Summer Picnic Makeover

Enjoy your summer party with great tasting, flavor-packed healthy food.

Lara Rondinelli By Lara Rondinelli, RD, LDN, CDE

Summer is upon us and with the warm weather comes picnics, parties and barbecues filled with mouth-watering foods such as hot dogs, burgers, potato salad, fried chicken, coleslaw, and scrumptious desserts. Although these foods may taste good, they are often loaded with artery clogging fat and tons of calories, which means that eating them is doing no favors to your health or your waistline. But here's good news: You can still enjoy your summer party with great tasting, flavor-packed healthy food. All it takes is a tiny bit of culinary ingenuity.

Here are ways to healthy up some of your favorite picnic foods:

  • Substitute lean ground turkey for beef in your burgers. Many people are afraid of turkey and think that is going to taste dry and boring, but this in untrue. Just add some herbs, seasonings, lettuce, tomato and serve on a whole-grain bun for some added fiber. Remember to hold the cheese (or choose a reduced-fat variety), because it can be a big source of saturated fat. See my Hearty Turkey Burger recipe.
  • Many summer picnics are not complete without potato or pasta salad. These salads are usually loaded with high-fat mayonnaise and/or sour cream. You can substitute light mayonnaise and light sour cream in almost any recipe. To further reduce fat and calories, you can substitute equal parts light mayonnaise and fat-free plain yogurt for regular mayonnaise. For example, if a recipe calls for ½ cup regular mayonnaise, you can use ¼ cup light mayonnaise and ¼ cup fat-free plain yogurt. The yogurt contributes to the creamy texture without adding fat and you can't really taste the yogurt in the recipe.
  • Cole slaw is also a popular, summer side dish that is usually full of fat and calories. You can make a lighter version by using a vinegar and oil dressing (go light on the oil). You can also add some toasted sesame seeds and rice wine vinegar if you'd like a delicious, Asian twist.
  • Turkey versions of hot dogs, bratwurst, and Italian sausage are available and although many of these products are not low-fat, they are lower in fat than the beef and pork varieties, and most are very tasty. And unless you have whole-grain hot dog rolls, skip the roll and eat with a fork and knife.
  • Grilled chicken is always a healthier choice than fried chicken. But if you really want that crunchy texture, you can coat chicken breast in cornflake crumbs and bake it in the oven. This will save you lots of fat and calories, but still give you the wealth of flavor and crunch you expect from fried chicken.
  • No picnic is complete without dessert. Summer is the time to take advantage of fresh fruit. Make a great fruit salad by chopping up a variety of melons, grapes, kiwi, and berries. Or make fun, fruit kabobs and serve with a dipping sauce made from yogurt. You can also make a sugar-free gelatin mold and serve with fresh berries and light whipped topping. Or try grilled fruit for a nice summer treat –– the taste is amazing. Grilling brings out the sweetness in fruits. You can grill peaches, apples, bananas, pineapple. They'll taste great served alone or with some light ice cream or yogurt. Yum!


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Last Modified Date: April 11, 2013

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