When the weather is warm, potlucks, cookouts and picnics abound. Even the most casual meal with family and friends is improved by a little pre-planning, so consider this your guide to healthy outdoor entertaining.
Cut-up veggies with dip make a great (and easy!) appetizer that can be prepped ahead of time and set out while you’re laying the table. Serve with whole-grain tortilla chips and guacamole for a serving of fiber and heart-healthy monounsaturated fats.
Tip: For a boost of fiber without the fat, munch on veggies with hummus. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas with 2 tablespoons of hummus for just a little more than 100 calories and about 3 grams of fat.
Skip messy foods like spaghetti and pick foods that are easy to eat in a setting where you’re not necessarily sitting down. Sandwiches feel like party food when they’re cut into small diamonds and served on a platter, and grilled vegetable kabobs don’t even require a plate. Chop vegetables and meats into smaller pieces that work with plastic utensils—and remember that soupy foods might soak through paper plates (or spill into someone’s lap).
Tip: Old stand-bys like burgers and hot dogs are great choices—especially when served on a whole-wheat bun. If you’re concerned about calories, go for a hot dog with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup. This choice will come in at around 300 calories, versus about 500 for a quarter-pound beef burger with cheese.
Crisp green salads are a natural choice for summer eating—but those greens might not look quite so appetizing after sitting in the sun for a while. A grains-based salad is a healthy choice that will travel better and hold up to the heat longer than a green salad. Add vegetables, nuts and cheese to your favorite whole-grain (such as quinoa, wheat berries or bulgur), and toss with a robust dressing.
Tip: If you love traditional creamy picnic side dishes like mayo-based potato salad but are looking for something a little more diet-friendly, try coleslaw instead. It can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories. Plus, cabbage provides a variety of essential nutrients including vitamin C.
Sorbets and ice creams are refreshing desserts but can be high-maintenance if everyone isn’t eating at the same time. Plan ahead and bake cookies the night before, giving you less day-of prep. Seasonal fruit with a dusting of powdered sugar also makes a great summer dessert.
Tip: If dessert is your favorite part of a potluck, save room by choosing lighter options elsewhere.
Guests love to bring appetizers and desserts, but don’t overlook the drinks. Make a pitcher of homemade iced-tea feel festive with citrus slices or slivers of fresh mint.
Tip: Margaritas and other mixers are often loaded with sugar and calories. Get your fruit fix with a glass of zero-calorie seltzer. Add fresh berries, mint leaves or a spritz of citrus to give it a fresh, summery taste. If you’re opting for an alcoholic drink, stick with a light beer or a glass of wine.
Tip: Transport your dish safely. It’s essential to keep hot food hot and cold food cold on the way to, and throughout, a potluck. Transport cold dishes in a cooler and keep them cold until you eat. Heat foods that are served warm just before the meal. Holding food at an unsafe temperature is a prime cause of food-borne illness. Food should not be left out of the cooler or off the grill for more than two hours (one hour when the outside temperature is above 90 °F).