Member Login
Follow Us

Healthy Summer Outdoor Eating

Anne Kolker • MS, Registered Dietitian • Jun 12, 2011

summer healthy foods for families

Eating healthy while enjoying the great outdoors with your kids can be a challenge. With a busy schedule, it may seem easier to pack up the cooler, picnic basket, or children's day camp lunch box with pre-packaged foods. You might be tempted to grab traditional outdoor foods like 'hot dogs' to cook over the campfire during your family summer outings. But, with a little planning, a few tips and some easy kid-friendly recipes, your family can eat healthier meals on your next summer picnic or camping trip.

Healthy Outdoor Picnic Foods

Enjoying time as a family in the outdoors is a great way to have fun with your children this summer-, a family picnic at a local park, a mini hiking trip, cooking out at local lake or a camping trip to a state park is an affordable way to spend a fun family weekend. The great outdoors offers family so many wonderful benefits, family time, special bonding moments, appreciation for wildlife and our earth, time away from the TV, and fun outdoor activities. But too often, we bring prepackaged foods, hot dogs and chips to fill our kids’ tummies. Here are some healthy outdoor eating tips to ensure a great family time while still eating healthy!

For our special summer outdoor event, we went on our first-ever family camping trip. My kids, ages 11, 8 and 5, were really excited especially since we were going with another family. I started to think about the typical outdoor meal and quickly thought of hotdogs and soda. I started to wonder if I could really combine healthy cooking and outdoor eating into one sentence! Fortunately for us, the other family we were sharing a campsite with also viewed barbecuing and picnics as a way to enjoy good food rather than just looking for foods that are convenient. I took some easy steps to ensure our outdoor meals would be delicious and full of healthy foods.

Planning Easy Summer Picnic Recipes

Indeed, when I was unpacking the van (well really, when my husband was doing all the hard stuff), I noticed other campsites with soda, chips, cookies, high sugary cereals, and other convenience food (AKA junk food) sitting out on the picnic tables. I know families grab these items because they are quick and easy. But you can still have meals that are convenient while enjoying the outdoors. The key to easy meals that are healthy is planning.
Planning your family’s meal is especially important when you and your children will be eating food outdoors for picnics, nature hikes or on family camping trips because you only have the foods you pack to eat! The week before we were set to leave, our two families took a half and hour to plan our meals. We had the kids join us so we would have their buy-in right from the start. We worked together to find healthy substitutes that they would like.

Our Healthy Summer Outdoor Meals

  • We passed on bringing chips and instead made fresh fruit and trail mix the main snack. By planning a little, we also cut some food preparation time by bringing pre-washed bagged lettuce and washing produce ahead of time (like cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes, and apples).
  • For an easy dinner for the first night, I brought an entré that I made the night before we left. This way we could enjoy good food and feel like we were at a summer resort. All I had to do was heat the pulled pork on the butane stove.
  • For the second night, for a tasty and easy camping barbeque dinner, we had grilled chicken kebobs. By planning ahead, we made it easier to cook while camping! I cut chicken breasts into small pieces and placed them into a thick freezer bag to be easily threaded onto the wooden skewer (yes, we had coolers of ice to keep food cold).
  • Oh, in case you’re wondering, did we enjoy S’mores? Sure, the key to a healthy family lifestyle is moderation. Unfortunately, the American diet tends to be too heavy on the sugar and fat. However, family outings, offers a wonderful opportunity to teach kids to make healthier choices and learn about healthy foods that kids will like.
  • For breakfast we made blueberry pancakes from scratch. OK, if the word “scratch” just brought your mind to a screeching halt, it really isn’t that difficult to make – you probably have all the ingredients in your house already. 
  • This is a great opportunity to get the kids involved and to see that you don’t just add water to a mix to make pancakes. One trick is have the kids help with the food by mixing the dry ingredients at home to bring on your trip. Having the kids involved and helping makes it a real family event and they take pride in eating foods they help prepare!
  • Deciding what food to bring and packing healthy foods for family picnics or camping outdoors can really be a challenge. It is important to teach kids that fun summer food can also be healthy choices - so pack up the cooler or picnic with some healthy foods that you and your children will enjoy on your next outdoor adventure.










See All Our Nutrition Articles


Written by Anne KolkerWritten on Jun 12, 2011Last updated on Jun 20, 2014




The photos displayed on this website were purchased legally from,, and All clipart displayed on this website is the exclusive property of