picnic spread blue CC michell Zappa

A summer picnic is perfect for sun-filled socializing, but finding healthy foods that pack easily and stay fresh isn’t always a piece of cake.

In fact, just leave the cake at home.

Here are some tips and recipes to make your picnic basket meal a winner that won’t pack on the pounds.

Swaps This for That:

Mayonnaise For Mustard mustard CC Steven Lilley

Start making your favorite sandwich with mustard instead of mayonnaise and you’ll trim a lot of calories off your lunch. Just one teaspoon of mayonnaise has 68 calories compared to the same amount of mustard which has a mere 3 calories. That’s a savings of 65 calories. If you are a regular sandwich eater, the difference really adds up.

Lemonade for Unsweetened Iced Green Tea 

On sticky summer days, a cold iced drink is the best way to satisfy unquenchable thirst. One serving of lemonade can cost you over 200 calories though, so reach for an unsweetened iced green tea instead. Add a splash of lemon juice for a tart and refreshing way to quench your thirst without packing on the pounds. Two cups of lemonade has 131 calories and 31g car, while two cups unsweetened iced green tea only has 16 calories and 0 carbs.

Guacamole for Salsa mango salsa CC Maggie Hoffman

Guacamole is made with avocados, which is rich in vitamins A, C and E, and a natural source of heart healthy fats. However, avocado is still very high in calories. For a skinnier dip, go with salsa instead. A ¼ cup serving of guacamole can end up being as much as 108 calories, compared to salsa that weighs in at a mere 17 calories for the same ¼ cup serving. Another plus: the tomatoes and onions in salsa are high in fiber, which fills you up – not out.

Sports Drinks for Coconut Water

When the weather gets warm, it is important to stay hydrated. For dieters, dehydration can mimic the symptoms of hunger, which can lead to overeating and weight gain. Also, when we sweat our body loses electrolytes that must be replenished for optimal health. For rapid rehydration and for restoring electrolyte balance, coconut water is best – better than water – because it contains 5 essential electrolytes, including the same potassium as a banana.

Not all coconut waters are equal though, ZICO natural coconut water is tops in my opinion because it contains 1 ingredient – 100% coconut water with no added sugar. Plus, every sip is fat-free, gluten-free, lactose-free, dairy-free and cholesterol-free. Delicious on its own, but I also use ZICO as a mixer for light refreshing summer cocktails and mocktails or a base for smoothies.


Potato chips and onion dip is a combination of greasy fried carbohydrates and trans fat. Help your heart and cholesterol levels by switching to whole grain chips or crackers, and take along a nutritious dip such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, or low-fat yogurt with herbs and spices. Beans have poly- and monounsaturated fats which are beneficial to your health. Plus, these foods add a boost of fiber and protein to your diet.

White Bean Dip White bean dip CC Keith McDuffee


  • 1 15-ounce can cannellini (white kidney beans), rinsed and drained
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large cloves roasted garlic
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh flat leaf parsley
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel


Puree first 5 ingredients in processor until almost smooth, then transfer dip to small bowl and let cool in refrigerator until ready to pack.

Yield: 5 servings (1/4 cup each)

Nutrition: 104 calories, 2.6g fat, 13g carbohydrates, 3.9g fiber, 5.2g protein.

Black Bean Dip black bean dip CC Ginny


  • 1 six-ounce can black beans (pour a little liquid in as well)
  • 1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
  • 1/4 t. onion powder
  • 1/4 t. garlic powder
  • 1/2 t. coriander
  • dash of paprika
  • pinch of salt and pepper


  1. Drain beans, leaving some of the liquid, then rinse in a strainer.
  2. Add beans, reserved liquid, lemon juice, and all remaining ingredients to a food processor or blender.
  3. Process until smooth then taste and adjust seasonings as desired.
  4. Transfer dip to small bowl and let cool in refrigerator until ready to pack.

Serves: 6

Nutrition Content: Per Serving: 116 calories, 20g carbs, 1g fat, 5g fiber, 8g protein, 200mg sodium 

Main Course:

What’s a picnic without fried chicken? Licking the grease off of your fingers is surprisingly satisfying. It tastes so good, but unfortunately, one piece can pack on close to 500 calories and 28g of fat. This recipe is a healthier alternative that is sure to please your crispy craving. The nutty coating on this chicken makes it pleasing and mouth-watering. Who needs greasy fried chicken when you have this crusty, crunchy dish?

Crispy Pecan Chicken Fingers chicken fingers CC meal makeover moms


  • 4 four-ounce boneless, skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup non- fat buttermilk or non- fat plain yogurt
  • 2 cups any plain bran flake cereal
  • 1/3 cup finely chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon lemon pepper
  • ¾ teaspoon poultry seasoning
  • ¼ teaspoon salt


  1. Place a chicken breast between 2 sheets of plastic wrap and flatten with a meat mallet to ½ inch thickness. Repeat with remaining breasts.
  2. Place the chicken in a glass bowl and cover with the buttermilk. Turn the chicken to coat. Cover, and refrigerate for 6 to 24 hours, turning occasionally.
  3. Put the cereal in the food processor and process into coarse crumbs. Alternatively you can put the cereal in a resealable plastic bag and crush with a rolling pin or with your hands. You will have approximately 1 cup of crumbs. Put the crumbs in a shallow dish and add the pecans, lemon pepper, poultry seasoning, and salt. Stir to combine.
  4. Remove the chicken from the buttermilk and shake off excess. Dip the chicken in the cereal mixture, turning to coat both sides well.
  5. Coat a baking sheet with cooking spray and arrange the chicken in a single layer. Coat the tops lightly with cooking spray and bake at 400F for about 25 minutes, or until the chicken is crisp and gold on the outside and is cooked through. Serve hot.

Serves: 4

Nutrition Content: Per Serving: 357 calories, 21g carbohydrate,4g fiber,41g protein,13g total fat,2g sat. Fat, 686mg sodium

On The Side:

You may think this is one of the healthier side dishes at a picnic, considering it is a “salad.” However 1 cup of coleslaw contains 360 calories and 20 grams of fat!

Swapping full fat mayonnaise for Greek yogurt not only saves you tons of calories and artery clogging fat, but Greek yogurt provides you with a whopping 18 grams of protein. Pre-packaged broccoli slaw makes this healthy summer salad extra easy and adds extra flavor and fiber. This tasty side is a wonderfully filling combination of fiber and protein.

Broccoli Slaw broccoli slaw CC iris


  • 2 bags shredded broccoli Cole slaw (regular Cole slaw mix may be substituted)
  • 2 cups shredded purple cabbage
  • 1 cup diced green onions
  • 1 cup shredded carrots
  • 1 cup non- fat Greek Yogurt
  • 4 tbsp vinegar
  • 4 tsp Splenda no-calorie sweetener
  • 1 tablespoon slivered almonds (optional)


  1. Combine broccoli slaw, carrots, and raisins in a bowl.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk Greek yogurt, cider vinegar, mustard, and Splenda together.
  3. Empty your mixture into a large container. Put your dressing into a separate container
  4. Store both in your cooler and pour over salad once you get to your picnic.
  5. Sprinkle with slivered almonds and serve.

Serves: 6

Nutrition Content: Per Serving: 60 calories, 7g carbs, 4g fiber, 4g protein, 0g fat, 48mg sodium

Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS RD, is a Registered Dietitian in private practice in Manhattan and founder of the F-Factor Diet.  (Photos CC: Michell Zappa, Keith McDuffee, Meal Makeover Moms, Iris, Steven Lilley, Maggie Hoffman)


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