Menu Makeover: Plan a Healthy Picnic

Planning a summer picnic or barbeque? Consider offering some dishes that are on the lighter side. It’ll help take the stress out of what to eat for you and others who are focused on healthy eating. Check out the menu makeover below, which compares some typical barbeque foods to some healthier ideas and recipes that are all just as tasty. Even your less health-conscious guests will enjoy them!

Traditional Burger:

Cheeseburger (patty made with 3 ounces of 70% lean/30% fat ground meat) plus a slice of cheddar cheese, slice of tomato, lettuce, and 1 tablespoon mayonnaise; all on a white hamburger bun.

Nutrition Info: 555 calories, 22 g carb, 14 g saturated fat, 550 mg sodium

Change it up:

Buying leaner ground beef or turkey to make your hamburger patties will go a long way and help you cut calories and saturated fat. Look for ground turkey or beef that is labeled 90% or more lean. You can also save on calories and saturated fat by choosing reduced fat cheese and offering some burgers without cheese.

For toppings, offer typical tomatoes and lettuce, but you can also include some other nutritious toppings like fresh onion slices, sautéed mushrooms and onions, and avocado.

Some condiments, like mayo are high in calories, which can add up quickly. Others, like ketchup and barbeque sauce, can have a significant amount of carbohydrates in just a small serving. When adding sauces or other condiments, be conservative. You might be surprised, but a little bit often goes a long way. Some lower-calorie, lower carbohydrate condiments are mustard and salsa.

For a burger on the lighter side, try:
Hamburger (patty made with 3 ounces of 93% lean/7% fat ground turkey) plus 3 slices of avocado, a slice of tomato, lettuce, and few onion slices; all on a 100% whole wheat bun.

Nutrition Info: 335 calories, 25 g carb, 4 g saturated fat, 375 mg sodium

Making just a few small changes saves over 200 calories, 10 grams of saturated fat, and more than 150 mg of sodium – all for about the same amount of carbohydrate! We used leaner meat for the burger, skipped the cheese, and added some more vegetables and low-calorie mustard. We also substituted a 100% whole wheat bun for the white bun. These are great substitutions if you’re trying to eat healthier.

Another good option might be to offer mini burgers or sliders, like our Healthy Mexican Sliders (225 calories, 21 grams carbohydrate, 2 grams saturated fat, and 230 mg sodium). That way, guests have the option to choose smaller portions of meat and can fill their plates with more vegetables and other healthy sides.

You can also offer main dishes other than hamburgers such as kabobs with vegetables and chicken, grilled portabella mushrooms, veggie burgers, marinated grilled chicken (like our Grilled Mango Chicken), or grilled salmon.

Once you’ve chosen your entrée, it’s time to plan out which side dishes to offer. Keep in mind that sides can still make or break your meal, so choose carefully. 

Original Sides:

  • Creamy macaroni salad - ½ cup has 170 calories, 19 g carbohydrate, 1.5 g saturated fat, and 460 mg sodium
  • Creamy potato salad - ½ cup has 180 calories, 14 g carb, 1.8 g saturated fat, and 660 mg sodium
  • Traditional Caesar salad - 2 cups has 335 calories, 14 g carb, 5 g saturated fat, 510 mg sodium

If you were to put a serving of all three on your plate, your sides alone would provide: 685 calories, 47 grams of carb, 8.3 grams of saturated fat, and 1,630 mg of sodium.

Don’t let the word “salad” deceive you. The salads above are all typically doused in creamy, high-calorie dressings. If you can’t imagine your barbeque without pasta salad or potato salad, simply look for lighter versions of these recipes right here on Recipes for Healthy Living. When you can, offer dressings (including some low-fat or fat-free) on the side and allow your guests to serve themselves. 

Also, remember the Diabetes Plate Method suggests filling half of your plate with non-starchy vegetables. Try to offer a few dishes that focus on these lower-calorie, lower-carbohydrate vegetables along with a starchy side or two.

Some lighter sides to offer:

  • Black Bean and Corn Salad - ½ cup has 110 calories, 16 g carbohydrates, 0.6 g saturated fat, and 50 mg sodium
  • Southern Broccoli Salad – one serving has 85 calories, 11 g carbohydrates, 1.2 g saturated fat, and 285 mg sodium
  • Grilled vegetables (zucchini, summer squash and eggplant lightly brushed with olive oil and then grilled) - 1 cup has about 75 calories, 7 g carbohydrates, 0.7 g saturated fat, and 10 mg sodium

If you were to puta serving of all three on your plate, you’d have about: 270 calories, 34 grams of carbohydrate, 2.5 grams of saturated fat, and 245 mg of sodium.

Some other tasty side recipes you might be interested in are our Parmesan Corn on the Cob, Grilled Vegetable Pasta Salad, or Herb Potato Salad.

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