Picnic with Your Toddler!

by Karen Ansel, MS RD

Ages: Toddler
Topics: Lunch, Snacks
Picnic with Your Toddler!

If you struggle to get your toddler or preschooler to eat at the kitchen table, why not take it outside? "Finding new ways to make healthy foods fun is the key to good lifelong habits," says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. "Picnics are a great way to build those healthy eating habits as a family." Free from the constraints of a table and a chair, your little one will be more relaxed and flexible – and so will you! Here's how to do it in style.

  • Think local. A long car ride can make for a cranky child, so don't feel you need to pack up the whole family and take to the road. The backyard (or even the basement or family room if the weather is uncooperative) will work just fine.
  • Get creative. Rather than serving your standard sandwich, think out-of-the-box. Cut sandwiches into your child’s favorite shapes with cookie cutters. Or make your little one smile with a happy face sandwich, suggests Jamieson-Petonic. Simply decorate the top of a turkey and cheese sandwich on a small, whole-wheat pita with sliced cherry tomatoes for the eyes, a ripe berry for the nose and an orange slice for the mouth.
  • Pile on the produce. Kids need fiber to keep their digestive systems running smoothly, yet most toddlers and preschoolers don’t get their fill, according to a 2010 Journal of the American Dietetic Association study. One tasty way to up your child's fiber intake is to offer lots of fruits and vegetables. Go ahead and pack plenty of child-friendly choices like fresh berries, bananas, sliced grapes, sliced cherry tomatoes and steamed baby carrots. Since kids love to dunk just about anything, take it one step further and serve these with a low-fat yogurt-based dip. Then watch those fruits and veggies disappear.
  • Don't forget the fluids. "Hydration is especially important for small children because they aren’t able to regulate their body temperature as effectively as adults," says Jamieson-Petonic. Skip the sugar-laden sweetened drinks and juice coolers, which fill kids up with empty calories and spoil their appetites. Instead, whip up your own fruit-flavored drink by adding freshly sliced strawberries and oranges to a container of chilled water.
  • Keep it fresh. Nothing can ruin a picnic faster than good food gone bad. Because food can spoil quickly on a hot day, keeping food cold is key especially if you’ll be traveling for more than an hour or two. Make sure your picnic stays fresh by packing all perishables in a cooler with ice or in lunch boxes with cold packs. Dirty little hands can also contaminate otherwise safe foods, so encourage your little one to wash his or her hands before leaving the house and carry plenty of antibacterial gel and wipes for a quick pre-picnic clean up.
  • Pump up the fun. Picnics aren't just about food, they’re also about special times together. "Small children have a limited attention span, so you need lots of different activities to keep them engaged," says Jamieson-Petonic. "Get them moving, laughing and singing." Rounding them up for a hula hooping contest or a game of kick ball or duck duck goose is guaranteed to keep them happy and active.
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About the author:

Karen M Ansel MS RD

Karen Ansel, MS RD




  • Cook healthy

    Involve your child in the cutting, mixing and preparation of all meals. Even a snack can be healthy.

  • Eat right

    Sit down together as a family to enjoy a wonderful meal and the opportunity to share the day's experiences with one another.

  • Shop smart

    To encourage a healthy lifestyle, get your children involved in selecting the food that will appear at the breakfast, lunch or dinner table.

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