Packing a healthy summer picnic

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by Whitney Smith

Outdoor picnics are a quintessential part of summer, whether it be while camping, grilling out with friends or enjoying a midday break on USC’s historic Horseshoe. Campus Wellness Director Marguerite O’Brien and Registered Dietitian Sarah Walsh offer some advice on what to eat and how to pack it. 

How to build a healthy picnic 

Before packing your picnic, use MyPlate as a resource for ensuring that you are choosing the recommended servings from each food group. This tool will help you decide what and how much to pack. 

Some healthy ideas for what to serve at your picnic include fruit kabobs. Simply layer diced fruit like pineapple and mango on a skewer and serve with Greek yogurt for dipping. Other easy-to-pack finger foods, like hummus and raw vegetables or whole grain crackers are simple and healthy options to pack for snacking throughout the day.

When deciding what to serve as a main course, consider packing salads in a jar. Layer your desired dressing on the bottom and subsequently layer heavier items so the lettuce doesn’t bruise or become slimy. This can also be done with pasta salad for the perfect portion sizes.

Salad in a jar idea (ingredients layered from bottom to top of jar): balsamic vinaigrette, chickpeas (rinsed and drained), carrots, cooked chicken breast, cucumbers and romaine lettuce.
Pasta salad in a jar idea (ingredients layered from bottom to top of jar): pesto sauce, cherry tomatoes (cut in halves), mozzarella cheese chunks, cooked whole wheat pasta.

Registered Dietitian Sarah Walsh said, “Bean and quinoa salads are my favorite because they can be made ahead of time and get better flavor with time.”

Walsh suggests trying a Greek quinoa salad for an easy and flavorful addition to your picnic. 

Greek Quinoa Salad, Serves: 6-8
Ingredients: • 1-1/2 cups cooked quinoa • 1 medium tomato, quartered and thinly sliced • 1/4 cucumber, halved and thinly sliced • 1/4 medium red onion, thinly sliced • 1/2 cup canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained • 1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese • 2 tablespoons Kalamata olives, pitted and halved • 1 heaping tablespoon sliced pepperoncini • 1 tablespoon capers

For the Greek salad dressing: • 1/4 cup olive oil • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt • Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Directions: 1. In large bowl, toss all salad ingredients until combined. Serve immediately with Greek salad dressing or refrigerate up to 3 days.

Storage, separation and safety

Campus Wellness Director Marguerite O’Brien said, “The proper storage of food is crucial, especially when packing food that needs refrigeration.”

A good way to ensure that your food stays fresh is to separate food and drink coolers or containers. A cooler that has drinks in it will be likely be opened frequently and will prevent perishable food from being properly cooled. Perishable cold food items should be at 40 degrees or below and should not be out for longer than two hours (one hour if temperature is above 80 degrees). If you are grilling, use separate coolers for raw foods and ready-to-eat foods.

If you are grilling, remember to use a food thermometer to ensure that all food is cooked to the appropriate temperature. Cooked meats should be at least 160 degrees F. Also remember to wrap raw meat securely to prevent any juices from leaking and cross contaminating ready-to-eat foods.

Always wear sunscreen when enjoying your outdoor picnic to avoid burns, even if you are camping in the woods. Also make sure that you are drinking plenty of water, especially if you are outside for a prolonged period of time.

Nutrition consultations through Student Health Services

Unsure of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle? Campus Wellness offers students, faculty and staff one-on-one nutrition counseling for nutrition-related needs such as weight management and sports nutrition. Each nutrition session is overseen by a registered dietitian and is individualized to meet each person’s specific health and wellness needs.

Nutrition counseling is normally done over several sessions in order to help meet an individual’s goals. All sessions focus on making life-long lifestyle changes, instead of focusing on short-term diets.

Initial sessions last up to 60 minutes. Complete and bring a food record form to the first appointment in order for the dietitians to analyze your diet and determine your current intake versus your needs. Together, you and the dietitian will determine appropriate goals for you to work on until your next follow-up session. Follow-up sessions will last up to 30 minutes and are scheduled depending on a frequency decided upon by you and the dietitian.

One-one-one consultations are available to students, faculty and staff. Full-time students can be seen for free; part-time students, faculty and staff may be seen for a fee. Check with the Thomson Student Health Center business office for current fees at (803) 777-3174.

Appointments are scheduled from 8 a.m. –  5 p.m., Monday-Friday. Schedule appointments online at MyHealthSpace, or call 803-777-3175.

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