a grill, think about alternatives to the usual burgers and hot dogs.
- Fire up with lean meat, poultry and fish. Turkey burgers, skinless chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or any type of fish is great on the grill and will save on fat and calories.
- Marinate meats before grilling. Some studies show that marinades can reduce the formation of carcinogens.
- Vegetables such as corn, eggplant, zucchini, portobello mushrooms and red peppers are other grill favorites. Marinate in low-fat dressing or olive oil.
Practice healthy hydration
Bring along drinks that will be refreshing and quench your thirst, but not add too much sugar to your picnic. Try the following:
- Ice water or sparkling water.
- Unsweetened iced tea with added fresh lemon or lime (skins well-rinsed).
- Frozen lemonade, made with two extra cans of water plus fresh thin wedges of a well-rinsed lemon.
- Seltzer mixed with cranberry juice or any fruit juice (3 parts seltzer to 1 part juice) for just a touch of flavor. Refreshing without too many calories.
- Diet soda or other low-calorie options.
Indulge your sweet tooth — with fruit
Spring and summer are the perfect time for ripe fresh fruit. Fruit usually appeals to kids as well as grownups and you don’t need to save it for dessert!
- Prep a colorful fruit salad or platter with a variety of berries, cherries, melon, grapes, kiwi or any other favorites.
- Bring fresh plums, peaches or nectarines for easy munching.
- Who can resist a ripe, sweet watermelon?
- If you want to bring cookies or brownies, make the portions small. Always have fruit as the main option.
Safety comes first
Observe proper food-handling practices during your picnic. Remember the four key steps to food safety: clean, separate, cook and chill:
- Rinse fruits and veggies before serving. Handle food with clean hands, and wash surfaces and utensils after using.
- Keep meat, poultry, seafood and eggs separate from other foods. Wash cutting boards after each use.
- Cook foods thoroughly. Keep hot foods hot and cold foods cold.
- Chill leftovers promptly. If in doubt, throw it out.
Note: Many foods such as grapes, cherry tomatoes, hot dogs, hard candies and nuts can present a choking hazard for small children. Cut hot dogs lengthwise and cut up any foods that could present a choking hazard. Always monitor younger kids while they’re eating.
Sue Warner contributed to this article.
Copyright © 2014 myOptumHealth.
- United States Department of Agriculture. ChooseMyPlate.gov. Healthy eating tips. Tips for healthy eating when eating out. Accessed: 04/16/2013
- Center for Disease Control. Healthy weight. Healthy eating. Accessed: 04/16/2013
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Eat right. Healthy eating on the run: A month of tips. Accessed: 04/16/2013