National Picnic Month offers the perfect excuse to get outside with loved ones. I share my secrets to a picnic that’s free from digestive discomfort
How does the thought of going for a picnic make you feel? For me, I still get the warm, fuzzy feeling that I used to have as a kid when I knew I would be spending time outdoors in the warm air with delicious food, surrounded by the people I love. I remember feeling the sun on my face as my body sank into a tartan blanket and I unpacked my favourite sandwiches and crisps and chatted with friends — or even the times we had to make a quick run for cover as a rain shower came. However, as I’ve become older and was diagnosed with IBS (Irritable Bowel Syndrome), going for a picnic became less easy. That was until I discovered how to make a picnic work for me and I’m about to share this with you.
Everyone deserves to be able to escape on a picnic, especially now as it’s National Picnic Month (and let’s face it, there’s not too much else we can do); it’s the perfect time to grab your blanket and hamper and head outdoors for a picnic with family or friends — socially distanced, of course. Here’s everything you will need for an unforgettable gut-friendly picnic.
Houmous & crudités
Call me fancy, but, for me, a picnic isn’t a picnic without houmous and some crunchy crudités for dipping. And with the desire for houmous having rocketed in recent years, you’ll be glad to hear it’s ideal for the picnic basket and your tummy. Typically a blend of chickpeas, tahini, olive oil, lemon juice and garlic, the dip is an excellent source of dietary fibre which promotes healthy digestion and helps to feed your good gut bacteria. Plus, houmous is naturally gluten-free and a great plant-based source of protein, making it a nutritious choice for vegans. Simply dollop some in a container, chop your favourite veggies into sticks — carrot, cucumber and celery are my staples — and there you have it. If you have some spare time beforehand, you could even have a go at making your own houmous or experimenting with the flavour. Deliciously Ella shares three types of houmous including classic, beetroot and red pepper and paprika.
If you have read my recent post, then you’ll know how good this bright red berry is for your gut. Strawberries are an excellent source of fibre, which helps to maintain regular bowel movements, and vitamin C which promotes healthy digestion. They are also a decent source of folate (vitamin B) which helps ease constipation. Combine them with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and oranges to make a fresh fruit salad and it’s sure to give you a good gut boost. According to research, berries and citrus fruits contain less fructose making them easier to tolerate and less likely to cause gas. Chuck in some banana and you’ll be stimulating the growth of good bacteria in your gut too. That’s some juicy news!
Flask & hot water bottle
Fill a flask with boiled water and you’ll not only be able to enjoy a great cup of peppermint tea, which is known to soothe an upset stomach, relieve stomach pains and flatulence, aid digestion and effectively treat IBS symptoms, but you’ll have everything you need to make a hot water bottle on the go — just in case bloating or stomach discomfort does become an issue. Best thing — it’ll also double up to keep you warm if the weather isn’t on your side. I would recommend Chilly’s reusable bottles which are available in a range of stylish eco-friendly designs and keep your drinks warm for 12 hours and cold for 24 hours.
Homemade vegan slaw
Coleslaw is practically a picnic staple, but homemade slaw tastes even better than shop bought. It’s pretty simple to whip up and can be done the night before, then refrigerated. For mine, I combine shredded white and red cabbage with grated carrot and diced spring onions, then I smother it in mayonnaise for creaminess. You may also like to add mustard and/or salt and pepper for extra flavour. If you are following a dairy-free diet or are sensitive to lactose, use vegan mayonnaise. Earlier this year, I discovered Hellmann’s Vegan Mayo and I honestly can’t tell the difference.
A picnic without a sandwich is like a Sunday roast without gravy. But if you can’t stomach white bread (pun intended), like me, an alternative bread such as wholemeal or sourdough could be worth a try. Research shows that wholemeal bread is a good source of fibre which helps digestion, meanwhile, the fermented grains that make up sourdough make it more easily digestible than white bread. And it doesn’t end there; there are so many different varieties of bread available these days including gluten-free, rye, wholemeal sourdough and multi-grain to name a few. But if you are after something more exciting than a sandwich, think chicken and avocado wholemeal pittas or tuna and sweetcorn wholemeal wraps. Or ditch the bread completely and use lettuce. Here are 30 wrap recipes for more inspiration.
Banana bread muffins
If you haven’t tasted these wonderful gluten and dairy-free muffins yet, you can check them out here. I recently made these to take on a spring outing, back when baking banana bread was all the rage, and discovered they make the perfect picnic accompaniment as they are satisfying, provide energy for nearby exploring and, most importantly, they’re gut-friendly! The oats will keep you full while cinnamon’s prebiotic properties promote the growth of beneficial bacteria in your gut. Plus, the dark chocolate chips help to reduce inflammation in your gut. And what’s more, the healthy snack is made solely from natural sugars. No post-picnic regrets here!
