Sandwiches, sausages rolls, crisps, cakes or chocolate biscuits have traditionally been the staples of picnics for many of us. Whilst this is fine every now and again when we have food away from home more frequently than the occasional picnic we need to up our picnic-packing game and make sure the food we’re packing is nourishing and delicious. Get set for summer with our healthy picnic food ideas.
Do you or your family need to pack a lunch box for school or work? Perhaps your children have holiday clubs, after school activities or sports training and competitions or games?
Our busy, exciting lives can only be possible if we’re giving everyone the right fuel to feel well, energised and strong. So your children can be feeling good for school, have the energy to play with their friends and go to clubs or play some more after school! So we adults can focus, feel motivated and on good form for work and have the energy to take our children to all their awesome activities and maybe even squeeze in some fun for ourselves too!
Finding the inspiration to feed a family well at home can be a struggle, thinking of new ideas everyone will enjoy and are nourishing too. When you then have to think about this food being transportable to the challenge stakes are upped further!
So this post is designed to give you food ideas for when you’re on the run (not literally, pausing to enjoy what your eating and eating mindfully is really important!) but food to take out and about. Ideas you can pack for all the family whatever age your children.
What foods do we need to include in a healthy picnic meal?
Protein foods and higher fibre carbohydrates are vital to provide long lasting energy. Together they will help keep blood sugar levels stable rather than the steep rises and falls in blood sugar which can be seen if we rely on lots of processed carbohydrates (white bread, cakes, biscuits, etc). Stable blood sugar levels means fewer energy slumps and mood swings, less hunger and fewer cravings helping to reduce grazing so everyone can get on with enjoying their day.
Ideas of what to pack:
Great protein foods to pack are: Hard boiled eggs, ham, tuna, chicken drumsticks, cubes of cheese, nuts, hummus, small pots of greek yoghurt, edamame beans, smoothie or milkshake made with dairy or almond/soya milk
Higher fibre carbohydrate foods: whole grain crackers, wholemeal pitta bread or tortilla wraps, potatoes in their skins, wholemeal pasta, whole grain or wild rice, bulgur wheat, quinoa, cakes or muffins made with some wholemeal flour, slices of pizza made with half wholemeal flour. Add a little wholemeal flour if baking and slowly try using wholemeal versions of pasta, rice and other grains.
Fruit and vegetables Make fruit and vegetables the star of the food you pack rather than a token apple or banana and you’ll reap the benefits. The vitamins and minerals provided by fruit and veg help your body use the energy it gets from food so you’ll feel better. Eating more fruit and vegetables helps us to be more productive, providing the ingredients your brain needs to work at its best. Fruit and vegetables are brilliants sources of antioxidants too which can help your body fight off infection and repair cell damage, keeping you well. Specific fruit and vegetables have been shown to make a real difference to how we feel, helping in sports performance or helping us sleep better. Including a variety of fruit and vegetables will give you and your family the best chance of feeling as good as you possibly can.
Ideas of what to pack: Cherry tomatoes, little pots with baby corn, carrot, pepper and cucumber sticks, spinach, rocket and other green leafy vegetables added to salads, add mushrooms, courgette and pepper to beaten egg and bake in muffin tins to make baby omelette muffins to pack, orange segments with their skin on, little pots with chopped peach, watermelon, berries and grapes (cut to an appropiate size if needed), dried apricots, boxes of raisins, dried cranberries or cherries, sultanas or raisins mixed with seeds (and nuts if not a nut-free environment) to make your own trail mix
Add some fats Include some natural healthy fats such as olives, nuts, avocado, yoghurt or cheese too for increased satisfaction and reduced hunger from your meal or snack. Unsaturated fats such as nuts, olive oil and avocado have been shown to help curb hunger1. Healthy fats also keep us absorb vital fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamins D and K.
Ideas of what to pack: Small pots of olives (mix with cherry tomatoes and feta if liked), half an avocado with its stone in to stop it going brown plus a spoon to eat with, or make guacamole with avocado and pack with some vegetables and pitta to dip, use olive oil to make a salad dressing or in a pasta or bulgur wheat dressing, a small pot of greek yoghurt packed with a pot of blueberries or a few dark chocolate chips to create your own ‘corner’ yoghurt! If nuts are ok – a small pot of peanut or almond butter with apple slices (dipped in lemon juice) to dunk or energy balls made with nuts or simply a few pistachios or walnuts added to your lunchbox (do not give whole nuts to children under 5 years).
What about drinks?
For most of us, the perfect drink is a bottle of water. To make it more interesting you could add fruit or herbs, good combinations are lemon and lime slices, or strawberries, lemon and fresh mint or watermelon and rosemary! Milk and smoothies also make great drinks if you can keep them chilled with the added benefits of providing energy too if you or your children have been active. I keep 1 pint milk bottle to make up chocolate milk as an after school or after club snack and drink in one! By adding some cocoa and a little sugar or honey you are in control of what goes into the drink and know there’s no ‘added..’ anything! We only fill them about a third full which means the children can give them a shake and make them all frothy before they drink them!
