Give Your Picnic a Makeover

With a few healthy food swaps, you’ll enjoy a guilt-free outing.

By Ginny Greene, Editor

One of the great joys of summer is eating outdoors. Whether grilling in the backyard or packing a portable feast, we all have our favorite foods. But our old standbys are not always the healthiest choices.

“Often when we think of summertime picnics we think of grilling hamburgers or hot dogs, or we stop at the local shop for a bucket of fried chicken,” says Heather Mangieri, a registered dietitian and owner of Nutrition CheckUp. “Our baskets are filled with side dishes such as potato salad and coleslaw, then we top off the already calorie-busting meal with sweets.”

A little food knowledge can go a long way, says Mangieri, a Pittsburgh-based spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Here’s a quick picnic makeover that Mangieri suggests. It has substantial savings in calories and fat:

Traditional picnic

One hamburger (with just a tad of ketchup and mustard) plus a half-cup each of potato salad and coleslaw packs in about 900 calories and around 60 grams of fat, she says. Add a 1-ounce serving of chips and French onion dip and the total is close to 1,200 calories and 76 grams of fat.

The makeover

Swap the above feast for a turkey burger on a whole-wheat bun (with the same tad of ketchup and mustard), corn on the cob and 1 cup of watermelon cubes. You save yourself 50 percent of the calories and more than 75 percent of the fat. And for the same serving size of chips and dip, you can enjoy low-fat baked tortilla chips and salsa for half the calories and just 10 percent of the fat.

In addition to savings in calories and fat, the makeover meal provides 70 percent more dietary fiber and 58 percent less sodium than the traditional picnic meal.

Comparison (calories and fat are approximate):

Traditional Calories Fat Makeover Calories Fat
Beef hamburger on bun, with ketchup, mustard, ½ cup coleslaw, ½ cup potato salad 900 54 g Lean turkey burger on whole-wheat bun with ketchup, mustard, 1 cup watermelon cubes, 1 corn on the cob 445 7 g
1 oz. chips w/ 3 oz. French onion dip 280 22 g 1 oz. low-fat baked tortilla chips with salsa 140 2 g

Mangieri offers a few other tips for a food-safe picnic outing: