Family having a picnic

Help your family choose healthier options while keeping flavour and fun on the menu.

Summer brings hot days, sunny skies, barbeques and picnics. But it can also mean our healthy eating plans take a vacation.

When school is out, parents may let nutrition rules relax, so kids end up consuming too much junk food and sugar and too little nutrition. If you’re not mindful, the special summer foods you and your kids consume can add up in fat, sugar and calories.

Here are some suggestions to help your family choose healthier options while keeping flavour and fun on the menu.

Meats and main courses

Grilled meats are often part of barbeques and picnics, but we can overdo it with fatty cuts and big portions. Here are some alternatives to lighten up your plate:

  • Instead of hot dogs, bratwursts or sausages, opt for lean meats such as chicken breasts, pork tenderloin or vegetarian tofu sausages. Or try grilled seafood such as salmon or shrimp skewers. 
  • Instead of red meats doused in heavy barbeque sauces, try marinated firm tofu cubes on skewers or tofu steaks to infuse this healthy protein with delicious flavours.
  • For burgers, go for lean ground turkey, pork or beef. Or go meatless and make lentil, chickpea, bean or mushroom patties. Get your kids involved and let them make their burgers into fun shapes.
  • Go for smaller portions of meat by aiming to fill at least half your plate with vegetables.

Condiments and dressings

For many people a burger isn’t the same without ketchup. Yet, ketchup, relish and mayonnaise are high in sugar and fat. While you can use these condiments in moderation, why not try other ways to season meals? Here are some healthier ideas:

  • Instead of adding extra salt why not play with new herb and spice combinations, adding fresh parsley or garlic to burger patties?
  • If you like to pile on the condiments, try flavoured mustards for a kick without the calories, or add on hot sauces, or even a spoon of salsa for extra vegetables.
  • Try grilling fish and seafood in foil packets on a bed of sliced lemons and fresh herbs to add zest.
  • Instead of mayonnaise-based dressings on potato, pasta and coleslaw salads try using olive oil, which is high in heart healthy monounsaturated fats, in a light vinaigrette. If you crave a creamy texture, substitute plain yogurt.

Side dishes and snacks

Many classic picnic side dishes such as potato salads and potato chips are fried in oil or heavy on the mayo, which add unhealthy fats and extra calories. The good news is these foods can easily be adapted. Try these simple swaps:

  • Instead of french fries, try cooking baked potatoes in foil on the barbeque or baking potato wedges. Kids can use cookie cutters to make fun shapes out of potatoes too.
  • Instead of potato chips or fried snacks try baked versions, low-salt pretzels or air-popped popcorn.
  • Instead of serving vegetable sticks with high-calorie ranch dressing, offer homemade hummus or bean spreads for dipping, which boost protein and fibre intake.
  • Lighten your meal by offering plenty of grilled vegetable kebobs as a side dish, lightly brushed with canola oil, which has a high smoke-point, so is ideal for grilling. Plus, it’s high in Omega-3s. Get kids involved in making skewers with their favourite vegetable combos.

Treats and desserts

When the weather is hot, most kids want something cold to cool off with. That usually means trips to the ice cream truck or freezer for frozen treats full of sugar. Here are options for healthier versions that can help kids eat less sugar and more fruits and dairy:

  • Instead of rich ice cream treats and sundaes try making banana ice cream by freezing mashed ripe bananas or serving frozen yogurt and topping it with fresh or grilled fruit – peaches are a great option.
  • Instead of sugary popsicles and freezies make homemade fruit and yogurt popsicles. Try frozen grapes and blueberries, or get kids to help make frozen whole bananas on popsicle sticks dipped in a little bit of chocolate.
  • Instead of soft drinks and slushies, freeze cubes of your kids’ favourite fruits, such as watermelon or strawberries and blend them for unsweetened slushies or sorbets.


Fruity Berry and Yogurt Pops – adapted from

Makes 8 popsicles


2 cups mixed fresh blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, and sliced bananas

2 cups plain or vanilla yogurt

1/8 cup honey


Blend mixed blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, sliced bananas, yogurt and honey in a blender until chunky or smooth, as desired. Pour into popsicle molds and freeze for at least five hours. To serve, run under warm water to release popsicle. Enjoy!

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