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5 Tips for a Healthy Picnic Basket

Posted 5/30/2016 by UHBlog

Picnic food can be both healthy and tasty if you plan ahead. Ask us.

Try this Healthy Picnic Basket

Sunny weather and the prospect of long, lazy afternoons spent dining al fresco may mean you’ll soon be dusting off your wicker basket and unearthing your red-checkered tablecloth. Although traditional picnic food – such as fried chicken, potato salad and chips – comes loaded with calories, with creativity and pre-planning your picnic spread can be healthy, delicious and less caloric.

Start by preparing the meal yourself, says registered dietitian nutritionist Amy Jamieson-Petonic.

“The food tastes better when you know exactly how it’s made, and how long it’s been kept to temperature,” she says.

Jamieson-Petonic offers five tips to create the perfect picnic:

  1. Look for healthy substitutions. Part of what makes some picnic foods taste so great is their flavor combinations and mouth texture. When packing a healthier picnic basket, look for substitutions that provide a similar amount of crunch and sweetness, such as:
    • Grilled chicken for fried chicken
    • Potato and pasta salads made with low-fat Italian vinaigrette or mustard instead of mayonnaise
    • Cut-up veggies and a yogurt-based dip made with nonfat plain Greek yogurt instead of chips and onion dip

    Here's one of Jamieson-Petonic's go-to recipes from

    Nonfat Yogurt Dill Dip


    • 1 cup yogurt, low-fat strained (Greek-style)
    • 1 clove garlic (small, minced)
    • 1 tablespoon fresh dill (chopped)
    • 1/2 teaspoon lemon peel (finely grated)
    • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
    • 1/2 teaspoon salt
    • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
    In a small bowl, mix yogurt with garlic, fresh dill, lemon peel, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
  2. Choose nature’s dessert over grocery-made ones. In the summer, fresh fruit is plentiful and available everywhere. Pack your picnic basket with easy-to-carry peaches, plums, blueberries and strawberries. The more colorful, the better, says Jamieson-Petonic. Fruits and vegetables with darker skins have more antioxidants and vitamins.
    “I always tell my kids to look for the most bold and vibrant-colored fruits they can find,” she says. Not only do they taste great, they can also help replenish fluids lost while running around in the hot sun.
  3. Make sure your food is kept at the proper temperature. “Getting food poisoning is no way to spend family time,” she says. To prevent bacterial growth, keep cold food at 40 degrees F or below and hot food at 140 degrees or above.
    To help keep your food in the safe temperature zone, Jamieson-Petonic recommends:
    • Packing frozen meat, so it stays colder longer
    • Keeping the cooler closed at the picnic site
    • Preparing hot food on site, if possible
  4. Lighten up the main dish. Hand-made sandwiches and wraps are a light, easy alternative to traditional heavy staples like fried chicken and macaroni. And dinner is more fun when you eat it with your fingers. Remember to mix up the sandwich choices.
    “One of my favorite things to make is a grilled chicken wrap in a whole wheat tortilla with roasted red pepper, spinach, and mango slices,” says Jamieson-Petonic, who likes those found on SparkRecipes.

    Grilled Chicken Wraps with Roasted Red Pepper Hummus and Spinach


    • 2 grilled chicken breasts cut into strips
    • 2-4 fat-free whole wheat flour tortillas
    • 4 tbsp. roasted red pepper hummus
    • 1 cup fresh spinach leaves
    1. Take one tortilla. Spread 1 tbsp. of hummus across top half of the tortilla.
    2. Take half the chicken strips and place in center of upper-half of the tortilla on top of the hummus.
    3. Add half the spinach leaves on top of the chicken.
    4. Fold up bottom half of the tortilla, then fold in right and left sides.
    Makes two wraps. Additional ideas to stuff in the wrap are:
    • Grilled vegetables and hummus
    • Kalamata olives, feta cheese, sliced cherry tomatoes, spinach, olive oil and balsamic vinegar
  5. Skip the soda. While soft drinks might seem refreshing, their sugar and caffeine content can actually make you feel more dehydrated, says Jamieson-Petonic.
    The best option for rehydrating is to pack a thermos with ice water. But for those looking for a sweeter alternative, she suggests picking up a low-sugar lemonade or brewing a pitcher of peppermint iced tea with sprigs of fresh mint.

Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., RDN, CSSD, LD is a registered dietitian nutritionist at University Hospitals. You can request an appointment with Jamieson-Petonic or any other University Hospitals healthcare professional online.

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