Avoiding picnic pitfalls

May 23, 2012|By Emily Rice, Special to The Baltimore Sun

Each week a nutritionist from the University of Maryland Medical Center provides a guest post to The Baltimore Sun's health blog Picture of Health (baltimoresun.com/pictureofhealth), which is reprinted here. This week, Emily Rice, dietetic intern, weighs in on picnic foods.

The weather is warming up, and for many of us this means heading outdoors to enjoy all the spring and summer have to offer. Sunshine, fresh fruits and vegetables, and friends make for the perfect picnic; however, many of us struggle with picnic temptations. Avoid these pitfalls, and you can enjoy your gatherings without overindulging.

High fat and sodium

Main dishes, such as fried chicken, cold-cut subs, hamburgers and hot dogs, tend to be high in sodium and fat. A few substitutions can make your entrées just as tasty and convenient while reducing calories and fat.

Choose instead:

•Rotisserie chicken: Pick up one at the store or roast your own and cut it into pieces or slice at the picnic site. Just make sure to remove the skin to avoid excess calories and fat.

•Low-sodium lunch meats and cheeses: Read labels or ask at the deli for salt-free or low-sodium varieties. Aim for no more than 400 mg of sodium per serving of lunch meat. Use low-sodium whole-wheat bread and plenty of fresh vegetable toppings. If possible, opt for fresh meats that are naturally low in sodium.

•Lean hamburgers or turkey burgers: If you plan to grill at your picnic, choose at least 90 percent lean beef. As an alternative, consider making lean turkey burgers and enhancing their flavor with spices, herbs or a small amount of Worcestershire sauce.

Heavy side dishes

For many people, go-to picnic side dishes are chips, macaroni salad and potato salad, which tend to be high in calories. With all the fresh produce around, it is easy to lighten up side dishes. If you can't live without the macaroni or potato salad, focus on portion control and limit serving size to no more than quarter cup or stick to one bite of each.

Choose instead:

•Fresh vegetables, such as carrots, celery, cucumbers and radishes. Try dipping them in hummus, or make your own dip with plain low-fat Greek yogurt and your choice of herbs and other seasonings.

•Build your own salad by using quinoa or whole-wheat pasta, fresh vegetables and a vinaigrette dressing. Try making your own dressing with herbs, balsamic vinegar and a small amount of olive oil.

•Pack a fresh green salad to go. Wait until you arrive at the picnic site to dress the salad and limit dressing to 2 tablespoons.

Sugary drinks

Regular lemonade, sport drinks and sodas can pack on the calories and leave you still feeling hungry. Our bodies often confuse thirst for hunger, so staying well-hydrated can also help us to avoid overeating. It is especially important when spending time outdoors to stay well-hydrated.

Choose instead:

•Water, is the beverage of choice. If you don't like plain water, try adding a squeeze of lemon or lime juice or fresh mint sprigs for more flavor.

•Iced black or green tea. Just brew the tea and chill in the refrigerator until you are ready to go.

•Try sparkling water with a splash of juice or sugar-free flavor mix to make your own quick and refreshing beverage.

Calorie-laden desserts

Brownies, cookies, cakes and pies are often part of the picnic spread. With so much fresh produce around this time of year, why fill up on high-calorie baked goods?

Choose instead:

•In-season produce from the farmers' market. Right now, strawberries are available, but soon, the choices will expand. In the coming months, you'll find fresh local blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, plums, cherries, cantaloupes and my favorite, peaches.

•Try a slice of angel food cake topped with fresh berries.

To make the most of your picnic add some physical activity. Get your friends and family together and toss around a football or toss around a Frisbee after the meal to spend quality time together and burn extra calories.

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