When the weather is lovely there is nothing better than a relaxing day in the park with the kids, catching up with friends and lying out in the sun. But kids need a regular supply of food and drinks and its not only expensive, but generally unhealthy to rely on local shops or cafes to feed them.
Picnics can be really nutritious and fun with a little planning. I avoid the common picnic foods – sandwiches, crisps, packaged and pre-cooked foods like sausages or scotch eggs, processed meats, cakes and sugary drinks. We all feel lazy when its hot but this is the worst time to be eating unhealthy foods. Although a little sun is good for us, especially for boosting Vitamin D levels, it can also cause damage. Your immune system helps protect against some of this damage so it’s not a good idea to be eating fried foods, processed meats and sugar.
So what are healthy options?
I like to include foods that contain key sun-protective nutrients; things like tomatoes, green vegetables and watermelon. Healthy picnics don’t have to be boring, they just take a little prep.
Rather than relying on packaged meats for protein which can contain a potentially dangerous cocktail of antibiotics and chemicals, it’s worth opting for healthier options such as roasting a chicken the night before, or boiled eggs. Hummus, bean salads, nuts and seeds are also good sources with pine kernals being the best option for vegetarian protein.
Instead of sandwiches, its more interesting (and healthier) to make a salad. For instance a whole-wheat pasta salad is delicious; simply finely chop spinach and basil with steamed asparagus, peas, pine nuts and olive oil. You can add feta or parmesan too or add really finely chopped kale or broccoli to enhance the nutritional value.
If making a potato salad, include sweet potatoes which are more nutrient dense. They’re also better for blood sugar levels. Take it one step further and dress the salad with olive oil instead of mayonnaise. Corn on the cob is another healthy source of carbs as is a wild rice salad.
By avoiding crisps and sausage rolls you’re also avoiding saturated fats which aren’t healthy. We do need fat for energy, hormones, tissue repair etc but we need to make the right choices. Good sources of fat can be found in avocados (guacamole, or take a whole one and freshly slice), olive oil (in the salad dressings) fish, nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin). A great alternative to crisps are our kale chips or vegetable crisps which kids love but don’t come with the long lists of ingredients and high damaged fat levels of processed versions.
The most protective nutrients we can eat come from fruit and vegetables. I actually find more get eaten at picnics (as long as there are no distractions from crisps and breadsticks). The trick is to get as diverse a range of colours as possible because the different colours contain unique health components. Cherry tomatoes, carrot batons, celery sticks, cucumber and pepper slices work really well with dips.
Fruit skewers add a little more interest (kids tend to try more fruits if they’re presented in a novel way) using whatever there is to hand – strawberries, melon, pineapple, blueberries, kiwi, peaches and the like. It’s a great way to pack in more portions of healthy fruits and to boost sun-protective antioxidant levels.
A healthy picnic can actually be a more interesting one and more easy to do. It also means you’re not relying on sandwiches which often have little nutritional value. The kids will probably be open to trying new things as they’ll be starving after running around the park and everyone gets to relax and catch up with friends.
We hope we’ve given you some ideas to make picnics fun and healthy. Let us know your favourite picnic foods in the comments below or on our facebook page and don’t forget to sign up to our newsletter to receive more recipes, nutrition tips and expert advice.