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Picnicking? Think safe and healthy

Recipe: Grilled romaine salad

July 22, 2011
  • By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer Want something different to wow diners at your next picnic? Try this grilled romaine salad. The dressing isn't mayonnaise-based, so it's perfect for outside events.
By Kevin G. Gilbert/Staff Photographer

Special to The Herald-Mail


What could be more fun than packing a picnic lunch and heading outdoors to spend a nice summer day with your family and friends? Don't let this fun day wreak havoc on your diet. Follow these tips on how to keep this summer ritual a fun and healthful experience.

Traditional picnic foods tend to be high in calories, fat and sodium, but they can also be unhealthy from a food safety aspect as well.  

The good news is that you can easily enjoy a healthful picnic, with a little planning and tweaking, without sabotaging your diet or causing unnecessary health risks associated with improper food handling.

  Try not to arrive famished. Have a snack ahead of time so that you can take your time and make wise choices. If you are not the host, bring a dish to share with others.  

 Walk the perimeter of the food table before filling your plate. This way you'll decide which foods you want to eat, rather than gathering spoonfuls of everything you see as you walk around the table. This will help avoid having an overloaded plate of high-fat, high-calorie foods that you feel obligated to finish. You might also consider bringing smaller plates, which will force you to make wiser choices.

 Don't let the sun spoil your fun — literally. Because picnics typically occur in the summer months and out in the sun, you must take proper precautions to keep your foods safe. Foods that contain protein or dairy cause the highest concern for potential foodborne illnesses.

Make sure you pack foods — especially meats, cheeses, and mayonnaise-based salads — in a cooler with plenty of ice or ice packs. Keep food chilled until just before serving. Also, use common sense and keep food out of direct sunlight when possible. Foods should not be left out longer than two hours, or one hour max when temperatures reach 90 degrees or higher. Also, keep foods covered as much as possible.

 Make sure you pack your picnic basket full with plenty of seasonal fruits and vegetables. It's a great way to have crunchy foods that are not only low in calories, fat and sodium, but also packed with vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients and offer numerous health benefits.

 Choose healthful meat alternatives. Try grilled chicken rather than the old standby fried chicken. Use lean beef when making burgers, or perhaps ground turkey or meat alternatives such as veggie burgers. Skip the cheese to reduce fat and calories even more. You can also use whole-wheat bread or wraps as an alternative to white bread. Sandwiches and wraps are easy to transport and can be packed with nutrients if you use fresh vegetables and fresh salsa.  

 Be careful with typical picnic salads such as macaroni salad and potato salad. Mayonnaise-based salads are not only high in fat and calories but also a concern for food safety. If you choose these salads, try using low-fat or fat-free mayonnaise or even dressings made with vinegar or juices. If making pasta salad, try using whole-wheat pasta to boost the fiber content. Also try tossing in fresh vegetables to provide a nutritional boost.

 Keep dessert light. Stick with fresh watermelon or other fresh fruit for dessert, rather than indulging in the high-fat cakes, cookies and pies. If you choose to treat yourself, keep portion sizes small. A nice alternative to cake with high-fat and high-sugar frosting is angel food cake topped with fresh strawberries and low-fat, whipped topping.

 Try to keep active. Try stepping away from the food table to pace yourself.  With that in mind, make sure you have plenty of water, sparkling water, low-calorie electrolyte replacement beverages, unsweetened decaf iced tea and other low-calorie beverages to make sure your guests stay well-hydrated.  


Melissa Tewes is the clinical nutrition manager at Meritus Medical Center. She has 16 years of experience as a registered dietitian and is also a certified personal trainer.

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By Joe Fleischman

Special to The Herald-Mail

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