A-tisket a-tasket, a healthy picnic basket

These late-summer/early-fall days are a gift for those who don’t savor the unforgiving heat felt in the peak of the Midwest summer. Take advantage of our fleeting warm afternoons by packing a perfect picnic for friends or family. Michelle A. Bojrab, MS, RDN, CD, Community Outreach Dietitian, has some smart tips for taking your meal into the great outdoors.

When I think of picnics, I think of fun! Late spring and early fall are my favorite times to have a picnic because it’s usually the perfect temperature. I try to take advantage of the nice weather and sit outside for meals whenever possible. Making healthy food fun helps build strong family habits that children will continue for a lifetime. When getting ready for a picnic, here are a few tips that first come to my mind.

Location, location, location.

It’s likely there’s a great park near your neighborhood or town. These are typically my first choice because most offer picnic tables and playgrounds. Also, we are blessed to be surrounded by many local lakes, public beaches and state parks that offer great opportunities for adventure. If you do not want to travel too far, your backyard is a perfect place to spend some quality time with your family.

Good food, gone bad.

Food safety is a must. Be sure to use hand sanitizer or wash hands frequently. Also, pack all perishable items in a cooler with ice. I suggest at least 1/4 of the cooler be filled with ice packs or ice. If going a longer distance, keep your cooler in the air-conditioned portion of the car instead of the trunk, which can get too hot. To avoid confusion, pack a refrigerator/freezer thermometer in the cooler to make sure it is below 40°F.

Packing for a picnic.

Go for good-for-you creative items. Instead of serving just a regular sandwich, use cookie cutters for creative shapes. Don’t forget the non-food items such as hand sanitizer or wet wipes, sunscreen/bug repellent, disposable china, cups, napkins, trash bags, a blanket, utensils, fun music and games! I always pack bubbles and a kite.

So, get your coolers and ice packs out. Now, we can organize the food. When going on a picnic, I try to keep it balanced and easy. My goal at meal time is to have a lean protein source, whole grains and vegetables. I like to complement my picnic with a fruit and low-fat dairy. I like to keep it simple and quick. Here is a meal I like to pack:

Michelle’s Top Picnic Picks

Pesto chicken salad pita pocket
Raw veggie platter (from produce section)
Perfect parfait
Water with “floating fruit”- orange, lemon, strawberries


Pesto Chicken Salad Sandwich

¼ cup low-fat mayonnaise
3 tablespoons prepared pesto
1 tablespoon lemon juice
⅛ teaspoon pepper
2 cups chopped, cooked chicken
½ cup grated carrot (about 1 medium carrot)
4 mini whole wheat pita rounds, split
1 cup baby spinach leaves

1. Combine mayonnaise, pesto, lemon juice and pepper in a medium bowl; whisk until well blended. Add chicken and carrots; stir to combine.
2. Stuff each pita evenly with spinach leaves and chicken salad mixture.

Serves 4

Adapted from a recipe featured on eatright.org 


The Perfect Parfait

1 8-ounce container of low-fat vanilla yogurt
½ cup blueberries
½ cup strawberries, sliced
½ cup low-fat granola cereal

1. In a clear plastic dessert glass with lid, alternate layers of yogurt, berries and granola. Do this twice or until glass is ¾ full. Top with a few berries.

*Tip: If you do not have fresh berries substitute for frozen or switch it out for different fruit!

For more information on food safety for outdoor eating, please visit:

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