This weekend marks the unofficial start to summer and that means it’s time for picnics (or, depending on where you live, you might call your outdoor gathering a barbecue or a cookout). I love the traditional foods of summer: burgers and dogs, creamy salads, yummy desserts.
Unfortunately, these foods tend not to be the stuff that's going to win any nutrition awards. But you can partake at a picnic and still walk away with your shorts buttoned. It just means making the right choices—and no, you don't have to limit yourself to corn on the cob and watermelon.
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Just skip (most of) the worst choices; the best ones are often just as satisfying. Here’s your guide:
1. Main Dish to Skip: A cheeseburger. A quarter-pound beef burger with a slice of cheese will set you back 510 calories (26 grams of fat). Skipping the cheese will save you about 100 calories. But if you love a good burger, go for it. It's an excellent source of iron.
Main Dish to Choose: A hot dog is lower in calories than you might think. Enjoy one on a roll with your favorite toppings (with lower-cal toppings like mustard, relish or just a little ketchup) and you'll come out around 300 calories, 17 g fat.
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2. Side Dish to Skip: Potato salad. There's nothing inherently bad about potatoes—they're actually a great source of vitamin C and fiber—but they contain more calories than other veggies. Plus, most potato salads are smothered in way too much full-fat mayo and will cost you about 360 calories and 20 or so grams of fat per cup.
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Side Dish to Choose: Coleslaw can satisfy a craving for something creamy for far fewer calories (83, with 3 grams of fat per cup). Low-cal cabbage is also a rich source of isothiocyanates, compounds that amp up the body's natural detoxifying enzymes.
3. Appetizer to Skip: Potato chips with French onion dip. A large handful of chips delivers about 150 calories and 10 grams of fat. Add to that 60 calories and 4.5 grams of fat from 2 tablespoons of dip. Tortilla chips and guacamole deliver about the same calories (about 140 calories, 7 grams of fat, plus 50 calories and 4.5 grams of fat in the guac). The problem with these snacks isn't so much how many calories one serving delivers, but rather how darn hard it is to stop there.
Appetizer to Choose: Veggies with hummus. You can have a full cup of sugar snap peas for 60 calories (0 grams of fat). Add 2 tablespoons of hummus (50 calories, 3 grams of fat) and you have a nice fiber-rich (read: über-filling) snack for just a little more than 100 calories.
4. Drink to Skip: Margarita (or most other cocktails). Between the alcohol and mixers, a small 3.5-ounce drink packs about 160 calories (0 grams of fat). If you're staying away from alcohol, you might want to stay away from soda, too: a 12-ounce can delivers about 150 calories-all from added sugars.
Drink to Choose: Light beer. A 12-ounce bottle generally has a little less than 100 calories. Or go for the best choice of all: zero-calorie flavored seltzer or water.
5. Dessert to Skip: Strawberry shortcake. Just because it contains fruit doesn't mean it's the healthiest or lowest-calorie choice. Between the cake and the loads of whipped cream that typically tops this summer favorite, you get a lot more calories than you may be bargaining for: about 425 (and around 20-25 grams of fat).
Dessert to Choose: A frozen fruit bar (100 calories, 0 grams of fat). Or even a scoop of vanilla ice cream: 140 calories, about 5 grams of fat.
What are your favorite picnic foods? Tell us what you think below.