Family Picnics Packed with Health

Whether at the park, on the beach or in your own back yard, a family picnic is a great way to spend time together while bonding over the food you eat. Unfortunately, traditional picnic foods like fried chicken, dips, and mayonnaise-based salads can wreak havoc on anyone’s health. With a little modification, you can enjoy a picnic while keeping your family happy and healthy.

Fresh and Crisp Produce:
Go raw! Summer picnics occur at the height of the fresh produce season. The more colorful produce you add to your menu, the healthier the meal. Get your picnics off to a ‘fruitful’ start by packing your cooler with a wide variety of colorful fruits. If they are in season, there is nothing quite like a juicy watermelon to finish the meal. Sliced apples, berries, and dried fruit like raisins, dried apricots are perfect travel snacks without the mess of fruits you have to peel. Pack a nutritional punch by filling your cooler with colorful vegetables, thereby providing your family picnic with antioxidants and vital vitamins and minerals. Try baby carrots, slices of celery, cucumbers and peppers, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli- all perfect for dipping. Pack low- fat or fat- free dressings for a fun and nutritious snack. Be sure to keep uncooked meats and fresh produce separate in your coolers to avoid potential food-borne illness.

Chips and Dips:
Greasy fried potato chips with onion dip is loaded with saturated and trans fats. Instead, help your heart and cholesterol by switching to baked chips, like Stacy’s Pita Chips or Tostitos Scoops, and pair it with a nutritious dip, such as hummus, salsa, fat-free bean dip, or low-fat yogurt with herbs and spices. Your kids will love all the dipping!

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There are so many delicious ways to pack healthy protein into your picnic basket. Take slices of lean, chicken, turkey, ham or roast beef and top them on a salad or sandwich for a delicious, healthy meal. Nuts can also boost your protein and fiber intake when sprinkled onto salads, but note to self, watch your portions because although they are high in healthy fat, the calories can quickly add up.

Hearty Whole Grains:
Refined breads, rolls, and starchy pasta salads can pile on lots of calories and little fiber. Choose whole grain products like 100% whole wheat rolls or whole wheat pita bread, for an added boost of fiber and nutritional value without sacrificing taste. Bring along whole wheat tortillas—kids love the fun shape of a rolled up sandwich. Turkey and veggies, lean ham and low fat cheese, and reduced fat peanut butter and jelly, are all great options for fillings. Another kid tip-use a potato chip bag clip to keep the healthy fillings from falling out!

Switch up your Salads:
Resist the temptation to load your picnic basket with high-calorie salads that are mixed with mayonnaise. Mayonnaise-based salads are providing you with artery clogging fats. Instead opt for low-fat or fat- free mayo and split it with non- fat yogurts, which will save you loads of calories and fat and give you an added perk of protein.

Best Beverages:
It’s so easy to become dehydrated without even knowing it, especially when you are outdoors playing in the sun, hiking or tanning. Kids are especially prone to losing fluids, and often don’t want to interrupt their fun to drink. Beat the heat with plenty of ice water, sparkling water, unsweetened iced tea, and an assortment of low-calorie beverages. You can freeze water bottles the night before and use as cold packs to keep food and drinks cold.

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Get Up and Move:
Whether you’re soaking up the sun on the beach or enjoying the relaxing air in the park, there are so many activities to do to get your heart pumping!
Searching for sea shells, pitching tents, climbing, and hiking are all fantastic nature filled activities, providing good exercise without feeling like a workout.
• Depending on what location you pick there are many fun, vigorous activities you can find.

About This Author

PhotobucketJoanna Dolgoff, M.D. is a Pediatrician, Child Obesity Expert, and Author of Red Light, Green Light, Eat Right (Rodale, 2009). Dr. Dolgoff’s child and adolescent weight loss program ( has been featured on WABC News, WNBC News, Fox 5 Morning Show, My9 News, and WPIX News. She has also filmed pieces with The Today Show and Extra, is an official blogger for the Huffington Post, and is the official doctor for Camp Shane, the nation’s largest weight loss camp. Children from 45 different states are losing weight with Dr. Dolgoff’s online weight loss program (
Dr. Dolgoff attended Princeton University and the NYU School of Medicine and completed her Pediatric Residency at the Columbia Presbyterian Children’s Hospital of New York. She is a Board-Certified Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics and a former certified fitness instructor. Dr. Dolgoff resides in Roslyn, NY with her husband and two children, ages 4 and 7.

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  • Hen Weekend , May 17, 2011

    The family picnic is here again and I need to make something besides rice krispy treats. I was thinking macaroni salad but don't know how to make it. See my problem? But was wondering if anyone had a good recipe or a good site. I need a big portion i have a big family, thanks I would appreciate it!

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