Chilling out in the great outdoors with a heaving picnic hamper is one of the great joys of summer. However, if you want to keep an eye on calories and skip the usual sandwiches, you need to plan ahead.
Whether it’s a simple tabletop spread in the neighbourhood park, a gourmet basket in a meadow, or a blanket by the seaside at sunset, the following tips will help you create a balanced ‘dejuner sur l’herbe‘ that won’t pack on the pounds.
Tasty picnic ideas
For a healthy picnic, nutritionists always recommend loading your baskets (or even a large backpack) with plenty of vegetables. Then round out your meal with easy-to-eat ingredients like assorted nuts, whole-grain crackers and fruit kebabs.
I love summer picnics because it’s an opportune time to take advantage of the healthy bounty of this season – says Cheryl Musatto, MS, Rd, LD, from Eat Well To Be Well-. When packing your cooler, bring along light and crunchy appetizers such as asparagus tips, broccoli bites, sliced summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, or cherry tomatoes. Be sure to serve with a nutritious dip such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip or low-fat yoghurt with herbs and spices.
Cold pasta is one of the easiest and delicious meals to serve at any kind of picnic. But why not consider some alternatives? Think of quinoa, tabbouleh or wild rice. Then add salmon or sliced meats (like chicken or turkey) for satisfying staying power. “Combining foods that are rich in fibre, complex carbohydrates, and lean protein will provide lasting energy to power you through your day,” explains Stephanie Hunter, M.Ed, Nutrition Education, CHES, NBC-HWC, and Coach Project Coordinator at Noom.
Salads are a welcome part of any picnic. Cucumbers, radishes and red onions are always a great option for a ‘crunchy’ feast as well as carrots, celery and bell pepper strips. Try also using avocados, sprouts, lettuce, and green beans. Another picnic staple comes in the form of boiled eggs and watercress salad. Heartier vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, green beans, asparagus, celery, and cabbage hold up well with potatoes and can be prepared beforehand.
Instead of a mayonnaise base, try an oil-and-vinegar combo with some herbs to add more taste. According to nutritionists from the Harvard School Of Medicine, herbs and spices don’t only infuse diverse flavours into your dish and offer beneficial plant chemicals called polyphenols, but research has demonstrated the antimicrobial properties of certain herbs and spices. Oregano, thyme, cinnamon, tarragon, rosemary, and cloves have been shown to prevent the growth of and even kill some bacteria including strains of E.coli, salmonella, and streptococcus.
Picnic side dishes
Have a colourful arrangement of luscious summer fruit like cherries, berries, watermelon, kiwi or mandarin oranges and leave the cheese spread at home. Instead, choose almond or cashew butter to pair with crackers. Packed with protein, these alternatives will keep you more full and prevent unnecessary nibbling later.
A picnic wouldn’t be complete without something sweet. If you’re looking for a treat that will give you a boost, reaching for energy balls or dried fruit bars can be a great way to satisfy that sweet tooth after eating your meal.
Take along plenty of cold drinks for outdoor picnics. Nothing beats ice-cold water with wedges of lemon, lime, and orange, but you can also opt for unsweetened iced tea, lemonade (you can even make it with artificial sweetener or reduce the sugar), 100% fruit juice, and low-calorie soft drinks.
To reduce waste and lighten the load, have everyone carry their own reusable bottles. If refills are needed, bring a jug filled with ice water.
Above all, being strategic about your healthy picnic foods is key for feeling full and satisfied! Choose foods that will fill you up and keep you full for hours, instead of grabbing unhealthy snacks that will leave you feeling hungrier than before.
Don’t forget to pack the picnic essentials, like a blanket (of course), utensils, plates, a bottle opener, sunscreen and bug spray.