Diet-to-Go Blog
  1. Planning the Perfect Picnic: Here's Your Menu

    Once summer hits, there are lots of opportunities for picnics, backyard barbecues, and other fun summer social events that too often revolve around food. But traditional picnic foods like fried chicken and potato salad can be hard to manage if you are trying to control your weight.

    In honor of National Picnic Month, let's eat great without gaining weight. How can we do this? Easy! We'll simply swap out a few traditional favorites and replace them with healthy but tasty alternatives.

    Fried chicken can be replaced with baked breaded chicken or – for an even better choice – try a grilled chicken breast. You can season or marinate your chicken to give it a really full flavor. There are many different flavors of marinades; take a minute and check them out when you are at the grocery store. Marinades are a great way to ensure the meat comes off the grill tender, juicy and full of flavor.

    Potato salad and coleslaw go very well with chicken at a picnic, but the heaping gobs of mayo that we use to make our favorite recipes is full of fat and calories. Time to change up Aunt Betty's recipe so you keep the flavor but lose the unwanted junk.

    For coleslaw, instead of the usual creamy dressing, use some extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar. The taste is outstanding! You can even add some pomegranate and flax seed to make it a super healthy side.

    Potato salad can remain a favorite side for your burger or dog. Simply substitute or cut the mayonnaise with a light ranch dressing, or fat free sour cream, or even a plain low-fat yogurt. You can go a step further and cut down on some of the carbohydrates in the salad itself by replacing half of the potatoes with same-size pieces of cooked cauliflower.

    When thinking of salads for your picnic, don't forget the green salad with a light dressing. It's not only satisfying, but it's also plenty good for you.

    Some nutritious appetizers might include raw veggies and healthy dips such as salsa, hummus and fat-free bean dip.

    Also on the healthy picnic menu: whole grain crackers with low-fat cheese slices. I like reduced-fat cheddar, but the choices are plenty.

    As far as finding healthy options for the grill...

    Instead of the traditional beef burgers and hot dogs, try turkey burgers, pork tenderloin, or tofu dogs!

    There are lots of varieties of reduced-fat chicken or turkey dogs. Other tasty options include chicken sausages (I like Aidells). These sausages are lower in calories and very flavorful thanks to the spices that are added.

    Other foods that go great with grilling: Corn, zucchini, asparagus, red peppers and mushrooms!

    What would a great picnic be without dessert? Don’t forget to bring along a harvest of summer’s best fruit choices, including berries, grapes, peaches and watermelon.

    Another favorite low-cal sweet treat is angel food cake topped with strawberries.

    Lastly, don’t forget to fill your picnic basket with calorie-free beverages so you and your guests will stay hydrated. A few good choices are sparkling water, unsweetened ice tea, and sugar-free lemonade.

    Sugar-free Popsicles are a popular treat that can also aid with hydration.

    Let's face it, there are many choices and varieties of foods that make planning and packing a healthier picnic a lot easier. This summer, be sure to invite some of these great-tasting food choices to your picnics.

    Healthy meals will give you the energy needed to toss that Frisbee in the park or to play a heated game of volleyball on the beach!


    Rebecca Mohning is a Registered Dietitian and an Exercise Physiologist who believes that we can change our metabolism and achieve optimal health through proper nutrition and regular exercise. She has a Master's Degree in Exercise Physiology and a Bachelor's of Science in Dietetics from Iowa State University. She is a certified Personal Trainer by the American College of Sports Medicine. She specializes in weight management, performance nutrition, and eating disorders.

    Diet-to-Go Nutritionist
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