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How to Lighten Up Your Favorite Picnic Sides


Don’t let the side dishes at your next picnic or BBQ sabotage your diet. Follow these tips.

When going on a picnic or hosting a barbecue, it’s pretty easy to figure out which main dishes are healthier than others. You may pack turkey on whole grain wraps in your picnic basket or throw shrimp and chicken on the grill. But when it’s time to plan for the side dishes, don’t let your good intentions fall by the wayside.

Salads sound like the perfect answer to a healthy picnic or BBQ side dish. But your seemingly healthy-sounding salad can quickly turn into a diet disaster.  Many recipes are loaded with fattening mayonnaise or are dripping in pools of oil.

Side dishes do not have to be dietary minefields. Make these tweaks to your favorite recipes to keep them healthy and satisfying:

Select colorful veggies.
When choosing what goes into your salad, think of the rainbow. The more color, the better.

  • Mix up an assortment of chopped orange carrots, yellow peppers, green lettuce, purple cabbage and red tomatoes and serve as a salad or with hummus for dipping.
  • Double or triple the amount of vegetables called for in a recipe to increase the nutritional value and decrease the calories. For example, add twice the amount of tomatoes and peppers to your pasta salad so there’s a higher veggie-to-pasta ratio.

Use whole grains.
Don’t just think of pasta and potatoes when planning your picnic or BBQ side dishes. Whole grains, beans and lentils are delicious alternatives.

  • Try barley, bulgur, quinoa and brown or wild rice as a salad base.
  • Lentils, chickpeas or beans are great high-protein, low-fat salad additions.

Make your own dressing.
You can control the amount of fat, sodium and calories in your dish when you make your own dressing.

  • Instead of mayonnaise, use a combination of Greek yogurt and low-fat mayo. Mix in a little brown or Dijon mustard for extra flavor.
  • Whisk together olive oil, lemon juice and garlic with a dash of salt and pepper. You can reduce the oil and increase the amount of vinegar, lemon juice and seasonings for a lower calorie option.
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Date Last Reviewed: February 19, 2019

Editorial Review: Andrea Cohen, Editorial Director, Baldwin Publishing, Inc. Contact Editor

Medical Review: Nora Minno, RD, CDN

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