What might my picnic look like?
We’ve talked about ideas for certain food groups but it’s nice to have an idea of what that might look like when it’s put together so here are a few photos to give you a picture of a healthy picnic meal:
1. Afternoon post school, pre-exercise snack plus picnic tea for a 10-year-old
Pasta salads – good for all ages and can be easily adapted to suit different likes. We’ve added roasted butternut squash, sweetcorn and ham with olive oil and herbs.
Crackers- as we had fresh white pasta for speed and ease we added some whole grain crackers as a snack
Pot of berries
Packet of raisins
Banana – the perfect ready to go convenience food!
Dark chocolate and walnuts
2. Picnic lunch and snacks for 6, 8 and 10-year old
Sandwiches – made with higher fibre bread and filled with cheese (or another protein source) and cucumber
Trail mix – walnuts, cashews, chocolate chips and raisins
Cherry tomatoes, cucumber and olives
Grapes and strawberry pot
3. Healthy picnic lunchboxes for a day out for adults and a 10-year-old
Tuna nicose salad with rocket, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, olives, tuna, green beans and cooked potatoes, olives oil. white wine vinegar and oregano added too
Happy Eating cake pops – a healthier version of cake pops packed full of nuts, dates, oats, chia seeds and other nourishing foods (recipe coming soon!)
Tips to make it easier
Having ideas and inspiration hopefully helps but the food still has to be bought, prepared and packed! Here are a few tips to make it as easy as possible:
- Make one lunch box work for everyone – For the lunch in picture 2 above all 5 of us had pretty much the same, pots of fruit and veg, nuts etc. Then I added either sandwiches or wraps depending on preference. If you’re making a pasta or cous cous or bulgur wheat salad keep a big bowl of this plain in the fridge then it’s easy to leave out one or two things for some family members if needed.
- When you’re preparing dinner chop up a few extra carrots or peppers and pop them into the fridge ready for lunchboxes/to add to salads/have as snacks with hummus
- Stock up on containers which fit into lunch boxes – keep these handy to make your life easier
- If you’re packing a picnic for the whole family try packing individual lunch boxes rather than one big bag of food for everyone to share. It’s much easier to keep track of how much everyone has eaten, check there’s a good balance of different foods and everyone knows what they have to eat for the day then. There’s often less wastage too!
- Keep non-perishable snacks in the car for emergencies! We keep a bag of walnuts and boxes of raisins in the glove compartment for ‘hangry’ children or adults!
- Look out for the wonderful foods which are available to buy now. It is slowly getting easier to buy nourishing snacks and meals out and about so you have the choice of what to buy. Service stations and petrol stations, as well as coffee shops, are getting better at offering an alternative to high sugar, low nutrient snacks. Look out for bags of nuts or seeds, fresh or dried fruit being available. We’ve also discovered a pic n mix the children and I love! At Holland and Barrett at the mall at Cribbs Causeway in Bristol, they have an awesome pic n mix with different nuts, seeds and dried fruit. The children love it most because they can choose their own, then weigh their bags on the scales and press the button to print a label! Beware the chocolate brazil nuts are pretty heavy!
If you find fabulous food available when you’re out and about please do share it with me!
Making sure everyone is eating great food whatever your doing does take time which is really hard to find. The time you put in will be given back to you plus oodles of extra time besides. You’ll have more energy every day so instead of feeling like stopping in the evening you’ll be able to keep doing fun stuff or get some jobs done! You’ll be giving you and your family the foods it needs to stay well and healthy so you’re less likely to pick up colds and bugs saving you days of not being able to do much at all!
Choose one or two things to start with (buy nuts and dried fruit to keep in the car next time you go shopping or try making up fruit and veg pots twice a week). Small changes like this which are adding precious nutrients to your body will have an impact on your body and mind helping you and your family to relish every single day!
If you have questions please feel free to get in touch with me at email@example.com
More food ideas (including recipes for energy balls, bulgur wheat salad, mason jar salads and smoothies) and lots of nutrition tips are available in the Relish Wellbeing Ultimate Wellbeing Guide which is being launched this week! If you’d like us to let you know when they’re available to buy please comment below or email us firstname.lastname@example.org
If you would like food ideas or nutrition advice specifically for you or your family contact us to arrange a nutrition consultation with myself at our clinic at Moose Hall in Portishead. Find out more at https://www.relishwellbeing.com/portishead-nutrition-diet-consultancy/
- Most schools are nut-free zones – check before you pack anything containing nuts
- Adapt portions and food for the age and activity levels of your children (and adults)!
1 University of California – Irvine. “How Fatty Foods Curb Hunger.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 10 October 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/10/081007123647.htm>