Picnics – Summer’s Delight

June 26, 2012 in Health, Home and Garden, Nutrition, Weight Management by Joyce Bunderson

Picnics seem like a celebration of summer, a season with a little more freedom; freedom to roam onto the back deck, backyard, the local park, along a highway, and beyond. It’s exciting for the children to break with their everyday schedules. Picnics offer an inexpensive way to bring a little interest and variety to a tranquil breezy summer day. The skies are warm and clear, you’ve waited for months to go on picnic; but a picnic seems to be a potential snag to your new eating plan, as you take a moment to trawl through the memories of your beloved picnics. Your mind is bumping into that mayo-loaded creamy potato or pasta salad, crispy deep-fried chicken, thick 12-ounce steak, burgers loaded with cheese, hot dogs and sausages, fatty ooey gooey barbecued ribs, potato chips and dip, and don’t forget the cookies, cakes and Aunt Martha’s famous pies.

What’s a girl to do? (Or guy for that matter, who’s trying to stave off the potbelly and its unhealthy consequences.) Eating healthily and enjoyably during the summer are very compatible concepts. Where do you start? Do you want it to be quick and easy, traditional or sophisticated? The following are ideas to get your creativity stirred up with your desire to eat healthily during the summer.

  • One place that you might start is the flyer for the markets; or at the local farmer’s market, to learn what’s in season. Not only are foods in season, usually less costly, but they are also at peak flavor and nutrition. Some common picnic foods are watermelon, fresh cherries and corn on the cob. There’s many more, but I’m just trying to get you started.
  • I realize that store bought potato chips are super easy. They don’t win any contests for nutrients, but they do for concentrated fat and carbs. If you enjoy a flavorful crunch and want an alternative to deep fried chips, maybe you’d like to try your hand at homemade veggie chips. After they are ready to eat, consider dipping them in salsa, hummus, or a low-fat bean dip; skip the creamy fatty dips.
  • Some of us have kissed hot dogs goodbye; you may have been reading Dr. Grandma’s posts on processed meat. Yes, the processed meats are as easy as it gets for summer picnics, but you can discover other healthier options. One option that we enjoy is chicken tenders (or boneless, skinless white breast meat strips by another name); they cook in a blink. Put your own seasonings; or, when you’re in a big rush, try McCormick Rotisserie Chicken Seasoning, 24-Ounce. I use it on fish too.
  • When you choose fresh berries, watermelon or other melons, grapes, cherries, and other summer fruit for dessert, it’s not only easy, but it’s also as nutritious as it gets. If you want to take it up a notch, try some Greek yogurt, mixed with honey or zero-calorie sweetener and a sprinkle of cinnamon for dipping. Pack a box of toothpicks and see how much fun the children will have. Or let them make their own parfaits – layer fruit and yogurt mix; that’s all there is to it. If you provide a clear plastic cup, the beautiful colors of the fruit make an exceptionally appealing dessert.
  • An easy picnic item is cheese and fruit. You’ll want to go easy on the cheese and fill up on the fruit, but with the cheese, it could take you straight into a remembrance of a Renaissance painting.
  • For Dr. Grandpa’s birthday party I made Old King Coleslaw. It’s now become a regular at picnics. It’s not gooped up with lots of mayo and the flavor’s great. This year I made it with part purple cabbage, which added to the confetti colors.
  • Wraps and sandwiches can also become part of the fun – they don’t need to be the ‘same old boring sandwiches.’ Your imagination is the only limitation. Filling options could include: jicama, cucumbers, carrots, tomatoes, peppers, mint and other herbs, avocado, lettuce, chicken, turkey, tuna, feta cheese, green onions, grilled onions, watercress, sautéed mushrooms, spinach, cabbage, zucchini and so on. Add interest by varying the way the ingredients are prepared – julienne, grated, chopped, diced and shredded. You can put your fillings into flatbread, tortillas, or Three Ladies Spring Roll Rice Paper Wrappers (Round 22cm 3pks). The rice paper wrappers are fun, because you can see through them a bit; and an 8-inch rice paper wrapper only has 35 to 40 calories – compare that to 120 calories for an 8-inch flour tortilla, an 80+ calorie savings. Nice! Dip in a flavorful, mixture of low-sodium soy sauce, lemon or limejuice, toasted sesame seeds, some olive oil, a little brown sugar and a touch of crushed peppers.
  • If you want a beautiful, refreshing homemade slushie, you can start with this recipe. By juicing your own lemons and sweetening with a zero-calorie sweetener, you can reduce the amount of sugar in your diet, while preserving the taste and flavor

We recommend using only all-natural, zero-calorie sweeteners based on erythritol. Erythritol doesn't have an aftertaste and has very benign gastric effects, while other of the various sugar alcohols or polyols can have less than pleasant effects. You will note by inspecting the labels of many products that advertise no sugar added, the use of polyols such as Sorbitol, Maltitol, Xylitol, and other polyols as sugar replacements. These may have the unpleasant gastric side effects, worse as one gets older.  All are available in crystalline form and can be used in place of sugar.

We plan to continue to develop our web site and add both advice and healthy-but-yummy recipes. And we will share products we have evaluated that meet the standards of many different aspects of the healthful, Mediterranean-style diet we advocate.

  • If you’re looking for something tasty, a little unique, but nutritious, try grilling fresh fruit. For example, lightly baste a little extra virgin olive oil on a fresh peach and grill for 2 or 3 minutes – you may be surprised at how delicious it is.
  • So other healthy options for grilling are:
    • Fish – there are hundreds of ideas on the web for grilled fish. Remember to use a firm fish. When you serve grilled fish with a fresh salsa that can certainly send the taste buds to euphoria.
    • Consider making fresh salsa with summer fruit (cubed watermelon, cubed mangos, finely chopped red onion, a little fresh cilantro or parsley, some lime juice, a pinch of salt, and a sparse sprinkling of sugar or zero-calorie sweetener.) You can use other fruit: papaya, honeydew, cantaloupe, peaches or nectarines; use whatever is seasonal. I also enjoy cubed avocado mixed in. Salsa can really add interest to ordinary grilled fish or chicken.
    • I had dinner guests a week or so ago and made grilled corn. I soaked the husk-covered cobs for about an hour in cool water. (The idea is to keep the husks from burning when on the grill.) Then the cobs go on the grill for 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the grill and cool to be able to handle. Remove the silk and tie back the husk all the way. Tie it with a little string around the stalk “handle”. Put back on the grill when the guests are almost ready for dinner. Turn frequently, as they become nicely browned, about 10 minutes. Some kernels may begin to pop, a signal to turn or remove. Serve with herbed butter if desired. Not only is this very tasty, but it adds a little drama to the meal.
    • Grilled sandwiches – use whole grain bread brushed lightly with olive oil. Fill with thick pieces of grilled sweet peppers and a thin slice of cheese. When the bread is browned, open and stack on the lettuce, cucumber slices, and tomatoes and olives and pickle slices if you like.
    • Red peppers, red onion circles, sliced zucchini rounds all in a grill basket, until the onions are soft and clear, are good as a side dish just plain. You can also add some chopped basil, a splash of vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper, and some chopped mozzarella cheese for a Caprese-style side dish.

    Selecting from the options and ideas above are always better for you and your picnickers than choosing fast foods. They can be both more fun (especially if you work together to prepare them) and more nutritious. Remember to protect your foods from the summer heat. I’m sending my best wishes for a relaxing, refreshing summer of nutritious picnics and enjoyment.