See if this experience sounds familiar. You show up at a potluck, grab a plate and make your way down the table. When you get to the end and look down—ahh! It's all beige. You cringe at what you're about to consume, but what can you do?
You can bring something healthier! Today, I'm offering simple but important guidelines for keeping your picnic foods safe, nutritious, and tasty.
There are plenty of good sources for recipes out there; you just have to be discerning and do your research. Luckily, I've done it for us! Along with my tips below, you'll find a handful of my favorite recipes sprinkled throughout to give your picnic a healthy boost! The next time you take food to an outdoor gathering, it'll be a delicious and nutritious addition to the table.
1. Balance your (paper) plate
To stay on a healthier track, try balancing your plate according to the guidelines at ChooseMyPlate.gov. Fill half of your plate with fruits and veggies, a quarter with protein foods, and a quarter with whole grains. Here's a clear visual to demonstrate. (Hint: if you see half your plate covered in chips and macaroni salad, re-calculate!)
A more balanced plate might look like a hamburger on a whole grain bun with lettuce, tomato and onion with a side of skinny broccoli salad and this honey lime rainbow fruit salad. This fits the MyPlate formula and hits the spot! Plenty of fruits and vegetables are in season during the summer, so use a variety of colors.
2. Add flavor without adding fat & calories
Traditional picnic foods like potato salad and coleslaw are heavy on the mayo and high in fat and calories. Opt for some lower-calorie condiments to maximize flavor and stay on track.
All of these add a kick of flavor without adding a ton of extra calories or fat. Even traditional favorites like ketchup and mustard are low-fat and flavorful. Many different herbs and spices also add flavors that compliment summertime foods, without adding sodium or sugar. Give cilantro, basil, rosemary and thyme a try in your favorite picnic dish.
3. Drink up to stay hydrated
Staying hydrated is extra important as summertime temperatures soar. To avoid excess calories and sugar, focus on drinks that are low-calorie or calorie-free. Infusing your water with lemon, lime or cucumber can provide a refreshing flavor twist. Adding ginger, mint, and lemon to your iced tea is also a delicious option.
Use caution with diet sodas and other caffeinated beverages. Even though they are calorie-free, dark colored diet sodas (which get their coloring from caramel-colored additive) contain phosphoric acid, a mineral that can disrupt normal calcium absorption over time. All caffeinated beverages (and alcohol) have a slight diuretic effect, which can become dehydrating when consumed in excess, especially in hot summer weather.
If you choose to drink caffeinated or alcoholic beverages, do so in moderation, and try alternating these drinks with water or another hydrating beverage during a backyard cookout.
4. Follow food safety guidelines
Lastly, let's brush up on a few key precautions. At most backyard BBQ's, food sits out for extended periods of time at temperatures that allow harmful bacteria to grow, making it unsafe to eat. According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, food should not sit outside for more than one hour when temperatures outside are 90+ degrees. Food is not safe at room temperature either if it’s been out for more than 2 to 4 hours.
Most harmful bacteria that can cause food poisoning grow rapidly between 40-140 degrees, so keep your cold foods cold and hot foods hot. Be sure to cook raw meats thoroughly on the grill to a minimum of 160 degrees for hamburgers and hot dogs, and 165 degrees for chicken. Once the meal has been served, it’s time to start packaging leftovers into clean, covered storage containers and getting them into the refrigerator.
Hungry for more?
Here's how to vary your party foods to keep guests happy and healthy. We've also rounded up more recipes for cool, summer treats! Remember, the Y has a dedicated staff of Registered Dietitian Nutritionists who are here to help you reach your wellness goals. Schedule a nutrition counseling session at a center near you!