Picnicking Prep for a Healthful Outing

By Eli Follick

One activity I enjoyed as I was growing up was the family picnic. We usually went to a park to find a shady spot with a view that included a lake. After setting everything out, my father would get the portable grill ready to make hot dogs and hamburgers. My mother would begin laying out the creamy homemade potato salad and coleslaw, along with napkins, flatware, and cups for lemonade. The children would play hide-and-seek behind the trees until called.

I still love picnicking and enjoying nature. Living in Albuquerque for 37 years, I have explored many places all over New Mexico. I have favorites throughout the state. One spot I go to several times before summer’s end is the Doc Long picnic area along the road to Sandia Crest. Another one, about an hour and half north of Albuquerque, is a picnic area next to Abiquiu Lake. It’s a bit of a round-trip drive but well worth a day.

However, picnics aren’t always, well, a picnic, if you aren’t adequately prepared. It’s important to have the appropriate equipment to ensure a smooth and successful day. I have a cooler that has a handle and wheels, so when I lift it from the trunk, I can wheel it to where I want to picnic.

Many folks like to barbecue, but because of the fire danger during the last few years, I have tended to prepare any grilled food ahead of time at home. I also have a thermos container that holds two quarts that will keep water cold and sometimes contains lemonade (made with non-sugar sweeteners). However, I also take along some bottled water to use for washing hands and utensils. When I put ice in the cooler, I usually put the ice in doubled gallon storage bags so when it melts, rather than wetting everything, the water is contained.

The biggest and most significant difference between my youthful picnics and today is the limit processed, fatty, sugary and salty foods I take. Medical issues have required that I steer toward a mostly plant-based diet that includes healthful sources of protein and carbohydrates, with very little fat. So, I try to keep my picnic menu comparable to what I may eat at home.

My main dish is usually a salad, and I include a protein. This could be baked salmon, a skinless piece of baked chicken, some lean beef or pork, or, even, a serving of tofu. I also try to add a whole grain to the plate, like quinoa or brown rice. The addition of a slice or two of whole wheat bread adds to the satiety of the meal.

The salad is where I use my imagination to gussy things up. I start with the greens, which could be romaine lettuce, baby spinach, or kale. The vegetables would include tomatoes, celery, carrots, red, green, yellow or orange peppers, artichoke hearts, peas or beans. I also often add some walnuts or almonds and/or pieces of citrus fruit like oranges and tangerines. Raisins are another good choice. Salad dressing can be used sparingly, but it’s best not to overdose on fatty, sugar-loaded add-ons. I like the salad to fill half the plate, with the protein, the whole grain and the bread to fill the other half of the plate.

For dessert, enjoy some of the sweet in-season offerings. It’s summertime, enjoy the weather, the trip, the food, the activity, and come back feeling satisfied and healthy. It’s all part of your journey to health.

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