Picnic Favorites | How to turn an average picnic into a healthy gourmet affair

Nothing completes a Pacific Northwest picnic outing like delicious food.

Nothing completes a Pacific Northwest picnic outing like delicious food. At this time of year, the best place to eat is outside (if it isn’t raining) and since we have such an abundance of seasonal foods around us, an average picnic can turn into a healthy gourmet affair.

For a grill-free event, start with your best picnic blanket, outdoor chairs, a small camping table and utensils, plates and bowls, then fill your picnic basket with a combination of the following:

Appetizers: Crackers, veggies and dips.  Mary’s Crackers are a crunchy, healthy option along with veggie sticks. Dips like hummus and baba ganouj can be made in advance and stored in the freezer. Try some different bean dips, tapenade, roasted red pepper dip or guacamole to make it interesting.

Salads: Chopped salads get the creative juices flowing!  Start with lettuce; add some interesting hearty greens like kale or cabbage. Chop up vegetables like carrots, peppers, mushrooms, asparagus, roasted squash or eggplant, broccoli, snap peas. Next add fresh herbs (parsley, cilantro, mint, basil are all great for salads), toasted nuts and seeds and toss with a light salad dressing. Every salad is a new and delicious creation, depending on what you’re inspired by or have in the cupboard.

Main course: Wrap it up! Using a whole wheat tortilla, spread with a hummus or guacamole then stuff with grains like quinoa or brown rice, green leafy vegetables, beans and anything else that strikes your fancy. Wrap tightly in saran wrap or tinfoil, and when ready to eat, slice into 2 inch rounds to share or eat whole. For a gluten-free version, use a lightly steamed collard leaf (minus the stem).

Dessert: Take advantage of all the seasonal fruit we have available in our area. Right now there are stone fruits like nectarines, apricots, peaches and plums, and berries in abundance. I personally think no dessert is complete without chocolate – and the best healthy alternative to a chocolate bar is to place 1 cup walnuts, 1 cup dates, 3 heaping tablespoons of cocoa powder, 1 tablespoon of vanilla extract and a pinch of salt into a food processor and mix until it starts to clump. Then, roll into balls and store in your freezer until ready to eat.

Don’t forget the drinks! A light, sparkling white wine works great at a picnic, and for an alcohol-free drink, place some frozen berries into the bottom of a wine travel glass and fill with sparkling water. The frozen berries act as ice and add a mild flavor.

Spinach Hummus Pinwheel Wraps

4 cups packed spinach

¼ cup low-sodium vegetable broth or water

1 (15-ounce) can no-salt added cannellini beans

2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1 lemon)

2 tablespoons tahini

1 clove garlic

1/8 teaspoon fine sea salt

4 whole grain tortillas

1 avocado, thinly sliced

½ cucumber, peeled and very thinly sliced

1 small red bell pepper, very thinly sliced

Steam spinach over broth or water. Place spinach, beans, lemon juice, tahini, garlic and salt in bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. You should have about 2 cups hummus. Spread about ½ cup hummus on 1 tortilla, leaving about an inch from the edge. Arrange ¼ each of sliced avocado, sliced cucumber and sliced bell pepper on top of hummus and tightly roll up tortilla. Repeat with remaining tortillas, hummus, avocado, cucumber and bell pepper. Holding tortillas firmly, carefully cut into 3/4-inch pinwheels and serve.

Jami Scott is a Holistic Nutritionist and the Healthy Eating Associate Coordinator for Whole Foods Market, Pacific Northwest region.