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Healthy picnic food

Tamara Willner
Written by

Tamara Willner

Medically reviewed by

Fiona Moncrieff

4 min read
Last updated April 2024

As the weather gets warmer and being outdoors is the preferred option, picnics in the park or our gardens are a great way to socialise or celebrate with loved ones.

Many of us worry that going for a picnic means that we’ll inevitably end up slipping up from our healthy eating plan. However, this doesn’t have to be the case.

Traditional, shop-bought picnic foods tend to be highly processed and can contain a large amount of added sugar or refined carbohydrates. This is completely fine if we’re searching for an occasional treat.

However, if we want to stick to our healthy eating plan, it’s important to remember that it’s possible to enjoy a picnic while doing so. Evidence suggests that a lower carbohydrate diet is the most effective method to improve our health and lose weight. A lower-carb, healthy picnic doesn’t have to taste boring!

The dietitians here at Second Nature have put together their 5 favourite healthy picnic tips and recipes to give you some inspiration if you’d like to make your own picnic food. All recipes are lower-sugar, lower-carbohydrate, child-friendly, and minimally processed. Recipes marked with a (v) are suitable for vegetarian individuals.

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5 top tips to pack a healthy picnic

1) Don’t forget the veg

Traditional picnic food, such as sausage rolls, crisps, or sandwiches, tend to be high in refined carbohydrates. If your goal is weight loss, reducing the number of refined carbohydrates you eat is one of the most effective methods.

It’s simple and easy to swap refined carbohydrate options for non-starchy vegetables. Consider chopping some carrots, cucumber, celery, and peppers into sticks and putting them all in an airtight container ready to go. Veggie sticks are great finger food and can be enjoyed on their own or with dips, such as hummus or guacamole.

2) Pack your protein and healthy fats

By reducing the number of refined carbohydrates we’re packing in our picnic, we’ll naturally increase the amount of protein and healthy fats. We digest protein and healthy fats more slowly than carbohydrates, which means we feel fuller for longer and might experience fewer cravings in between meals.

For high protein options, opt for picnic snacks that include foods like chicken, tofu, smoked salmon, eggs, yoghurt, or cheese. To get some healthy fats into your picnic, opt for avocado (maybe a guacamole dip), nuts (or nut butter), or olives.

3) Stay hydrated

We can often mistake feelings of thirst for hunger. Drinking water before the picnic can reduce our perceived appetite, and help us listen to our natural hunger cues to make sure we’re physically hungry, rather than thirsty. Consider taking a bottle of water to drink at the picnic.

Avoid sweetened fizzy drinks, such as colas, as these contain large amounts of sugar, which, if consumed regularly, can have a number of negative effects on our health.

4) Swap cocktails for mocktails

In the sunny weather, it’s tempting to opt for Pimms or prosecco to accompany a picnic. If you’d really like an alcoholic drink, have one and enjoy it! Aim to have 1-2 drinks and then switch back to water.

Binge drinking (3-4+ drinks) can lead to weight gain, both directly and indirectly.

Consider swapping cocktails and wines for mocktail versions, or even alternating between the two so that overall you’re reducing your intake. For example, you could try swapping Pimms for sparkling water with mint, lemon, and fresh berries.

5) Prep your own desserts

It’s important that we don’t feel restricted with our healthy eating plan, as then we’re much more likely to stick to it. If you know that people will be bringing sweet foods to the picnic, consider taking some of your own so that you can also enjoy a dessert, but one made from whole foods rather than ultra-processed, shop-bought alternatives.

Some great options include fresh fruit with natural yoghurt, our 3-ingredient oat bites, or our apple tart.

Healthy picnic recipes

1) Sweet corn fritters (v)

sweetcorn fritters

These fritters have very few ingredients and make excellent finger food for a picnic. They’re high in protein, due to the egg and cheese, and can be mostly prepped the night before and stored in the fridge.

2) Scotch eggs

A healthy alternative to a traditional favourite, that’s also high in protein and healthy fats.

3) Beetroot hummus (v)

A healthy, pink twist on traditional hummus, which is incredibly simple to make. Enjoy with veggie sticks or as an accompaniment to any salads and mains. The chickpeas provide a great plant-based source of protein while the tahini is a healthy source of fat.

It’s worth noting that chickpeas are also relatively high in complex carbohydrate, so if you’re watching your carb intake, be mindful of your portion sizes.

4) Veggie sticks, cheese, and salad (v)

If you’re stuck for time, consider putting together some simple, summery snacks of cheese, veggie sticks, and a tangy balsamic vinaigrette salad.

5) Tzatziki (v)

A creamy and refreshing dip, much lower in sugar than shop-bought alternatives. The natural, unsweetened yoghurt is a good source of protein and healthy fats.

6) Chicken tikka skewers

These high protein skewers are a family favourite and will help to keep you feeling satisfied for longer. Pair with the tzatziki above for a creamy, fresh twist.

7) Savoury muffins (v)

Popular with the kids, these savoury muffins provide a good portion of vegetables, protein and healthy fats. Compared with sweet, shop-bought muffins, these savoury muffins are a much healthier choice – and they taste delicious!

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