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Make a Picnic Date with Your Heart – Penn Medicine

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Make a Picnic Date with Your Heart – Penn Medicine

Summer has arrived and that means picnic dates in the park under warm, sunny skies. But, don’t just make a date with the one your heart belongs to, plan one that makes your heart happy and healthy, too. Picnic foods are nostalgic and fun, and it is easy to get swept up in packing guilty pleasures for your basket. There are some easy tweaks you can make to keep your dishes light, healthy and beneficial for your heart.

Tip #1: Choose a Destination That Involves a Little Exercise

If your cardiologist has suggested adding more exercise, making picnic dates that involve movement is an easy way to incorporate exercise into your routine. Many parks offer outdoor classes for yoga, tai chi and even “exercise boot camps”. Pair one of these classes with your next picnic date for a new way to connect with friends and keep your heart healthy.

Tip #2: Pack Heart Healthy Dishes

What do you think of first when someone mentions a picnic? Is it a ham sandwich and potato salad? Fresh summer fruit? Wine and cheese? There are a lot of options for what to pack, but if you are aiming to bring heart healthy options, here a few suggestions.


Foods like strawberries and blueberries have been shown to be particularly healthy and are readily available during the summer months. Strawberries have anti-inflammatory powers that can help reduce obesity and heart disease risk. Blueberries are known to be filled with dietary flavonoids of which some subclasses can potentially dilate arteries and counter the buildup of plaque. Some of our favorite recipes include:

Whole Wheat Blueberry Bars
Watermelon Blueberry Ice Pops
Strawberry Jicama Cucumber Salad
Grilled Chicken with Strawberry and Pineapple Salsa

Protein Sources

Your instinct may be to reach for fried chicken and the fatty smoked meats that remind you about childhood picnics. But we’ve learned better over the years, and lean meat options, like grilled chicken, tuna and beans can be prepped and packed for a picnic in no time.

Chicken and Green Bean Salad
Salmon with Tomato Basil Salsa
Avocado, Black Bean and Corn Salsa

Side Dishes

Traditional potato and macaroni salad and coleslaw are what picnic dreams are made of, but they are not the best for your cardiovascular system even if they do have vegetables in them. The recipes below incorporate low fat or light mayonnaise or skip the mayo altogether in order to lower the cholesterol and sodium amounts.
Colorful Tuna Pasta Salad
Potato, Cucumber and Dill Salad
Easy Avocado, Cabbage and Carrot Coleslaw


Summer is a great time to find local, fresh fruits to bring along for dessert. From berries to stone fruits like peaches and plums, these delicious treats contain phytonutrients and antioxidants that can help to reduce the risk of heart disease and atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque on artery walls. Fresh fruit on its own is an easy picnic snack, but if you want to add a little something extra to your basket, we suggest this Peach Melba Parfait recipe from the American Heart Association. 


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