By Linda Johnson
Eating at home has been a necessity so far this spring, but don’t let it keep you from eating out (in your backyard). With a little planning and creativity, family mealtime can be a reservation in your own backyard. Take advantage of the warming temperatures of spring and put a date on your calendar to make plans with your family for a mealtime adventure in the outdoors.
Make the mealtime special. Pack up a basket with a tablecloth, napkins, utensils, and other needed serving dishes. You can use paper products or go fancy and use your dinnerware. Include in your basket hats, sunscreen, and hand wipes. Have a cooler with ice or ice blocks available to hold your cold foods at safe temperatures while you are outside: 40 degrees or below, as per the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. If you are grilling, be sure to keep your raw meat chilled separately from the rest of the items you are transporting out back. And if it is a sunny evening, find a shaded spot, if possible, to set up your outdoor dining space, along with your coolers of food. Per CDC recommendations, be sure to refrigerate perishable food within two hours, and if outdoor temperatures are over 90 degrees, refrigerate within one hour.
Be adventurous with your meal planning. Children love fun activities around eating, and this might just be the occasion when they are willing to try new foods together. Be sure to start with a healthy beverage. Water is a perfect picnic beverage for hydration without unneeded sugar from soda or sports drinks. Add a splash of fresh lemon juice to give it a little flavor, if you prefer. Be a role model for your children and teach them to enjoy water for thirst by seeing you do the same.
What’s on the menu? Start with an old standby like grilled chicken and potatoes, or be creative with a new recipe, such as curried chicken salad with apples and raisins or chicken cutlets with strawberry avocado salsa. Make ahead of time and keep cold in your cooler until ready to serve. Or if you want the night off from cooking, support a local business and find some curbside takeout to bring to your backyard. If you order takeout, you can keep it healthy by what foods you select and how they are prepared. Try to avoid terms such as crispy and crunchy, as this indicates they may have been cooked in added fat. Ask for sauces and salad dressing on the side to avoid excessive calories from fat. Watch serving sizes and portion foods onto your plate rather than eating the entire portion out of the container. And, as always, be sure to wash your hands frequently during meal preparation and serving.
Does having fun and keeping it healthy mean no dessert tonight? Healthy meal planning includes a balance of nutritious and tasty foods. Include some fresh fruits washed and cut into safe serving sizes and shapes for young children. Strawberries become plentiful in June, and you can enjoy their sweet flavor plain or utilize some tips for a healthier version of strawberry shortcake. Spend some time together in the kitchen and bake some homemade chocolate chip cookies for dessert. Frequently including servings of fruits and vegetables is the daily goal, but enjoying an occasional homemade chocolate chip cookie as a treat during your evening out in the backyard is OK, too.
Instead of settling inside watching television or screen time on your phone, stay outside and get up and move together. There are plenty of outdoor games to play, with and without necessary equipment. Get out a ball and have a family game of kickball. If you have yard games, set them up for some badminton or ladder ball, to name a few. If games and sports are not your first activity choice, then perhaps a backyard dance party is what you and your family can enjoy together. The idea is to be creative, eat healthy, stay active, and have fun together.
Linda Johnson is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist at La Comunidad Hispana, a diverse, dynamic care team that is dedicated to helping adults, teens, and children to be healthy and stay healthy. As a nonprofit Federally Qualified Health Center, LCH believes in quality, integrated, person-centered care that supports whole-health change for all.