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Pack your basket! It's International Picnic Day.

Photo Courtesy of Green Central Station.

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.

Green Central Station, a store solely dedicated to picnics, in Birmingham, Alabama.

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.