Summer picnics can foster deeper family bonds, help create memories

By VICKI HAYWOOD DOE | Special to the Metro Monthly

Summer is a great time for fun outdoor celebrations. Many people will mark this summer with family reunions, birthdays, Juneteenth, Fourth of July or just fun in the sun. Sometimes these well-intended celebrations can turn into a day of unhealthy overeating or a gluttonous junk food fest. However, we can have healthy, active outdoor celebrations that will give us an opportunity to enjoy quality time with family, fun physical activities and healthy eating.  It just takes careful planning.

Plan for Physical Activity

The first step is to host your outing where there are opportunities for physical activity. Research has shown that where there’s an activity friendly environment or open space to play, children and families will participate together in more physical activities.

Look for a setting that has walking/bike trails, a playground for children, or open space to play. Bring badminton net and gear, Frisbees, hula-hoops, jump ropes (double-Dutch) and other equipment to keep folks busy. And don’t forget a boom box to play the jams for line dancing.  It’s always fun to get everyone doing “The Electric Slide” and other dances!  The key is to keep family and guests busy and moving.  Make the focus of the picnic outing about family togetherness and social support, not just eating.

Plan for Healthy Eating

A healthy picnic is really not that hard to accomplish.  It takes strategic planning, tweaking and making healthy food selections that will be good for you while not jeopardizing good taste. The American Dietetic Association suggests that we find healthier alternatives to the traditional high-fat picnic foods like fried chicken, hamburgers, hot dogs, mayonnaise-based salads, pasta, cakes, cookies, chips, sweetened beverages, and sodas.

Instead, have an abundance of fresh and colorful vegetables such as cherry tomatoes, sliced yellow squash, zucchini, baby carrots, red/green peppers, cucumbers and celery sticks and serve with salsa, low-fat Greek yogurt mixed with herbs or hummus.   Throw some of these veggies together with fresh herbs and make a chopped veggie salad lightly tossed with olive oil and served with your favorite vinaigrette.  Try making fruit kabobs with a selection of watermelon, strawberries, honeydew, pineapple, apples, and peaches. Make a low-fat fruit dessert with a cup of various fruit topped with light whipped cream. This is usually a hit with kids!

When grilling, use 90 percent lean ground turkey burgers, veggie burgers or lean meat kabobs.  Grill lean meat kabobs made from natural 99 percent fat-free, skinless, anti-biotic free chicken breast or use for grilled chicken burgers. Grilled vegetables are also very delicious.  Use veggies such as portabella mushrooms, bell peppers, zucchini, yellow squash and red onion. Try making sandwich wraps from whole-grain tortilla wraps stuffed with grilled chicken or veggies and salsa or greek yogurt mixed with herbs.

Substitute sweetened beverages and sodas with fresh cold water or homemade flavored water that has various fruits in it.  Ice-cold herbal teas are awesome when it’s hot outside. Try jasmine green tea, or calming chamomile tea.  Very refreshing!

But even after all of the substituting, sometimes you may want some of the traditional picnic dishes. You can still have these dishes if you tweak and modify the ingredients to be healthier. Over the years, I have tweaked my Southern Potato Salad so that it’s healthier without jeopardizing the taste. My recipe appears below.

Vicki Doe’s Southern Potato Salad

Makes 8-12 servings

10-12red-skinned potatoes well-scrubbed

4 large eggs, hard-boiled

1 medium green bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

1 medium red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped

2medium celery stalks finely chopped

1medium red onion, finely chopped

1four ounce  jar of sliced pimientos

2/3cup of low-fat mayonnaise

2tablespoons of Dijon mustard or spicy brown mustard

3tablespoons of sweet pickle relish

2teaspoons celery seed

Salt and freshly ground black pepper (season for taste)

Cayenne pepper (season for taste/optional)

Paprika (sprinkle on salad as a garnish)


Boil potatoes in salted water over high heat.  Reduce heat and simmer until tender (but not mushy) for about 15-20 minutes. Make sure potatoes are cooked.  Pour hot water out and let cool. Run cold water over the potatoes until cool enough to touch.  Drain well.

Peel potatoes, but leave some of the skins on them.  Cut into ½-inch cubes. Place in a large bowl.  Use the egg whites of the 4 hard-boiled eggs and add to potatoes, red onions, green and red pepper, celery, and jar of sliced pimientos.  Sprinkle with the celery seed.  Gradually stir in the low-fat mayonnaise, mustard, and sweet relish.  Be careful not to smash the potatoes.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Put in a large serving bowl and sprinkle with paprika. You can serve immediately or refrigerate and serve chilled. Limit to 1- 2 servings.

Healthy Tips

• Substitute low-fat mayonnaise with low-fat Greek yogurt.

• Substitute salt with salt-free Mrs. Dash original blend.

Depending on how many servings and brand of condiments, you can reduce up to 150 calories from the typical amount of calories in a traditional southern potato salad!

Vicki Haywood Doe PhD, ACSM-HFS, is president and health fitness director for Haywood Doe Consulting Co., LLC/Vicki Doe Fitness, a health and wellness consulting company based in Niles, Ohio.  Visit for more information.

© 2014 Metro Monthly. All rights reserved.

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