How to Pack a Proper Picnic Basket

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

Think Textures and Pack Away Picnic Food Rut!

School is out for the summer! Now come long sunny days packed full of outdoor activities. Want some suggestions for avoiding the picnic food rut? We have the answer for you.

Picnic Snacks: It’s All About Textures

What do we mean by textures, and why does it matter? Simply put, meals are much more enjoyable when they include a wide variety of textures – chewy, crunchy, crispy, and so on. Here are several great pairings that taste great cold, based on their textures. Remember to bring along a cooler or thermal bag to keep everything chilled and food-safe.

Crunchy Veggies with Creamy Sides

Veggie sticks are always handy and refreshing, not to mention nutritionally great! It’s time to diversify beyond the usual celery, carrot, and cucumber, though. Try the sweet and crunchy jicama (sometimes called Mexican turnip), cool chayote, bell peppers, radishes, green beans, or even snow peas. Pair these crunchy bits with something creamy to make them a great hit. Some great dip choices here would be hummus, nut butters, or plain yogurt flavored with curry powder.

Crispy Chips

There is something utterly addictive about crispy chips. Avoid the heavily seasoned varieties (especially those labeled “all-dressed”). There are now products with less salt on the market, made with root vegetables other than potatoes. For example, Terra Chips offers “Exotic Vegetable Chips” consisting of taro, sweet potato, yucca, batata, parsnip, and ruby taro. And Hippie Chips offers chips made with black beans. Be aware, though, that these chips are still deep-fried and therefore have a similar amount of fat per serving as any regular potato or corn chips. Your best bet is to share with everyone, instead of hoarding a whole bag to yourself!

Leafy Greens and Soft Fruits

What a great way to load up on antioxidants and phytochemicals: Pair up spicy-tasting greens such as arugula or mizuna with sweet and juicy fruits like peaches or mangoes, then top with a sprinkle of nuts and a zingy vinaigrette of olive oil and lemon juice. Or, toss together spinach, strawberries, and almonds, and top with a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. (To prevent sogginess, keep the dressing separate from the salad until serving time.) You can add some cold pre-cut chicken or some canned fish to bump up the protein quotient. To satisfy sweet tooth cravings, skewer chilled chunks of cantaloupe, honeydew, pineapple, and fresh mint together.

Chewy Grains and Chunky Protein

Many whole grains, such as bulgur, barley, or brown rice provide that satisfying bulk and can be used as a building base for meal-type salads. This is one easy way to go vegetarian without much effort: pair up with chunky protein foods such as tofu, nuts (pistachio, walnuts, pecans), or legumes. If you are not sure how to flavor the tofu, buy a pre-seasoned package; it may be a bit saltier than the plain variety, but will go a long way towards flavoring up the salad. Use a vinaigrette-based dressing instead of a creamy one to perk up your taste buds.

The Bottom Line

With so many warm days to spend outside, experiment with different food textures of your choice to create some new picnic favorites this summer.


outdoor eating, picnic


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