Plenty of water
Staying hydrated is one of the best things you can do to maintain a healthy gut and, luckily, water is one of the most simple things to pack for a picnic. Drinking plenty of water has a beneficial effect on the mucosal lining of the intestines and on the balance of good bacteria in your gut. And while a bottle of champers might be your preferred beverage to take on a picnic, I hate to say it, but alcohol and the gut don’t tend to be friends. That doesn’t mean to say you should deny yourself alcohol on a picnic (everyone needs a treat from time to time), but perhaps alternate a glass of alcohol with a glass of water to stay hydrated and discourage any pesky digestive discomfort. You can even add cucumber and mint or strawberries to your water to add some flavour. Chin-chin!
I’m almost certain the umbrella was created for British picnics. This is an essential to protect you from the elements — not only will it keep you dry if it rains, which is often the case on British picnics, but it’ll also provide some shade should the weather be too hot. Admittedly, this is not directly related to gut health, but it is sure to make your gut-friendly picnic more enjoyable if you take it. That said, if you’re lucky enough to have hot weather, being out in it for a long period of time can contribute to dehydration because your body will constantly be working to keep you cool through sweating. As mentioned, dehydration can negatively impact your gut health and cause symptoms such as constipation. Alongside having sufficient water intake, an umbrella or parasol can shield you from the sun and be an effective way to keep you cool. Don’t have an umbrella to hand? Find a shady spot under a nearby tree.
Sweet potato salad
I didn’t think anything could beat potato salad — that was until I discovered sweet potato salad! Now I make it for a variety of occasions — BBQs, parties, when I feel like it and, of course, for picnics. Not only does the root vegetable taste delicious mixed with my new-found friend vegan mayo, but it contributes to a healthy gut in many ways. Sweet potatoes are high in fibre which can soften your stool and create compounds called short-chain fatty acids which keep the cells of your intestinal lining healthy and strong. The antioxidants in purple sweet potatoes have also been proven to support the growth of healthy gut bacteria; greater amounts of these types of bacteria within the intestines are associated with a lower risk of IBS and infectious diarrhoea. To make my version of sweet potato salad, simply cut the required amount of potatoes into small chunks, boil them for 10 minutes, allow them to cool, then combine them with mayo, salt and pepper. If you’re not a fan of the mayonnaise-based version, check out this alternative.
Not only is this a fun word to say, but it’s a great food for your gut. The Middle Eastern dish, consisting of blended chickpeas mixed with spices and herbs, is a good source of fibre and plant-based protein. Chickpea fibre has been linked to improved bowel health. Although, if you’re taking shop bought, just be aware of how the falafel has been prepared. Falafel contains a variety of important nutrients, but it’s traditionally deep-fried in oil which can make it high in fat and calories. Making your own falafels can eliminate this and specific ingredients can be added according to your dietary requirements. View this recipe for a healthy homemade falafel.
Depending on what vibe you are trying to create, you may want to take certain accessories with you. If it’s a relaxing ambience that you are after, then candles are a great idea but rather than creating a fire hazard, battery operated candles are a safer alternative. You can pick up six flickering LED tealights from The Range. Or maybe you’d prefer to stick some flowers in a jam jar to create a centrepiece on your picnic blanket. Beautifully bright Chrysanthemums have been shown to lessen symptoms of worry and stress, meanwhile, the sweet scent of Jasmine is said to ease anxiety. This is important because evidence shows the stress response inhibits the digestive system while the relaxation response activates it; this is why the relaxation response is often referred to as “rest and digest.”
It’s no secret that colouring is beneficial for your mental health, but what about your gut health? For a few years now, adult fans of colouring-in have been using the activity as a relaxation tool to relieve stress — something which is a major cause of gut disruption. Not long after the colouring craze first took off, New Zealand researchers confirmed that anxiety and depression could be reduced by colouring in for as little as 10 minutes a day. For this reason, I often take my travel-sized colouring book and crayons with me on a picnic to keep me occupied and my mind calm. And you know what I always say, a calm mind = a calm tummy. But it doesn’t just have to be about colouring, take whatever helps you to relax; this could be headphones to listen to music or a guided meditation, a book or magazine to gain the stress-reducing benefits of reading or a sketchpad and pencils to draw the scenery around you. If colouring does tickle your fancy, get your travel-sized colouring kit.
Okay, so you can’t technically put this one in your picnic hamper, but you can ‘pack’ it mentally. Life is sometimes so hectic, causing us to rush around that when we actually get the chance to stop, on a family picnic for example, we can forget to slow down and can transfer this busy mindset onto our eating pattern. So, when you get to your picnic location, stop for a minute and pause before dishing out food and remember to eat slowly. Eating too much too quickly can lead to bloating, gas, heartburn and indigestion. By paying attention to what you’re eating and focussing on the act of chewing — otherwise known as mindful eating — this can reduce digestive symptoms in people with ulcerative colitis and IBS. Keep calm and chew your food.
- Cool box — it’s no use having all of these delicious gut-friendly foods if they’ve all gone off by the time you reach your destination.
- Picnic hamper
- Plates and cutlery
- Wipes and sanitiser — someone is bound to get in a mess, plus these stop the spread of germs which is useful in the current climate.
Found this useful? What would you take on a gut-friendly picnic? Get in touch.