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How to Create a Healthy Picnic

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I love the idea of a picnic: green grass, beautiful sunny weather and enjoying great company over an amazing outdoor meal. Although my reality usually goes something like this: backache from dragging my cooler 200 feet from my car, numb bum from sitting on the ground, grass stains, flies and overheated food. This is when I realize I've got to turn my reality around and start to create the picnics I imagine. Here are some tips to build a happy, healthy picnic.

1. Storage: This is an important consideration. Not only will it keep your food at an appropriate temperature (which is very crucial in hot weather in order to maintain food safety), but it also dictates how much muscle power you need to get your food from point A to point B. Take food that needs minimal packaging and light equipment that you can carry on your back. Make sure it can fit a couple of ice packs to keep your food at an even cold temperature and you're good to go. The best tip: use frozen water bottles as your ice packs. Then you can drink them when they melt after the food is taken out, lessening your load on the way back.

2. What to eat: A healthy, happy picnic involves nutritious food as much as possible.

Sandwiches: Use whole-grain breads/tortillas, mustard and lean meats such as chicken and turkey. Don't forget vegetables like lettuce and sliced tomatoes (pack these separately so they don't get the sandwich soggy). Try and avoid processed luncheon meats that are high in fat and/or sodium.

Vegetables: Cut them up and place in Tupperware -- it's that easy. Pack a low-fat dip or hummus to accompany. Mix your favorite spices/fresh herbs into low-fat sour cream/yogurt and create a customized dip. Don't forget salads. They are easy to prepare in advance (greens or coleslaw) -- add a small amount of nuts and dried fruit for added flavor and bring a homemade dressing in a separate jar -- shake and serve. Try blending olive oil, vinegar, herbs and Dijon mustard. You can also use this for a whole-grain pasta salad with fresh veggies.

Fruit: It's great for dessert. Prepare fruit in advance and pair with a low-fat yogurt dip to help satisfy your sweet tooth. Great choices are berries, cherries, watermelon, orange wedges and cantaloupe. Bring some low-fat granola to add crunch -- don't forget the bowls.

On the grill: Bring lean cuts of meat such as skinless chicken breast, lean/extra-lean ground burgers or even some fish, like salmon. Remember to keep these chilled appropriately. When grilling, brush on some of the vinaigrette you made for your salad then you don't have to bring extra or processed marinade or sauce, which can be high in sodium.

3. Plan a fun activity: Don't forget to stay active and drink lots of water. Avoid sugar-sweetened beverages that may end up leaving you thirstier and add extra calories. Plan a fun activity to keep the whole family active after or before you eat.

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