Picnic with Your Toddler

Contributors: Karen Ansel, MS, RDN, CDN and Esther Ellis, MS, RDN, LDN
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If you struggle to get your toddler or preschooler to eat at the kitchen table, take it outside! 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 a happy face sandwich. 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 dietary fiber to keep their digestive systems running smoothly, yet most toddlers and preschoolers don't get enough according to recent research. One tasty way to up your child's fiber intake is to offer more fruits and vegetables. Go ahead and pack plenty of child-friendly choices like fresh berries, pieces of banana, quartered grapes, sliced cherry tomatoes and steamed baby carrots (no larger than a half inch in size). 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. Skip the drinks and juices with added sugars, 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. Be sure to strain the fruit before serving.
  • 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.
  • Keep it safe. Picnics can be enjoyable for everyone involved, but it's also important to take certain precautions. Be sure the child remains sitting while eating and avoid packing foods that may pose a choking risk for young children.
  • Pump up the fun. Picnics aren't just about food, they're also about special times together and offer a great opportunity to be physically active as a family. 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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