May 21, 2015 Healthy Living

Dining al Fresco: Packing a Healthy Picnic

The sun is shining and the warm weather is here. Now is a great time to gather the family and enjoy dining outdoors. Whether you are heading out on an all-day adventure or setting up under a shady tree in the backyard, a picnic lunch or dinner doesn’t have to be filled with fat- and calorie-laden foods.

In fact, with just a few simple swaps, you can have a delicious, satisfying meal that won’t pack on the pounds.

Healthy Swaps for Your Picnic Basket

Instead of: Choose:
Soda and sugar-sweetened beverages Water with a splash of juice or fresh fruit garnish; unsweetened iced tea
Deli luncheon meats Leftover grilled chicken, cold salmon, or tuna
Hamburger on white bun Lean turkey, chicken, or veggie burgers on whole-wheat sandwich thin
Mayo-based coleslaw or potato salad Cabbage or potato salads made with oil and vinegar or Greek yogurt and extra veggies
Chips and dip Whole grain tortilla chips and fresh veggie sticks with yogurt-based dip or hummus
Brownies or cookies Fresh fruit salad; you can bring small cookies for a treat, but keep portions under control by packing individual bags instead of bringing the whole package

WebMD offers additional ideas for healthy picnic food swaps, including recipes.

Keep food safety in mind

While the traditional picnic basket is fun, packing a cooler is a safer bet. The FDA offers a number of tips on outdoor food safety, including:

  • Keep food cold. Pack your cooler with ice (a big chunk will take longer to thaw than little cubes) or frozen gel packs.
  • Consider keeping a separate cooler for perishable foods and beverages. The beverage cooler is opened repeatedly. Having two coolers will allow you to limit the number of times the perishable foods are exposed to warm air, therefore keeping them cold longer.
  • If you are planning a cookout, remember safety first! Keep raw meat, poultry, and seafood tightly wrapped and, if possible, separate from other foods. Also, to avoid cross-contamination, designate utensils and platters specifically for the raw foods.
  • Don’t forget to wash your hands! Bring a jug of water, soap, and paper towels so everyone can wash up before eating.

Out all day? Picnic smart

If you are heading out for an all-day trek, you can bring along a full meal, but it is also smart to keep portable snacks on hand. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics suggests packing the following healthy foods (check the nutrition labels):

  • Trail mix, granola bars, or energy bars
  • Nuts and seeds, dried fruits, and veggies
  • Jerky
  • Tuna in pouches
  • Whole-grain tortillas

And, most of all, don’t forget to stay hydrated! Bring along enough water for everyone in your group. Plan for two cups of water for every hour of hiking.

Sneak in some exercise

While you are out in the fresh air, why not take the time to get some exercise? After your meal, take a walk with the family, enjoy some classic backyard games (Red Light, Green Light, anyone?), fly a kite, or play a game of catch.

With a little preparation and planning ahead, you can have a fun, healthy outdoor dining experience. Need some inspiration on where to go? New York is chock-full of options.

Eat healthy with CDPHP®

Whether you’re looking to lose a few pounds or maintain a healthy weight, our Weight Management site can help you and your family achieve your goals. Take advantage of recipe ideas, weight-assessment tools, tips to help your kids eat right, and so much more.


Photo by vastateparksstaff / CC BY

Therese Gadomski
About the Author

Therese joined CDPHP in 2010 as a health promotion specialist who assists various community organizations and employer groups with providing health and wellness programs and initiatives, as well as developing and implementing health education programs and health screenings. As a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator, Therese is passionate about helping to improve the quality of life for all within the community.

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