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Food Swaps, Tips & Tricks for a Healthy Picnic

Elevate your next picnic beyond sandwiches and prepared salads with these "out of the basket" ideas that pair flavor with nutrition to create the perfect al fresco meal.

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Create healthy creamy salads
The nonfat, plain Greek yogurt you use for smoothies, dips and more can be used to create perfectly creamy salads. Combine one 5.3-ounce container with two tablespoons of mayonnaise along with one half to one teaspoon of your favorite seasoning to create an interesting salad that tastes decadent but isn't.

Healthy and easy? You're in!
Control ingredients and amp up the health with simple tricks the save time without compromising nutrition. For salads that call for shredded chicken, use a store-bought rotisserie chicken (many are gluten-free; check with your grocer). Mix up bean salads quickly with low-sodium canned beans (rinse thoroughly before using). Lastly, save time with pre-washed greens or precut vegetables.

Not your grandmother's tuna
Turn to tuna that has been "made over" like Wild Planet No Salt Added Wild Albacore Tuna, and use it to create this interesting Middle Eastern Tuna Salad, which blends nonfat yogurt with heart-healthy fats along with beans and spices to create a unique blend of flavors. Or ditch the tuna altogether and go for omega-rich canned Natural Sea Wild Premium Alaskan Pink Salmon. Versatile enough to be used warm or cold, as a burger or in a salad, environmentally friendly canned salmon is rich in essential omega fatty acids and lower in mercury than tuna.

Beyond baby carrots
Baby carrots are easy to pack, but aim for a colorful blend of sugar snap peas, grape tomatoes and sliced beets. Or take on just a bit of prep work so that you can pack vegetables that may not typically make it to your picnic blanket. Try blanching asparagus or broccoli to retain the crunch but lose the bitterness. Add a simple vinaigrette and everyone will be eating their veggies.

Not just mayo
Horseradish mayo, pesto mayo, sriracha mayo -- if you can think of it, you can create a flavorful mayonnaise and a unique dish that you won't likely find at your local sandwich shop. Start from scratch with a simple homemade mayonnaise recipe that uses just six ingredients. Keep in mind that raw eggs, used to prepare homemade mayonnaise, may not be safe for everyone.

Tonight's dinner, tomorrow's picnic
If you know that tomorrow's plans call for packing the picnic basket, then tonight is your time to prepare your menu. Grill some extra chicken and vegetables, prepare a second salad and cook additional grains or pasta to make a cold salad.

Add avocado
Elevate a plain sandwich with heart-healthy, creamy avocado. Add it sliced for a buttery bite or smashed as a spread to improve a simple sandwich.

Drink some soup
Chilled, pureed soup perfectly rounds out a picnic meal. Prepare it ahead of time, pack it in a tightly sealed pitcher and pour into cups for easy eating.

Salad in a jar
Visit your farmers market or produce section and create a fresh garden salad with seasonal vegetables. Save time and make it picnic-ready by packing individual side salads in reusable jars along with a jar of salad dressing. When it's time to enjoy your salad, simply add some dressing, tightly seal and shake.

Fruit kebabs
Make "carry in, carry out" easier with fruit kebabs. Simply thread a rainbow of fruit onto a skewer for a beautiful presentation that is not only attractive, but also eliminates the need for utensils and plates.

Pack it right
Once you’ve put together the perfect picnic meal, pack it safely in reusable containers and ensure that foods are stored safely. Chill and take extra care with creamy salads, meats, cheeses and other foods you would normally refrigerate at home.

Maintain proper food temperatures by keeping the cooler closed and in the shade and packing drinks separately (so that you can access them without exposing foods to warm air). And always be sure to keep raw meats separate from other foods to prevent cross-contamination.


Readers -- What are your favorite go-to picnic items? How do you try to make them healthier? Will you try any of the options mentioned above? Leave a comment below and let us know.

Allison Stowell, M.S., RD, CDN, is the registered dietitian for the Guiding Stars Licensing Company, a company devoted to helping you find the good, better and best choices at the supermarket. A working mom of two, Allison enables individuals to make positive, sustainable changes in their eating habits by stressing conscious eating, improving relationships with food and offering a non-diet approach for reaching and maintaining ideal body weight.

Visit her blog to read more and connect with Allison on Twitter.

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