Summer is just around the corner, which means that - British weather permitting - picnic season will soon be upon us. My family and I love eating al fresco - sitting on my favourite checkered picnic blanket, the sun shining down on us and my children playing freely in the fresh air - in my opinion, there is no better way to eat! But, don't get stuck in a rut preparing the same picnics, over and over again - a picnic is a perfect occasion to get creative - ditch the boring sandwiches, dull sausage rolls and pork pies and eat fresh, delicious and nourishing food.
Here are my top healthy and tasty picnic food ideas - sure to delight even the fussiest members of the family:
- Reduce the chance of picnic sandwiches being untouched by keeping them interesting and that includes the bread! Plain white bread goes soggy quickly, which doesn't look very appetizing come picnic time. Nowadays, there are so many breads to choose from - to add variety to your picnics and prevent sandwich boredom, why not make sandwiches by using wholewheat tortillas, wraps (check out the squeaky cheese and pepper wrap recipe), flatbreads (how about giving the Frisbee flatbread recipe a whirl?), seeded rolls, multigrain bagels and high fibre pittas. If your children aren't fond of wholemeal and grainy bread, go for 'best of both' loaves - they look white but contain added fibre and nutrients. Or wean them onto 'healthier' bread slowly with 'rainbow sandwiches' - one slice of white and one slice of brown bread.
- For the sandwich fillings, don't just think of ham (whilst low in fat, it can pack quite a salt punch), instead get imaginative with lean beef, chicken, turkey, egg, roasted vegetables, cucumber, peanut butter, prawns and tuna - all healthy, tasty choices.
- Instead of taking along family packs of crisps - which you could easily mindlessly nibble on throughout the afternoon, chatting with friends and family - why not 'pop' your own popcorn and pack them into re-sealable sandwich bags, as a healthier, lower fat and salt alternative to crisps. Plus popcorn is a wholegrain - packed with energy-releasing B vitamins.
- Take the dinner table to the picnic rug with a mini cheese board - cheese is really useful in picnics, as it is brimming with essential calcium (counts towards one of your three dairy servings a day) to build and maintain strong bones and teeth. Cut a block into 30g matchbox size portions -and include different types such as edam, feta or reduced fat cheddar cheese, with fibre rich oat cakes, multigrain, seeded or rye crackers.
Pick 'n' mix veggies and dips
- 'Hearty' hummus, 'spicy' guacamole, 'cool as a cucumber' tzatziki are healthier choices than sour cream dips - why not try making your own (see recipes) and team them with cherry tomatoes, carrot batons, pepper and celery sticks, button mushrooms, asparagus tips, broccoli florets and baby corn - a fun way for children and adults alike, to taste perhaps new veggies, and achieve your 5-A Day.
Mini Fruit Bowls
- If fruit is not very appealing because it becomes bruised or squashed in the picnic basket, stick to hard varieties such as oranges, apples or pears. Be imaginative with fruit - take along a whole pineapple and slice it into rings. What about making up a very berry fruit salad with strawberries, blackberries, blueberries and raspberries or a mini fruit bowls - mix red and green grapes, orange wedges, apple slices, pineapple chunks, sliced mango and melon and squeeze over lime juice for extra zest and to stop them browning. All packed full of vitamin C, which helps maintain a healthy immune system throughout the summer months.
- Time to explore beyond boring limp lettuce leaves and 'cardboard' iceberg - mix up the types of lettuce you use. Try using different leaves such as rocket, radicchio, watercress, baby spinach and other different varieties of lettuce. Open your mind, past the usual tomatoes and sliced cucumber by adding peppers, sweetcorn, radishes, pea shoots, beetroot, grated carrot, spring onions, green beans and mange tout. Adding different herbs like basil, coriander or parsley, and varying the dressings e.g. citrus and balsamic dressings, can introduce you to new taste experiences.
- Break free of traditional mayo-laden pasta salad and try some new grains such as brown basmati rice, quinoa or whole-wheat couscous salads. With more fibre and nutrients than white pasta, they are a healthier picnic option and also contribute good amounts of energy releasing B vitamins.
Sausages on sticks
- Asking your children to help with food preparation is a great way to build their interest in new foods, textures and flavours. Pick up some wooden skewers and let your kids make their own food on sticks with a selection of bite-sized meats, cheese and vegetables for a balanced snack with plenty of variety. Sausages work well for this as they're easy to cut into small pieces and will taste just as good served cold at a picnic!
Dried fruit and nuts
- If you're looking for nutritious snacks to have on the go, try dried fruit and nuts. Not only are they tasty and easy to pack, but you can combine your leftovers with any unwanted bread crusts and have fun feeding the ducks, birds or squirrels after your meal!
Hard Boiled Eggs
- As an egg lover myself - hard-boiled eggs are always an essential ingredient to my picnic basket. Not only are they great fun for egg rolling races - not just for Easter! They are a great source of high quality protein (8g per egg), needed for growth and repair of our bodies. Protein also helps slows down the rate of digestion keeping us feeling fuller for longer. They are also among the few natural sources of vitamin D, which helps keep bones, teeth and the immune system healthy. They are also a good source of folate, iodine, selenium, choline and vitamin A - essential for normal vision. Two medium (57g) boiled eggs also contain 30 µg (micrograms) of another hard to get nutrient - selenium - essential for healthy hair, nails and immune function.
- It is so easy to get dehydrated when you're out in the sun. Children are especially prone to losing fluids, particularly in hot summer weather and they often don't want to interrupt their fun to drink. Keep you and your family hydrated at your picnic by taking plenty of plain or sparkling water (jazz it up with slices of lemon and lime, or/and sprigs of mint), pure fruit juice (in 150ml cartons), unsweetened iced tea, or an assortment of low-calorie drinks.
- You can also freeze water bottles the night before and use them as cold packs to keep the picnic food chilled and fresh.
PaediaSure Shake is a nutritionally complete and balanced shake to support your child through periods of fussy eating. Packed with vital nutrients (including protein, vitamins and minerals), it is specifically designed for children to ensure they are still getting all they need, even on those difficult days when they might not be eating a wide variety of healthy foods.
PaediaSure Shake is available in three yummy flavours: choose between chocolate, strawberry and vanilla. It's available from most Boots stores nationwide and www.boots.com priced £10 for a 400g tin.
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