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5 Tips for Picnics

Ways to make them diabetes-friendlier

Ah yes,  warmer weather has arrived! This means picnics … and picnics often mean a basket filled with foods that are not typically the most diabetes-friendly. These are a few scenes you may be familiar with:

  • You’re off to a local park, lake, or beach with a basket of sandwiches made with cold cuts and cheese, bags of chips, and baby carrots.
  • You’ve packed your basket for an outdoor concert or movie with crackers and cheese to nibble for starters, then the main course of fried chicken or BBQ ribs, potato salad, and coleslaw.
  • You’re set to grill at your community pool or in a neighbor’s backyard, and your basket is loaded with chips and sour cream dips to tide people over until the main course, which is hot dogs and hamburgers, buns, baked beans, corn on the cob, and slices of watermelon.

What’s missing? Ah yes, an assortment of healthier, diabetes-friendlier foods to choose from! I’ve found that most people are willing to eat healthier, but they just don’t know how to break free from the tried-and-true traditional picnic fare and choose options that will better fit their meal plans. So be a trendsetter, and consider introducing healthier foods to your next moveable feast, starting with these tasty picnic-pleasers.

Food group: Starches and grains
Usual fare: Potato, pasta, or macaroni salad
Potential nutrition downfalls: Refined grains, high in fat from mayonnaise
Healthier picnic pleasers:

  • Grain salads made with brown rice, whole-wheat couscous, bulgur, barley, or quinoa. Mix in a variety of colorful chopped vegetables like red or yellow pepper, red cabbage, cherry tomatoes, baby spinach leaves, carrots, and/or green or red onions. Toss with a small amount of “healthy” oil, such as olive, canola, or vegetable, and a tasty vinegar, such as raspberry, tarragon, or balsamic. (You can read more about healthy fats here.)
  • Pasta salad made with whole wheat or vegetable pasta (such as tomato or spinach). Mix in chopped vegetables, and toss with a bit of oil and vinegar.
  • Potato salad. Add in cubes of chopped cucumber, carrots, and red peppers. Mix with half light mayonnaise and half plain or Greek nonfat yogurt.
  • Soba noodle salad. Add in one or more of these chopped vegetables green onions, broccoli, spinach leaves, or sugar snap peas (slightly steamed). Mix in dressing of soy sauce, apple cider vinegar, and chunky peanut butter.

Food group: Beans/legumes and starchy vegetables
Usual fare: Baked beans and corn on the cob
Potential nutrition downfalls: High in sugar and carbohydrates
Healthier picnic pleasers:

  • Serve a bean-based dip made from scratch – I especially like making hummus from chick peas or beans such as cannellini – with cut up vegetables and whole-grain crackers.
  • Make your own three-bean/legume salad. Choose a few of your favorite beans and mix in chopped onions, green beans, and flavor with oil and vinegar or lemon.
  • Mix any type of beans and/or legumes, peas, or corn into one of the grain, noodle or pasta salads noted above.

Food group: Vegetables/dairy
Usual fare: Raw vegetables served with sour cream dip or mayonnaise-based coleslaw
Potential nutrition downfalls: The veggies are great, but the dip or slaw can be high in fat and calories
Healthier picnic pleasers:

  • Grilled vegetables (these work well served at room temperature or hot off the grill). Try eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, peppers (grilled whole), and/or sweet onions. Brush with homemade or store-bought balsamic vinaigrette. (You can find more outdoor grilling ideas here.)
  • Make or buy kale chips. Serve these as a side or as a dipper.
  • Marinated cucumbers or Mediterranean salad with a mix of tomatoes, cucumber, red onion, and crumbled feta cheese.
  • Coleslaw or broccoli slaw made with a vinegar-based dressing. (Timesaving tip: Buy ready-to-fix packages of chopped vegetables in the produce aisle).
  • Vegetables on skewers. Zucchini, summer squash, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and chunks of sweet onion work well. Brush with homemade or store-bought balsamic vinaigrette.

Food group: Protein foods – meats, poultry, seafood
Usual fare: Hot dogs, hamburgers, fried chicken, pork or beef ribs
Potential nutrition downfalls: High in fat
Healthier picnic pleasers:

  • Grill shrimp on skewers. Toss in a mix of herbs or spices and a small amount of oil to coat before putting on skewers. They’re ready in minutes on the grill.
  • Grill seafood kabobs. Use tuna, swordfish, and/or salmon, which are fish that won’t fall apart.
  • Grill chicken kabobs with white or dark meat. It’s an easy way to skip the skin (and fat).
  • Choose turkey hot dogs, turkey burgers, or chicken or turkey sausages. Serve them in whole- grain buns.
  • Cold cuts for sandwiches. Stick with lean turkey, ham, or roast beef, and skip (or have a small portion of) high-fat options such as salami, bologna, mortadella, and cheese.
  • Chicken or turkey salad. Add in grapes, raisins, celery, and/or onion. Mix with half light mayonnaise and half plain or Greek nonfat yogurt.

Food group: Fruit
Usual fare: Often missing in action
Healthier picnic pleasers:

  • Grill fruit to serve with the meal or as part of dessert. Peach halves and pineapple slices (fresh or canned) work well. Brush with juice to keep them moist.
  • Fruit kebabs. Put chunks of melon, strawberries, mango, and papaya on skewers.
  • Strawberries sliced and tossed in balsamic vinegar or sherry. Serve with a side of Greek yogurt or whipped cream.
  • Watermelon as a side dish. Cube watermelon, sprinkle with feta cheese.
  • Mix any type of dried fruit or grapes into one of the grain, noodle, or pasta salads noted above.

And last but not least, when your picnic allows for a side of exercise, bring along balls, ring toss, badminton equipment, or swim goggles to burn off a few of those calories!

Hope Warshaw, MMSc, RD, CDE*, is the author of several best-selling books published by the American Diabetes Association, including Diabetes Meal Planning Made Easy and Guide to Healthy Restaurant Eating. She’s a frequent contributor to Diabetic Living magazine. Warshaw is a paid contributor for The DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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