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Don’t weigh yourself down with classic picnic fare. Bring these healthier options instead.

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Packing a picnic basket and heading to your favorite park, beach or lake is a rite of the summer season. So is hosting a picnic or outdoor gathering with family and friends. But while you may be tempted to pack or serve classic picnic fare, such as fried chicken, mayo-based salads, salty snacks and sweetened beverages, there are delicious and portable alternatives that taste great but are better for your health and your waistline.

Try lightening up the menu with these better-for-you picks.

Sandwich Bar

It doesn’t get any easier than setting up a build-your-own sandwich bar at summer picnics. Since everyone can mix-and-match their preferred bread, fillings and spreads, it’s also sure to please the pickiest palates. Here are some healthy options:

      • Breads – 100% whole-grain tortillas, pita pockets, sliced bread, hamburger buns, rolls
      • Fillings – lower-sodium deli meat, tuna, grilled chicken, chickpeas, sliced cheese
      • Spreads – hummus, pesto, guacamole, olive-oil mayo, gourmet mustard
      • Extras – leafy greens, sliced tomatoes, shredded carrots, cucumber slices, bell pepper rings

Salad in a Jar

What’s a picnic without a side-dish salad? Jar salads offer a portable and attractive way to serve one. In a large glass jar, layer ingredients from bottom to top in this order: dressing; hearty veggies; softer veggies; cooked grains, beans and/or meats; cheese, nuts and seeds. Fill the rest of the jar with leafy greens. Seal the jar and store up to 2 days. When it’s time to eat, pour into a large bowl, toss and dig in.

Fruit Kabobs

Skewering fruit on a stick is fun to eat for picnic-goers of all ages. Alternately thread wooden skewers with seasonal fruits, like whole berries, watermelon, grapes, kiwi, pineapple and cantaloupe. For an added touch, serve with lower-sugar vanilla Greek yogurt for dipping.

Infused Water

All that picnicking is sure to make you thirsty. Skip sugar-sweetened tea, lemonade and soft drinks and sip no-sugar-added infused water instead. In a pitcher, combine fresh still or sparkling water with muddled herbs, fresh fruit or vegetables for a deliciously attractive beverage. Try these tasty flavor combinations:

      • Blueberries + Lemon + Mint
      • Watermelon + Strawberries + Basil
      • Cucumber + Lemon + Rosemary

Don’t Forget Food Safety

When you’re packing food to go or hosting an outdoor gathering, remember to take the necessary precautions to keep foods safe to eat. This includes:

      • Keep cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Put cold foods in an ice-packed cooler at 40°F or below and use heating devices to keep hot foods at 140°F or higher. Perishable foods shouldn’t be left out for more than two hours (or one hour if it’s above 90°F) before cooling or discarding.
      • Separate raw and ready-to-eat foods. Pack raw meat in one cooler and other cold foods in another to prevent cross-contamination. The same thing applies to plates and utensils. Use one set for raw foods and another for freshly-cooked or ready-to-eat foods.
      • Be prepared to keep things clean. If you don’t have access to running water and soap, pack hand sanitizer and wipes to clean and disinfect hands and surfaces to keep germs at bay. Also make sure you have trash bags so you can properly dispose of any mess.

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Date Last Reviewed: May 17, 2021

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

Medical Review: Jane Schwartz, RD

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