June 18, 2013

Picnicking has always been a highlight of my summers. I love being outdoors when it's sunny and warm. In fact, I went picnicking with a few other Cooking Light staffers this weekend. We played Bananagrams, explored the local botanical gardens, fought off a colony of ants, and, of course, ate.

Here in Birmingham we have a whole store dedicated to picnics. You can rent a bike, a bocce set, an antique picnic basket and even buy food. But, as owner Nancy Tran knows, it's all too easy to default to unhealthy food: fried chicken, potato salad, rolls, soda ....

To keep things in balance, she serves food with lighter bases. For instance instead of a traditional mayo-based chicken salad, she uses fruit, lemon juice and celery. She has a few tips for keeping it healthy at picnic time:

  • Eat in smaller portions, but bring an array of different foods
  • Focus on fruit as a staple
  • Bring plenty of water!
  • Try using vinaigrettes in things that are typically mayo-based

Nancy has many fond memories of picnicking. Every Sunday growing up, her family would grab some food and head outside. It was a tradition.

"Picnics are great because they let you get back to the basics and relax," she says.

One thing that really makes picnics fun that people sometimes forget is games, she says. Get a little old school and bring out the croquet, or pack the bocce set. Board games are great too. And bring along a battery-powered radio for tunes.

She says the best time to head out is around dusk, when it's cooler outside. Sage advice, I wish we would have thought of before sweating a small river in the 90-degree Southern humidity last weekend.

Alas, I've got a whole summer to get it right, and today's the perfect chance -- it's international picnic day, after all.

Don't miss our tips on how to picnic safely, and our top-rated picnic recipes! And if you're headed out for July 4, we even have a whole portable menu planned for you.

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