Westchester Hospital Dietician Discusses the Ultimate Picnic Basket

Posted on: July 18, 2013

The Ultimate Healthy Picnic Basket

by Stephanie Perruzza, MS, RD, CDN, Northern Westchester Hospital

picnic-basketThe summer heat has picked up and with it the popularity of getting together and enjoying a nice meal outdoors.  Whether you’re planning a romantic, family or company picnic; it’s important to have the right cuisine for the occasion. So grab a blanket (checkered pattern optional), a spot with pleasant view, and these picnic basket goodies below to have the ultimate picnic!

#1 Finger Foods

Focus on food items that are lighter and portable that don’t require any cutting or much assembling. Pre-made finger foods such as grilled chicken, salmon or veggie sandwiches on multi-grain bread or 100% whole-wheat pitas are great options.  Opt for a light dressing varieties, low-sodium sauces and skip the cheese to cut down further on calories and fat.

#2 Cool Drinks

It’s extremely important stay to hydrated in the summer heat. Pack a cooler with plenty of ice and add a variety of low-calorie, low-sugar beverages such as unsweetened flavored tea or flavored water. Some of my favorite additions to water are cucumber, ginger, orange, lemon or lime wedges, even a little mint (hey, it’s worth a try)!!

#3 Side Dishes 

A meal isn’t complete without some yummy, crunchy side dishes! Pack sides that are easy to transport and can be stored in containers with ingredients that won’t spoil.  Healthier options include fresh fruits, veggies, edamame beans and tossed salads. Another option is to bring quinoa, buckwheat or whole wheat pasta salads without added mayonnaise, sour cream and heavy dressings.

#4 Something Sweet

Fresh fruit, baked nut or fruit bites make a great dessert option when picnicking.  Avoid sweets with icings or cream fillings, which are higher in calories and may melt in the warm temperature.  Homemade frozen fruit pops are a healthier sweet snack and can help quench your thirst!  Try making them for your next picnic with strawberries, peaches, mangoes or watermelon, which are in season.

#5 Essentials

Always remember to bring the basics!  You may not have a bathroom at your disposal, so bringing trusty paper towels, hand sanitizer or disinfectant whips ensure proper cleanup and keeping bacteria at bay.  Also, make sure to bring bug spray and sunscreen to keep your day burn and bug bite-free!

Practicing Safe Picnicking

Foods are more susceptible to bacterial growth in moist, warmer temperatures. Specific picnic foods bacteria’s love include raw or cooked meats and poultry, moist cheeses, cut fruit and mayonnaise-based side dishes such as pasta and potato salads.  To avoid bacterial contamination, remember to practice safe food handling.  This means thoroughly washing your hands and cooking/serving plates and utensils to avoid cross contamination between raw and cooked food items.  Most importantly, make sure to monitor food temperatures and standing time.  Keep cold food cold (less than 40°F) in an insulated cooler with ice packs and hot food hot (at or above 140°F) by wrapping and placing in insulated containers until serving time.  Unrefrigerated food items should not sit for longer than 2 hours; if the temperature is above 90°F than food should be discarded after 1 hour.

Orzo Salad with Radish and Fennel
Courtesy of Myrecipes.com

Serves 4


8 oz. uncooked orzo (rice-shaped pasta)
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
¼ cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
½ tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 ½ cups diced fennel (about 1 bulb
½ cup chopped radish
3 Tbsp. chopped fresh mint
3 Tbsp. minced green onions
½ tsp. Kosher salt
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted


1. Cook orzo pasta with 1 Tbsp. Kosher salt according to the package directions, omitting additional fat. Drain and rinse with cold water. Drain well.

2. Combine lemon juice and the next 3 ingredients (through pepper) in a large bowl; stir well with a whisk. Add orzo, fennel, and the next 4 ingredients (through ½ teaspoon salt); toss well to coat. Cover and chill. Top with nuts before serving.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1-1/4 cup pasta, 4 tsp. nuts

Calories 393
Protein 10g
Fat 19.1g
Sat Fat 2.3g
Mono Fat 9.6g
Poly Fat 5.4g
Carbohydrates 48.8g
Fiber 4.1g
Sodium 517mg
Cholesterol 0mg

Confetti Slaw with Poppy-Seed Dressing
Courtesy of Health.com

Serves 4


2 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1 ½ tsp. honey
1 ½ tsp. Dijon mustard
1 ½ tsp. chopped fresh dill
1 tsp. poppy seeds
1 tsp. olive oil
¼ tsp. salt
¼ tsp. pepper
1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
1 cup thinly sliced red cabbage
½ cup pre-cut matchstick carrots


1. Combine first 8 ingredients (through pepper) into a bowl. Add cabbage and carrots; toss to coat.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 2/3 cup

Calories 40
Protein 1g
Fat 2g
Sat Fat 0.2g
Mono Fat 0.9g
Poly Fat 0.2g
Carbohydrates 6g
Fiber 1g
Sodium 205mg
Cholesterol 0mg

Easy Lemon Squares
Courtesy of Myrecipes.com

Serves 16


¼ cup granulated sugar
3 Tbsp. butter or stick margarine, softened
1 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
¾ cup granulated sugar
2 tsp. grated lemon rind
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
3 Tbsp. all-purpose flour
½ tsp. baking powder
1/8 tsp. salt
2 tsp. powdered sugar


1. Preheat oven to 350°

2. To prepare crust, beat ¼ cup granulated sugar and the butter at medium speed of a mixer until creamy. Lightly spoon 1 cup flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Gradually add 1 cup flour to sugar mixture, beating at low speed until mixture resembles fine crumbs. Gently press mixture into bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes; cool on wire rack.

3. To prepare topping, beat eggs at medium speed until foamy. Add ¾ cup granulated sugar and next 5 ingredients (¾ cup granulated sugar through salt), and beat until well-blended. Pour mixture over partially baked crust. Bake at 350° for 20 to 25 minutes or until set. Cool on wire rack. Sift powdered sugar evenly over top.

Nutrition Facts
Serving Size 1 square

Calories 118
Protein 2.2g
Fat 3.2g
Sat Fat 1.7g
Mono Fat 1g
Poly Fat 0.3g
Carbohydrates 20.5g
Fiber 0.3g
Sodium 68mg
Cholesterol 47mg