The Best and Worst Picnic Foods

by Jen on May 24, 2013

Best and Worst Picnic Foods

It’s almost summertime, which means picnic season and swimsuit season will soon be upon us. The weather’s perfect for hiking, camping, barbecuing, and days at the beach—lots of opportunities for outdoor exercise, but just as many opportunities to indulge at pool parties, outdoor festivals, and county fairs. Here are some foods to try avoiding during the dog days of summer and some ideas for substitutions for picnic favorites.

Avoid Fried Chicken: One extra-crispy breast will run you 460 calories and 28 grams of fat, 8 of them saturated. That’s almost three times the calories of a grilled, skinless breast and almost ten times as much fat.

Substitution: If you’re short for time, pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store.  Just make sure it’s not slathered in BBQ sauce, and take off the skin to save yourself from eating extra fat and calories. Better yet, make my Kentucky “Fraud” Chicken to take along with you on your picnic.  It tastes just like fried chicken without the grease, fat, and calories!

Avoid Burgers: It’s always great to fire up the grill and start cooking up a mess of meat. And the good news is that grilling is one of the healthiest ways to cook food. It adds tons of flavor and doesn’t add fat.  But they can be calorie and saturated fat bombs—so choose carefully. A plain burger on a bun is about 270 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat (20% of the daily value), but make it a large one with toppings and you’re up to 512 calories and 52% of your daily value for saturated fat (over 10 grams), or more.

Substitution: The best thing to grill would be skinless chicken, fish, or vegetables. But if you’re craving a juicy burger or brat and a portobello burger just won’t do, there are still some decisions you can make to keep it on the lean side. For burgers, consider a leaner option than beef like ground turkey, or buffalo. But as always, check the label. Some grinds of turkey have as much fat as a fatty grind of beef. Ground turkey breast is usually much leaner than ground turkey. If you’re going to make beef burgers, try to find a grind that is under 5 percent fat. Ground sirloin is usually pretty close.

Avoid Potato and Macaroni Salad: This one can be a diet disaster. Traditional potato salad with full fat mayo and eggs delivers 358 calories, 20 grams of fat, and 170 mg of cholesterol (300 mg per day is the max limit for healthy people; 200 for those with high cholesterol) per 1-cup serving.

Substitution: Instead of mayonnaise, consider using nonfat yogurt, food-processed low-fat cottage cheese, or low-fat ricotta cheese instead. You’ll get fewer calories, less fat, and lessen the risk of salmonella poisoning by going eggless. One way to make potato salad healthier is to leave the skins on the potatoes, as they have the fiber and most of the vitamins in the spud. For macaroni salad, use a whole-grain pasta to get extra fiber. Better yet, make a pasta salad with heart-healthy olive oil, vinegar, and lots of veggies. Try my Mexican Pasta Salad!

Avoid Trail Mix: Summer’s a great time for checking out nature, and it’s always great to bring along a healthy snack. But check the trail mix ingredients. Some, especially those containing granola, can be loaded with super-unhealthy hydrogenated oils and fat. There are trail mixes on the market that have more fat than a large order of fries, so it’s definitely a buyer-beware situation. Also check out how much sugar is in the trail mix or granola bars you’re taking backpacking. Some bars aren’t much healthier than a Snickers. If ingredients in your trail mix include chocolate chips and marshmallows, you may not have made the healthiest choice.

Substitution: Make your own healthy version of trail mix.  Use unsalted almonds, peanuts, and pumpkin seeds and instead of M&M’s, add some raisins for sweetness.  You could also make my Homemade Larabars or Granola Bites.

And don’t forget to pack lots of fresh veggies and fruit as well as water!  Bringing along a cooler packed with healthy eats will make for the perfect picnic.  It’s a triple win: simple, tasty, and healthy!

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Stephanie Aitken May 24, 2013 at 7:46 am

Thanks Jenn for the tips. For me the Worst picnic food that always seems to be there: CHIPS!!! ahhh!!!
Substitution suggestion: veggies and hummus or some lean crackers.


2 Jen May 24, 2013 at 8:19 am

HAHA…yes, you’re right, chips are usually at a picnic. Great suggestion to replace those chips with something healthier 🙂


3 Bri May 25, 2013 at 8:37 am

Goodness! Thank you for posting this! We have a picnic today and we all have to bring a salad and dessert to share, while they are providing the *fried chicken*! Now I am nervous to go and hope they have other options or I won’t want to eat!
Bri recently posted..High Five for FridayMy Profile


4 Jen May 28, 2013 at 12:27 pm

At least you know you’ll have a healthy salad 🙂 How did the rest of it go?


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