MHLbannersmallHow about with a healthy picnic?

Imagine, a month set aside to remind us about the pleasures of a picnic... as if we need to
raise our awareness about this great American tradition once we're already half way into summer. After all, picnics are one of those rare opportunities to combine some of the things we like most in life: being outdoors, eating and spending time with family and friends, and by July we've hopefully got a few of them under our belt.

Picnic for TwoIt may be interesting to consider, though, that no two picnics are exactly alike because "picnic" covers a lot of territory.
It can be as simple as a couple of sandwiches and cold drinks taken outside during a work break. Or maybe a blanket spread out on the lawn of a park or at an outdoor concert with some bread and cheese. Then again, a picnic can involve wicker baskets, checkered cloth napkins and tablecloths and food that would be perfectly at home in a fine restaurant.

We all have our own ideas about what makes up a great picnic and given that we've been enjoying them for years, the question arises as to whether or not we can make them better. The answer for most of us is... probably not. But we can definitely make them a little healthier and here are a few tips on how to do it:

  • Hold the mayo. Whether it's mixed in with the deviled eggs, holding a potato salad, coleslaw or a pasta salad together or slathered directly on a sandwich or burger, mayonnaise is a staple of the family picnic. And while we don't want to rain on anyone's parade or picnic, there are some good substitutes that represent part of a healthier overall diet. For example, you can use salad dressings that contain acidic ingredients like vinegar or citrus instead of mayonnaise. Or if you like the more creamy style dressings, substitute plain, no-fat yogurt for the mayo.
  • Give cauliflower a chance. You can also use cauliflower in a salad instead of potatoes or pasta. The secret here is to make sure the cauliflower is roasted in the oven and not steamed like you might otherwise prepare it. Unlike that occasionally mushy version, roasted cauliflower is a whole different vegetable that becomes slightly sweet and a little nutty-tasting in the oven and brings a good consistency to any picnic dish.
  • The recipe at the end of this article will steer you in the direction of a delicious salad that will hold up well al fresco.

  • Throw another veggie on the grill. If your picnic includes grilled food, like the old favorites of hot dogs, burgers and brats, put some vegetables in those empty spaces on the grill. Vegetables with some density like portobello mushrooms, red peppers, zucchini and onions do particularly well. Just brush on a little olive oil and lay them down on some aluminum foil. You can also put them directly on the grate, though watch them carefully as they'll cook up fairly quickly. Grilled vegetables make an excellent side dish, as a topping on grilled chicken or burgers (and do try some lean turkey burgers) or even alone on a bun or in a wrap as a vegetarian option.
  • Keep it fresh and local. The picnic "season" in Virginia coincides with summer and that means you have access to a bounty of fresh, local and delicious summer produce. Take advantage of the peaches, cherries, berries, tomatoes, watermelon and corn that fill the local farmers' market and the produce section of your supermarket. The great thing about the fresh produce is that in addition to adding important nutrients to your picnic meal you also get a rainbow of color and a lot of simplicity in that no elaborate preparation is necessary for the fruit -- unless you're really determined to show off your culinary skills.

  • Lean heavy on the liquid. Many picnics take place in the heat of the day so it's very important to make sure there are enough choices and quantities of beverages to make sure everyone can stay hydrated. Having plenty to drink is especially true with children. No matter what else you're drinking, bring along plenty of cold water, sparkling water and unsweetened or lightly sweetened drinks. If alcohol is on the picnic table, consider light beers and wine spritzers. Both are more refreshing than the regular varieties in the midday heat with the
    added benefit of fewer calories.

  • Bring along the Frisbee. You don't throw Frisbees? That's OK, you get the idea. Being out in the fresh air is a great chance for a little recreation and physical activity. Besides getting in a little ballgame or a walk or hike is a perfect way to walk off some of those picnic calories. So get out there and celebrate National Picnic Month and every other month with a day pleasant enough to throw down a blanket and eat some food. And remember with just a little minor tweaking, those wonderfully delicious summer picnics can be a little healthier too.

Cauliflower Lentil SaladRecipe for Lentil and Cauliflower Salad
Ingredients for 8 servings

For the cauliflower :
2 medium sized cauliflowers, broken into florets
1 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons olive oil

For the lentils:
4 cups water
2 cups lentils

For the salad:
1 cup cilantro leaves, finely chopped
3 cups arugula or other green
1 small red onion, halved and finely sliced
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste

For the topping:
1/2 cup of crumbled feta cheese


To prepare the cauliflower, preheat oven to 400ºF. In a large bowl, mix together all of the ingredients for the cauliflower and then spread evenly onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is softened, turning brown on edges, but still a bit crunchy.

To prepare the lentils, use a large pot, bring the water to a boil, and then add the lentils. Cook for 20 minutes, until they are al dente. Strain and allow to cool to room temperature.

To prepare the salad, place the cauliflower and lentils in a large bowl and mix until combined. Add the cilantro, greens and red onion and mix to combine. Add the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper, taste, and adjust seasoning accordingly. Top with crumbled feta cheese and serve.