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Packing A Healthy Picnic

by Sarah Cimperman, ND

Eating outside is one of the great pleasures of warm weather months and packing a picnic allows you to dine wherever you wish. For some, fried chicken, hotdogs, potato chips, soda, cookies, cakes and other processed foods are standard picnic fare. But healthy alternatives exist and creating a nutritious, crowd-pleasing spread is easy. Whether you’re taking a hike, hitting the beach, or feeding friends at the park, consider these simple steps to pack the perfect picnic with good health in mind.

Finger Foods

Finger foods work well for picnics because they are easy to eat. Create a platter of vegetables and sauces to dip them in. Offer olive tapenade, guacamole, hummus or baba ghanoush (a savory Middle Eastern eggplant puree) alongside carrots, radishes, celery sticks, slivers of bell pepper, florets of broccoli or cauliflower, and rounds of cucumber, zucchini or summer squash. Include whole grain crisp bread as a crunchy alternative to chips; it pairs nicely with sauces that are thick enough to spread. Other healthy finger foods that travel well include fruit kebobs, olives, pickles, and nuts.

Food Safety

To prevent food-borne illness, don’t allow perishable foods to sit at room temperature for more than two hours. Avoid bringing foods on picnics that contain raw eggs, like mayonnaise-based potato salad, pasta salad and coleslaw. Bring hand sanitizer and encourage people to wash their hands if facilities are available.

New Twists

Dishes containing mayonnaise can be replaced with better choices. Instead of a creamy potato salad, combine cooked skin-on potato cubes with pesto or vinaigrette. Replace pasta salad with a whole grain salad by tossing cooked brown rice or quinoa with fresh herbs, diced vegetables, and vinaigrette. You can mix up your own dressing in a matter of minutes by whisking together one part vinegar or lemon juice, three parts extra virgin olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, and whatever flavors you favor: minced shallot, crushed garlic, Dijon mustard, chopped fresh herbs and/or chives.

Consider updating your picnic with quiche. Made ahead, it is a perfect picnic food: fully cooked, packed with protein, and eaten at room temperature. You can slice it into silvers of any size and tailor it to please any palate. Combine seasonal vegetables with other favorite fillings, like asparagus and smoked salmon, mushroom and leek, broccoli and aged cheddar cheese, or roasted red pepper, olives and feta or goat cheese.

Fruit Finish

No picnic is complete without fresh fruit. Full of nutrients, electrolytes and water, it is the ideal dessert on hot summer days. Cut up large fruits ahead of time, like pineapple, melon and cantaloupe, so people can help themselves to slices or chunks. Wash other fruits before you go and serve them whole, like cherries, berries, grapes, figs, apricots, peaches, and nectarines. Take the time to pack fruit with care, especially if it is perfectly ripe and particularly fragile.

Thirst Quenchers

It is important to stay hydrated, especially when you’re outside on hot summer days. The best beverage is water, but unsweetened ice tea is also a good choice. Experiment with green, white and herbal teas, such as pepper-mint, ginger, chamomile, rose hip or hibiscus. Keep iced tea cold in a thermos for a refreshing picnic drink. If you’re going to serve wine, choose red. Unlike white wines, red wines are best at room temperature and do not have to be kept cold. They also contain higher concentrations of antioxidants compared to white varieties.

Real Dishes

However convenient, avoid using disposable napkins, plates, cups and cutlery. Use real dishes instead; they make picnics more visually appealing and reduce waste. Cloth napkins, metal silverware and small, sturdy glass tumblers are ideal. Don’t pack anything too fragile or irreplaceable. Chipped or mismatched ceramic platters, plates and bowls work well. If you are hiking to your picnic spot, consider using tin plates and bowls because they are light and sturdy.

Picnic Accessories

Minimize accessories by choosing foods that are easy to transport and require minimal preparation once you arrive at your destination. Pack them well in whatever is most convenient for you to carry: a traditional basket, a specialized backpack, or a reusable shopping bag. Unless you’re sure to have a picnic table, bring along a blanket or two. If you’ll be outside around sunset or after dark, pack a lantern, flashlights, or candles and matches. And the usual outdoor precautions apply, so remember sunscreen, insect repellant, hats and sunglasses.

Dr. Sarah Cim-perman is a Doctor of Naturopathic Medi-cine in private prac-tice in New York City. For more information, call 646-234-2918 or visit www.drsarahcimperman.com.

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