How to Pack a Healthy Picnic — Summer Soiree

Follow these 5 picnicking tips for a healthy and portable outdoor feast.
By: Emily Lee
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Food Stylist: Susan Spungen Prop Stylist: Pamela Duncan Silver

Photo by: Anna Williams

Anna Williams

The season of alfresco dining is upon us, which means it’s time to dust off your red-and-white-checkered blanket and head to the park for a summer feast. But before you reach for lackluster salads and slaws prepared at the supermarket, check out these five tips for packing your picnic basket with healthy homemade treats that showcase seasonal ingredients. If you’re worried about food spoiling in the sun, rest assured: You can still bypass prepackaged, preservative-laced options in favor of homemade recipes.

1. Skip the chips and go for seasonal snacks.

Processed snacks fall flat on the tastebuds and heavy around the waistband, so skip the potato chips and pop a few of these plump  Stuffed Cherry Tomatoes (pictured above) in your mouth instead. Before preparing this recipe, head to your local farmers market to scout out heirloom cherry tomatoes in varying shades of red, gold, pink and even green. The sweet skins make the perfect casing for cubes of salty feta.

PESTO POTATO SALAD, Ellie Krieger, Healthy Appetite with Ellie Krieger/Cool Food, Food Network, Small Red Potatoes, Yellow Pepper, Red Pepper, Basil Pesto, Pine Nuts, Basil Leaves, Parmesan, Lemon Juice, Olive Oil

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

2. Keep it fresh with mayo-free salads.

When it comes to choosing a picnic salad, steer clear of mayo-laden recipes. This will trim the calorie count and you’ll be able to taste something other than creamy mayo. Ellie Krieger’s Pesto Potato Salad combines tender red potato wedges with crisp bell pepper pieces, all tossed together in an invigorating homemade pesto sauce.

3. Make-ahead mains are the key to hassle-free picnicking.

When it comes to packing a picnic, not all meats are created equal. Burgers and franks are better hot off the grill, so choose a protein source that you can cook the night before, then cool, slice and pack for your picnic the next day. This Grilled Pork Tenderloin a la Rodriguez will be just as appetizing at the park as in your own backyard. Try the succulent pork simply sliced and served with a side of Orange-Habanero Mojo — or bring rolls to build hearty sandwiches.

Ina Garten's Confetti Corn for Summer Healthy Grilling as seen on Food Network

Photo by: Stephen Johnson ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Stephen Johnson, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

4. Choose salads that won’t get soggy.

We can all appreciate the invigorating crunch from a fresh head of romaine, but unfortunately, your standard lettuce-based salad will likely wilt or turn soggy in the sun (especially if it’s dressed before serving). But that doesn’t mean you should ditch vegetables altogether. You can still showcase summer produce with lettuce-free side dishes, like Ina’s Confetti Corn, a seasonal medley of corn, orange bell pepper and fresh herbs.

FNK STRAWBERRYALMOND CEREAL BARS, Food Network Kitchen, Unsalted Butter, Mini Marshmallows, Almond Butter, Vanilla Extract, Crispy Rice Cereal, Freeze Dried Strawberries, White Chocolate Chips

Photo by: Matt Armendariz ©2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

Matt Armendariz, 2014, Television Food Network, G.P. All Rights Reserved

5. Hand-held desserts reign supreme.

When packing your picnic basket, save cake — and the utensils necessary to consume it — for at-home entertaining. These No-Bake Healthy Strawberry-Almond Cereal Bars pay homage to strawberry shortcake, a classic summer dessert (albeit not the most portable). This picnic-friendly version calls for freeze-dried strawberries, which deliver intense berry flavor and satisfying crunch. The best part is, you won’t even have to turn on your oven.

Get more picnic recipes from our friends:

Buckwheat Double Dark Chocolate Brownie Cookies: Buckwheat Double Dark Chocolate Brownie Cookies

Elephants and the Coconut Trees: Fruit Sandwich
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