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The Best And Worst Picnic Foods

When the weather gets warmer here in Athens, you’ll definitely feel like heading out for picnic - A gorgeous day, great food -- who wouldn't love a picnic? You, that's who, if the food is a rogue's gallery of fatty fare likely to clog your arteries or wreck your diet. But it doesn't have to be that way. Here's a list of the best and worst foods you should pick or skip if you're attending a barbecue, as well as some healthy recipes you can bring or serve at your own fete. Dig in to these tasty treats for a perfect picnic day. They're a triple win: Simple, tasty and healthy.
Worst: Burgers

We love burgers. But they can be calorie and saturated fat bombs -- so choose carefully. A plain burger on a bun is about 270 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat (20 percent of the daily value), but make it a large one with toppings and you're up to 512 calories and 52 percent of your daily value for saturated fat (over 10 grams), or more.

Best: Watermelon

Fun to eat, and good for you too, a healthy wedge of watermelon has just 86 calories. You also get less than one gram of fat, and a decent amount of vitamin C, beta carotene and lycopene. What's more, watermelon's a great thirst-quencher -- it's 92 percent water.

Best: Corn On The Cob

Grill your corn on the cob, or if you won't have a grill handy, cook it at home until barely done, then wrap the ears in tinfoil, and pack them in a cooler.

Even if you use a little butter, it's still pretty healthy; one buttered ear has 155 calories, 3 grams of fat and 29 milligrams of sodium.

Best: Grilled Fish Or Seafood

Fish is relatively low in calories, rich in omega-3 fatty acids and cooks in just a few minutes on the grill. What could be easier or healthier?

You'll only go wrong if you deep fry, serve with calorie-laden sauces or choose types prone to high levels of mercury, such as swordfish, shark, mackerel king or tilefish.

Worst: Fried Chicken

It may be tasty, but those buckets of fried chicken from KFC and its many imitators are chock-full of calories, fat and sodium.

Best: Oven-Fried Chicken

You can make your own "finger-lickin' good" chicken in the oven, with a crunchy crust just like the real thing, but not quite as much fat and sodium.

Worst: Hot Dogs

This one is tricky. What's better at a cookout than a couple of dogs tossed on the grill? Nothing -- if you choose the right hot dog.

Try to pick one that has less than 150 calories and fewer than 14 grams of fat (with no more than 6 grams saturated). Sodium shouldn't go over 450 milligrams, and you may want to skip those with a filler -- mechanically separated meat -- in the ingredient list.

Best: Chicken, Fruit And Veggie Souvlaki

Anything served on a stick is fun, easy to eat and often the perfect picnic food.

Best: Fruit Salad

It's hard to go wrong with fruit salad. It's often relatively low in calories and rich in antioxidants and fiber. Just keep in mind that fruit is high in natural sugar. If you have diabetes or prediabetes you may need to watch portion sizes. And any fruit salad with high-calorie toppings (think mayo-soaked chef’s salad) can be problematic.

Best: Pasta Salad

With pasta salad, the devil is in the details. If you're scooping mayo-soaked macaroni onto your plate, expect to consume about 390 calories and 19 grams of fat per serving. And those calories are pretty darn empty. But pasta salad can be so much more, so that's why we think it's the best.

Start with whole-wheat pasta and add low-cal ingredients, like veggies, and boost the protein with low-fat cheese or lean meat.

Worst: Cold Cuts

Cold cuts aren't all that healthy. A slice of prepackaged ham can contain 365 milligrams of sodium and 46 calories, which adds up if you stack your sandwiches high. A better option is white meat, like turkey, which contains about 139 milligrams of sodium and 15 calories per slice. Choose 100 percent whole-grain breads and select healthier condiments like mustard, instead of mayo (lots of fat) or ketchup (lots of sugar).

Worst: Deviled Eggs

Deviled eggs are cute, but their story is mixed in terms of nutrition. Whether you love them or hate them (most people seem to feel one way or the other), the traditional dish can deliver about 60 calories and 120 milligrams cholesterol per 1/2 egg serving.

Make them healthier by using the barest bit of mayo -- or none at all. You can substitute with cottage cheese, yogurt or even avocado!

Best: Apple Pie

We're big fans of apple pie. What we're not fans of are pies that deliver mega-calories or unhealthy fats. A slice of some store-bought pies can deliver 330 calories and 18 grams of fat, and may contain dangerous trans fat. If that's what's available, skip it or practice portion control and have just a sliver.

Best: Cherry Or Grape Tomatoes

They're the perfect size for popping in your mouth, they're delicious and they're great for you. A cup of cherry tomatoes has just 27 calories and lots of nutrients like vitamin C, vitamin A and antioxidants.

Best: Fruit And Cheese Platter

Keep it simple by bringing along some fruit and cheese. Keep in mind that hard cheeses tend to stand up better under picnic conditions. (Long hours of hot sun plus Brie equals soggy mess.)

A few tasty combinations: cheddar or Gruyere and apples (sprinkle with lemon or lime juice to avoid browning); watermelon and feta; ripe figs and blue cheese; tomatoes and mozzarella; or ricotta and grapes.

Pack fruit and cheese separately to keep the flavors fresh.

Author: Anne Harding
Thursday, May 31, 2012