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Prepare the Perfect Picnic: Healthy Swaps for the 9 Worst Picnic Foods

Picnic Basket

Rodale's tips on the nine worst picnic foods and healthy swaps, plus our tips for enhancing your picnic the healthy way.


One of the greatest joys of life: Picnics. Savoring the beach or the park with your brimming basket of goodies, participating in good conversation with good friends and beloved family members: Who doesn't love a picnic? Just one concern: What's in that picnic basket? Those potato chips, creamy dips, macaroni salads, hot dogs, white buns, marshmallows and sugary sodas may taste good, but the damage that they do to your body, from increasing your risk of heart disease to boosting your weight, aren't worth that momentary pleasure.

We have the solution here, with Rodale's tips on the nine worst picnic foods and healthy swaps, plus our tips for enhancing your picnic the healthy way.

Nine Picnic Foods to Avoid, Plus What to Swap

  1. Sugary Soda: What's in that soda? Empty calories, plus preservatives that may result in kidney damage, liver cancer and dental problems. A better choice: Iced tea or water. Tip: Freeze lemon juice in ice cube trays and bring along in a plastic bag to add to your tea or water for a natural way to enhance the flavor and add vitamin C.
  2. Imported Shrimp: Be careful about choosing your shrimp. Choose wild-caught American shrimp or wild Alaskan salmon instead.
  3. Non-organic Fruit Salad: Scary fact: Non-organic fruits can contain up to 64 different pesticide residues. Use organic whenever possible. Tip: Can't find organic fresh fruit? Look in the freezer section for fresh frozen organic blueberries and strawberries.
  4. GMO Corn Chips: Almost 90 percent of the corn grown in the United States is genetically modified. Look for a brand made with organic corn. Tip: Want the crunch? Try cutting up various fresh vegetables, from zucchini to mushrooms to jicama to carrots. If you crave chips, consider a non-traditional option such as one made with black beans or kamut.
  5. Mayonnaise Potato Salad: Avoid a nightmare of food poisoning and choose a recipe that uses vinegar. Or make a different type of salad, such as chopped assorted green lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, green beans, summer squash and chick peas. Serve with a vinaigrette.
  6. Creamy Coleslaw: It may be traditional, but it also can be dangerous from a food safety perspective. Tip: Try making coleslaw with garlic wine vinegar and herbs for a low-calorie, fat-free treat.
  7. Pasta Salad: Did someone say "fattening?" Pasta salads can contain as many calories as a double cheeseburger. Instead, consider a bean salad made with kidney beans, green beans and garbanzo beans, plus a vinegar salad dressing. High in fiber and nutrition, this mixture will satisfy your hunger safely.
  8. Cold Cuts: Just say boo to bologna and "heck no" to hot dogs. Instead, buy turkey breast to bring along. Enjoy with mustard (not mayonnaise) on whole grain bread.
  9. Fried Chicken: Don't let greasy fried chicken ruin the health of your heart and size of your waistline. You can buy water-packed chicken breast, drain and mix with assorted greens for a tasty substitute, or cook chicken breasts the night before and nibble on the cold chicken for a picnic that's tasty and healthy!

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Divine Desserts
What's for dessert? Studies show that dark chocolate is good for your heart and, in small amounts, can even help you maintain your weight. Offer small squares of dark chocolate and wedges of apple for a delicious, nutritious conclusion to your picnic. Another option: If you're going on a picnic close to home, blend up almond milk, protein powder and frozen strawberries or bananas for an energizing smoothie.

If you're longing for cookies to add to your picnic basket, consider making your own by using low-fat vanilla wafers spread with almond butter and made into sandwich cookies. The almond butter will provide you with healthy fats and help avoid food cravings later in the day.

And for a truly healthy conclusion to that picnic, take along a Frisbee, badminton set and beach ball to work off those calories!

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