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June marks the beginning of summertime, which for many means the start of dining outdoors. For some, this also means dusting off the patio table in the backyard and firing up the grill. For others, it means pulling the old festive picnic blanket out from the back shelf and heading to a local park for an open-air feast.
Picnic season doesn’t have to be just bags of processed chips and snack items, nor does it have to mean hot dogs and that pre-packaged coleslaw slathered in mayonnaise from your local grocery store. With a bit of planning and preparation, you can feast on summer favorites and still maintain a healthy lifestyle!
First and foremost, take advantage of seasonal produce! In-season produce not only tastes better, but it’s also cheaper during its peak times. June is prime time for strawberries, blueberries, and stone fruits like peaches and nectarines. Vegetables, like asparagus, radish, chard, and spinach, are also best in early June. Chopping up your fruits and adding a little lemon juice and fresh mint is a healthy alternative to packaged cakes and cookies. You can also make quick salads by tossing fresh spinach, corn, and peas in a light homemade dressing, made with extra virgin olive oil and fresh herbs.
Realizing not all meats and other proteins are created equal is key. If you know ahead of time that you’re going to pack a picnic, choose to grill or broil meats beforehand. Pack up your pre-grilled grass-fed steaks and chicken and pre-grilled or roasted vegetables soaked in homemade marinades or low sodium sauces in Tupperware to serve when ready. They’re going to taste better and build more satisfying (and less preserved) meals for everyone.
Hamburger and hot dog buns, as well as standard pasta salads, can pack a heavy, starchy punch, piling on the calories. These starches don’t have to be omitted, but adding the whole grain versions for nutritional value isn’t a bad idea. Many grocery stores sell the whole grain versions of your favorite bread-based goodies.
Another option is substituting any wheat pasta for an alternative version in a salad. There are a variety of companies nowadays that have created legume and quinoa-based pasta that can be more filling and have higher nutritional values than the white flour-based version.
Summertime is the worst time to get dehydrated, especially when you are outdoors more frequently than usual. Many people, especially children, forget to hydrate when they’re playing outside and having fun. Instead of loading up on sugary sodas and high-calorie sparkling juices, drink lots of water! A great idea is freezing water bottles the night before you head out so they stay cool longer the next day.
If water is boring for you, another great “think ahead” idea is to chop up some of your favorite fruits, add them to a pitcher of filtered water, and leave them in the refrigerator overnight to add to bottles in the morning. It creates a delicious infusion with fewer calories and no artificial junk added. Some fun infusions might include strawberries, pineapple, mangos, lemon, lime, and even watermelons. If you must do alcohol, light beer and wine spritzers are lower in calories and slightly less dehydrating than their full-bodied counterparts.
Don’t let processed picnic foods and heavy barbecue fare weigh you down and compromise your health. Thanks to seasonal fruits and veggies, hydrating infused waters, and grilled favorites, staying healthy this summer is a breeze!
Carrie Gabriel studied nutrition at California State University-Los Angeles and got her RDN through the Coordinated Dietetics Program there. She works as a dietitian for different corporate wellness companies, creating recipes for cooking demos and content for nutrition seminars.
She created her company, Steps2Nutrition, in 2012 in hopes of working more one on one with busy professionals and their specific nutritional needs. She has an advanced certification in weight management and specializes in gluten and dairy free meal preparation for various clients.
You can find some of Carrie’s healthy and delicious recipes and meal tips on her website, www.steps2nutrition.com, and on her Instagram and Twitter account, @steps2nutrition.