The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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July 8, 2014

Plenty of ways to keep the picnic health-conscious

Q. We are planning a picnic for a large group of family and friends in a few weeks. I know that many of them are really health-conscious so I would like to make sure there are good food choices for them. What can I make that tastes good, is healthy and picnic-friendly?

A. Summer is the time for enjoying the outdoors. Creating a healthy picnic menu requires some advance planning, a few adjustments and maybe even a little creativity, but you and your guests can still enjoy a full and satisfying picnic experience without all the extra calories and fat.

Start with whole grain breads, rolls, wraps or pitas for sandwiches. Plant-based sandwich fillings include hummus, seasonal vegetables, avocado, beans, nut butters, grilled eggplant and portabella mushrooms. For non-plant protein choices, choose leaner meats, white meat chicken or turkey, tuna, hard-boiled eggs, fish or yogurt.

Boost your vegetable intake by adding cut-up tomatoes, green peppers, cucumbers or onions and serve with a nutritious dip such as hummus or salsa. Vegetables on the grill are another tasty delight. Try marinated veggie kabobs or slices of red peppers, mushrooms and squash thrown on the grill for a great side dish or appetizer. Slice up the veggies ahead of time for simplicity, and make clean-up a breeze by wrapping them up in foil before grilling.

What kind of picnic would it be without a watermelon? The red, juicy fruit is the perfect picnic dessert; it's very low in calories, and now comes in the new smaller, personal size. Fruit salads, fruit kabobs and bowls of grapes or cherries also make refreshing, sweet and nutritious finales to a healthy picnic.

Make salads using whole grains. Some options include whole-grain pasta, brown rice, couscous, quinoa and bulgur. Add more seasonal vegetables like red, green and yellow peppers, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, and green and yellow squash. Increase fiber by tossing in some beans, nuts, seeds and fresh or dried fruit. Be aware that salad dressing, whether it be mayonnaise- or oil-based, can be high in calories. Use less dressing or a lower-fat version and watch portion sizes.

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