Healthy food choices for a Picnic - Health Care Department California

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Brown bagging it the healthy way
Ready for a Picnic?

When enjoying a healthy lifestyle, one of the biggest challenges is making meals on the go.  Brown bagging is even more difficult when children are involved, but it is still possible to create delicious, nutritious brown bag lunches that the whole family will love.

The most important part of creating healthy, delicious brown bag lunches is choosing the foods that will go into those brown bags.  It is important to choose foods that are easy to put together, and to include foods that everyone in the family likes.  
Including everyone’s favorite foods is a great way to make sure the lunches will be eaten instead of traded for Twinkies.

When creating healthy brown bag lunches for yourself and your family, try to choose at least three choices from the following list.

picnic and healthy foods
Ø At least one fruit or vegetable, either fresh, canned or frozen.  Some good choices include apples, bananas and oranges.
Fruit salad also makes a great choice for brown bag lunches.

Ø A whole grain product like bread, a tortilla shell, a bagel, pasta, rice or muffins.  

Ø Milk or dairy products like low fat or nonfat yogurt, skim milk, cheese or a yogurt drink or shake.

Ø Meat, fish, poultry, eggs, peanut butter, legumes or hummus
Ø A healthy vegetable or fruit salad


It is a great idea to involve the whole family in the preparation of these brown bag creations.  Why not have a family session where everyone creates their own healthy brown bag lunches using the ingredients you provide?  Lay out all the healthy foods, selected from the above list, and let everyone choose their favorites.  

Involving the kids in meal planning at an early age is a great way to help them learn to make healthy food choices throughout their lives.

Packing those brown bag lunches can be exciting and fun for the whole family.  

For instance, why not let every member of the family choose his or her own special lunch box or bag?  Other good ideas and tips for brown bag lunches include setting aside one shelf in the fridge for lunch fixings and finished lunches, and setting aside a drawer in the cupboard for all the packaging required, such as plastic bags, plastic cutlery, napkins, and straws.

Of course, keeping the variety in brown bag lunches is very important, both for the adults and the kids.  There are some great suggestions for keeping everyone from getting bored, including:

picnic bag with healthy foods
Ø Use a variety of different breads in your sandwiches.  Use a combination of wheat bread, rye bread and pumpernickel, in addition to interesting bread alternatives such as tortilla wraps, bread sticks and whole wheat crackers.
Ø Pack bite size vegetables, such as baby carrots, broccoli florets and pepper slices, along with a low fat dipping sauce.
Ø Add bit size fruit like grapes, blueberries, orange wedges and strawberries.
Ø Use only 100% fruit juice in brown bag lunches.  Avoid fruit drinks and blends, which often contain less than 10% real fruit.
Ø Pick up a variety of single serving cereal and let everyone choose their favorites.


Ø Buy a good selection of flavors of nonfat or low fat yogurt every week, and let everyone choose their favorite flavor every day.
Ø Pack a variety of dried fruit in your family’s brown bag lunches.

Of course the kids are not the only ones who can enjoy healthy brown bag lunches.  Mom and dad can also join in the fun.  After all, brown bag lunches are a lower cost, and healthier alternative to lunches out.  

Some of the most popular choices for brown bag lunches, both for children and their parents, include leftovers from the night before (pasta, rice and potato dishes are great choices), cheese and crackers, leftover veggie pizza, or a quick sandwich rollup using a soft tortilla shell or pita bread.

One great way to enjoy a variety of healthy new foods is to form a lunch partnership with four or five other coworkers.  Everyone takes turns bringing lunch for everyone.  This can be a great way to enjoy healthy new foods and gather some great new recipes.

Creating a healthy fridge
All... start from here

In many ways the refrigerator is the cornerstone of any healthy eating plan.  How you stock that fridge can make a huge difference in the success or failure of any healthy eating plan.  From what foods it contains, to where they are stored, the refrigerator can be vitally important to healthy eating.

The first step should be to take stock of just what the refrigerator contains. The bachelors among us may already be familiar with this process, but taking stock of the fridge means more than just throwing away those foods that have begun to turn green or grow hair.

healthy refrigerator food organization
Taking stock of the contents of the fridge should mean a monthly review of everything it contains.  During this review, separate the healthier foods from the others.  It is important to make sure that you have more low fat, high fiber and low sugar foods than high fat low fiber and high sugar ones.

If the ratio is off, try to shop for healthier foods.

Another great trick for keeping a healthy refrigerator is to hide the less healthy foods.  

Try hiding the desserts and other such foods in the crisper, where they will be out of sight and not constantly tempting you.

Since fresh fruits and vegetables tend to dry out if they are not used right away, store them in plain sight to increase their likelihood of being eaten.  Hiding cakes in the produce drawers, and prominently displaying the fruits and vegetables, is a smart way to keep a healthy fridge.
Another tip is to organize the refrigerator into different sections, and to segregate those sections into sometimes foods (unhealthy choices) and everyday foods (healthy choices).  

Try to place the healthier foods in the front of the refrigerator, while relegating the unhealthier choices to the back.

Substitution is another great strategy for creating a healthy fridge and a healthy lifestyle.  There are low fat and nonfat versions of literally hundreds of different foods.  Try substituting skim or 1% milk for whole milk, soft margarines for fattier butter, and low fat sour cream for the full fat varieties.  Try replacing fattier meats with leaner ones, or with chicken and fish.  Even a simple change, like substituting a soft margarine for butter, can result in significant savings of saturated fat.

As stated in the previous paragraph, for those families with young children, it is important to involve the entire family in healthy eating lifestyles.  The habits children learn in childhood often follow them throughout their adult lives, so it makes a lot of sense to get them off to a great start.  Try decorating healthy foods with fun stickers, stars, or other colorful items.
Stickers and stars are not the only way to make healthy foods more appealing.  Try storing healthy foods with attractive, delicious toppings to make them more interesting and appealing. Try storing a container of berries next to the low fat yogurt, or a bottle of chocolate syrup with the 1% milk.  

Mixing these foods together is a great way to create healthy snacks quickly.
Another key to creating a healthy refrigerator is to use leftovers wisely.  Leftovers can be very useful, and healthy meals make healthy leftovers.  
Try using leftovers as lunches, or as healthy snacks for the next day.

Ready to eat meals are a great way to encourage healthy eating.
Try this handy trick – when you return from your weekly grocery shopping, take the time to create some quick single serving meals and stack them in the fridge.  

In addition, try making some quick snacks by cutting up fresh fruits and vegetables and storing them in single serving containers.

Using the freezer space in your refrigerator wisely is important as well.

Freezing foods that won’t be used right away is a great way to make your food dollar go further and to provide quick meals for your family.  Try freezing foods in portion sizes.  

This will make it easier to eat healthier meals, and it will help ensure everyone gets their favorites.  

When looking at portion sizes, remember that the recommended serving size of meat is 3 ounces, roughly equivalent to the size of a deck of playing cards.  The standard serving size for pasta is one cup, while a serving of vegetables is ½ cup.

The freezer can also be a great way to create fun fruit snacks for the entire family.  

Freezing healthy fruits like grapes, orange slices and bananas make great snacks for children and adults alike.


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