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Packing the Perfect Picnic

A picnic on a sunny afternoon is one of the joys of summer. It's also an opportunity for binge eating of unhealthy food. Here's how to plan a picnic that's both good tasting and good for you.

Baked Chips and Salsa Start with snacks that are convenient and familiar. Everybody loves chips, so look for the ones that are baked. Many baked chips are less than 15% fat per serving, while traditional fried ones are over 50%. Bring along some salsa for a little kick. Whole-grain pretzels and wheat crackers are also good. They give you the salty taste you crave and the fiber your body needs.

Vegetable Platter Raw vegetables are great at a picnic. Cut up bell peppers, broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, celery, sugar snap peas and cherry tomatoes. Of course, they taste even better when dipped in something. You can have all the flavor, just choose fat-free condiments. There are several companies that make fat free Catalina and ranch dressings that taste like the full-fat versions. To make things easier, pour each dressing into its own dipping bowl with a re-sealable top.

Hard Boiled Egg If you're looking for something high in protein to snack on, bring along some boiled eggs. Cut them in half and put a pinch of mustard on the top. It's an easy replacement for fat-filled deviled eggs.

Pasta Salad Potato and pasta salads are delicious; you just have to be creative when making them. Use fat-free mayonnaise and fat-free sour cream to reduce calories. Enhance the flavor with mustard, relish, spices and chopped veggies. If you're trying to avoid standing over a hot grill, add chunks of chicken, turkey, tuna or other seafoods to make it a complete meal.

For the main course, burgers are the perennial favorites. Ground beef can be good for you, just look for versions that are 94% lean or leaner. You can also experiment with low-fat ground turkey, chicken, buffalo, ostrich meat or veggie burgers. Put them on a whole-wheat bun and top them with lettuce, tomatoes, onion, mustard and ketchup.

Grilled Chicken Breast Skinless chicken breast and seafood are real treats grilled. Make sure they're moist by marinating them first or brushing them with honey mustard while they cook.

Watermelon What kind of picnic doesn't have fruit? Cut up watermelon, honeydew or cantaloupe into personal-sized servings. If you're practicing portion control, make up a fruit kabob by cutting bite-sized pieces and putting them on skewers.

Cherries For dessert, set out a bowl of cherries or grapes. To make it really special, serve strawberries or blueberries up over a slice of angel food cake, topped with fat-free whipped topping.

Orange SodaFinally, bring drinks that won't weigh down your waist. A standard 12 oz. can of Coca-Cola has more than half your daily allowance of sugar. Choose diet sodas or unsweetened tea. If traditional diet colas bore you, grab ones that are different. Diet sodas are now available in flavors like grape, strawberry, pineapple, lemonade and fruit punch.

Carrying everything in a traditional picnic basket probably isn't the best idea. Bamboo or rattan baskets aren't designed to hold ice or keep things at a certain temperature. Invest in a sturdy insulated cooler you can use over and over.

Pack the hot stuff in a hot container and the cold stuff in a cold container. Put them all together and they'll both get warm and give bacteria a chance to grow. If you can, put the drinks in their own container because you'll be opening and closing that one the most.

Store the raw meats and cooked meats separately. If you're going to be grilling, bring along some serving plates. You don't want to put cooked food back into the container that held it when it was raw, the juices could contaminate your finished food.

Finally, there's all the little stuff. You're going to need plates, silverware, glasses (if you don't bring canned drinks), napkins, hand wipes or antiseptic gel for your hands, a tablecloth, a bag for trash and a bag for dirty dishes.

Preparing a healthier picnic is easy. All it takes is a little advance planning and you can enjoy your afternoon without sabotaging your summer body.

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