Sylvia Meo, R.D.
My Food Solutions for an Impromptu, Healthy and Hassle-Free Picnic
Updated: Oct 21, 2020
Sadly, we are already halfway into August, and just a couple of weeks away from the back-to-school and back-to-routine time of year. For this reason I figured I would give us all a good reason to spend more time outdoors and make the most of the warm, sunny days and nights left. We all have to eat anyways, so why not seize every opportunity we have left to do it outdoors and best of all, if you have kids, they get to run around and play in nature during mealtime while you peacefully enjoy your meal, maybe even a good glass of wine and great views. So dust off a good-sized blanket, grab a basket and follow my easy tips to plan a healthy picnic with family or friends, at a moment’s notice, anytime, anywhere!
My no-fail rule is to focus on foods that are easily portable, don’t require much prepping and are very versatile. In other words, each food can be eaten on its own but can also be used to build the perfect dish or meal: a salad or grain bowl for some, a sandwich or a mixed grazing platter for others.
Fresh and dried fruits are the perfect finger foods on their own, but are also great paired with cheese, nuts and other foods for a quick snack or the perfect platter.
For fresh fruits, I like to grab fruits that we can easily eat with our hands and that I don’t have to prepare or cut up ahead of time, unless I already have! A variety of berries, stone fruits (plums, apricots, peaches, nectarines, etc.), apples and grapes are my usual go-tos! Fruits also make a great addition to any salad built on vegetables or grains like pasta, quinoa or any other grain you may have left over in the refrigerator from a previous meal.
Vegetables are always appreciated and also practical as finger foods. Cherry tomatoes, Lebanese or small garden cucumbers, baby carrots, celery sticks are all great choices, but the idea of simply grabbing a pre-washed and pre-cut organic vegetable platter from my local grocery store is definitely a winning option for this mamma!
Raw vegetables add freshness, crunch and nutrients to your meal. I also like to add some pickles, pitted olives, maybe some other pickled vegetable to the mix. They add a touch of salty, briny flavor to a grazing platter and are amazing layered into any other dish!
Dips, Sauces and More
As much as I love munching on raw vegetables and am not a huge fan of the creamy, fatty dressings that are often served with them, I do love a healthy dip. One that contains some protein, fiber, good fats, that is also plant-based and has a clean ingredient list like the babaghanouj and various hummus dips by Sunflower Kitchen. They also have four pestos and three salsas that can be used as a condiment, dip, sauce or salad dressing, adding healthy greens, a burst of antioxidants or a shot of spice to any dish. All of their products are ready-to-eat and perfect for an impromptu, healthy picnic! If you are craving a little more sustenance, they have a line of organic chili that comes in three flavors, a meal on its own or a delicious protein and fiber rich food to add to your picnic.
All of Sunflower Kitchen's products are non-GMO and gluten-free verified, vegan, kosher, they contain no dairy, nuts, preservatives, added sugars or artificial flavors, and some are even organic!
As you may have noticed I love myself a healthy, mixed food platter for a picnic meal idea. Actually I love any type of grazing or cheese or charcuterie board and platter anytime! Fruits, crudités, healthy dips, what else should we add besides a good bottle of wine? As a registered dietitian when I think of any meal I want it to taste good, be healthy and be satisfying. In other words, it needs to have fiber, healthy fats and protein. Nuts and seeds of course meet all of those criteria, but I absolutely love Three Farmers roasted pulse snacks when I need something something crunchy and savory.
They are rich in protein and fiber, highly nutritious, don’t have the high calories and fat that nuts and seeds have, are more nutritious and healthy than chips, and are produced in a nut and peanut free facility making them suitable for all! They are made with dry roasted, minimally processed, non-genetically modified and 100% Canadian grown whole chickpeas, peas and lentils. They are available in a wide selection of flavors and are perfect as is or used as salad, cold pasta or grain bowl toppers.
Healthy High-Protein Foods
Of course cheese would be a great addition to any meal, especially if served platter style, but I also love having canned sardines, salmon, tuna and mackerel. Not only are they a healthier source of protein, but they are perfectly portable, great for munching, topping a salad or filling a sandwich. We also don’t need to worry about spoilage, nor having to prep or cook anything ahead of time. Another healthy and high-protein food I always have in my freezer are the plant-based veggie burgers by MorningStar Farms.
I love these burgers because they are tasty, satisfying and ready in no time (they cook from frozen in about 8 minutes) and they make it super easy to eat more plant-based proteins. Kids and adults alike will love them, including your toughest plant-based skeptics! These veggie burgers are made with real food and ingredients that you can see and recognize, like chickpeas, black beans and red peppers, contain no artificial colors or flavors, are a source of fiber and offer 9 to 11 grams of plant-protein and 110 to 130 calories per patty. They come in three unique flavors (Harvest Veggie Burgers, Spicy Black Bean Burgers and Mediterranean Chickpea Burgers) and are incredibly versatile. You can keep them whole or cut them into quarters or strips and they make the perfect finger food, topping for any vegetable or grain salad, or filling for a sandwich! A convenient, hassle-free, wholesome and healthy option for an impromptu picnic.
Breads and Grains
Bread is great to munch on just like that, spread foods on or turn into a sandwich. If like me you like the idea of planning a mixed grazing platter type of picnic, you will want to grab a fresh baked baguette or focaccia or fougasse from your favorite bakery! I also always have a bag of tortilla or pita bread on hand because I love using them to make my healthy version of homemade chips. Simply cut them into triangles, drizzle lightly with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and any dried herb of your choice. They are delicious, good for you and can be turned into an edible spoon for scooping up the hummus, salsa, chili or any other food.
If the mixed grazing platter is simply not your thing, fear not! Maybe you are the type to cook big batches of grains or pasta for the week ahead or like me you often have a bowl of leftover pasta from a previous meal in the refrigerator, if so, add them to your basket! These make a great base for a cold pasta salad or grain bowl which you can customize with the textures and flavors of all the other foods I mentioned above.
Finally, you’ll need something to drink at your picnic, of course a chilled bottle of wine is always a good idea, but you will need something more hydrating, especially if it is hot out! Avoid sugary drinks and instead make your own fruit-flavored drinks by making sure to pack some plain filtered water, sparkling water or seltzers and ice or simply pop them in the freezer for 20-30 minutes before leaving the house. Once you are set up and ready to dig into your meal, add some cut up fruits to your glass and top it with your water of choice. An hydrating drink that is naturally fruit-flavored, and delicious! If you have fresh herbs in your garden, pack a few sprigs of mint or basil and add some to your water as well for an extra refreshing flavor. If you prefer drinking iced tea or lemonade, skip the sugary options that are out there and make your own, it's so simple and much better for you. Just boil some water, steep your favorite tea or tisane, then add lots of ice to a portable bottle and pour the hot brew over it. A natural, healthy and refreshing iced tea in minutes!
For a touch of sweetness without using any added, refined sugars I love to use Maple 3 maple water to either steep my tea or freeze into ice cubes and throw them into my portable bottle or a Mason jar. I get a chilled and flavorful beverage in one easy step! The Maple 3 maple water is a lightly, yet naturally sweetened water making it a healthier beverage alternative to juices or any other sweet drink. It is low in calories, contains some minerals, vitamins and antioxidants, and has a subtle sweet flavor without any added sugars or preservatives. You can drink it pure, straight from the bottle, or use it like I do to replace some of the water in a beverage you would normally prefer a little sweeter.
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*This post is in collaboration with Sunflower Kitchen, MorningStar Farms, Three Farmers and Maple3. All content, opinions, tips and information are my own.