As the weather warms, Mother’s Day and Memorial Day approach, the desire to be outside for picnics and get togethers is on a lot of people’s minds. And while fresh air and the activity often associated with increased outdoor time is definitely good for your health, the food we tend to consume in such settings is often in opposition to these other benefits of the great outdoors.  So, how can you enjoy the great weather and social gatherings while still consuming nutritious options?

1.) Portion Control – at a picnic or BBQ, it’s easy to just snack on all the various options. Unfortunately, this makes it difficult to have a sense of how much you’re actually consuming and whether you’ve selected lots of fruits and veggies or more processed carbs. Grab a plate and fill it as you should – half fruits and/or veggies, a quarter protein, and up to a quarter of starch (potatoes, corn, whole grains). Don’t want to loose the snacking feel? Nibble at your plate, leaving it somewhere you can come back to it so that you can keep grabbing tastes, but proportioned ones!

2.) Fruits and Veggies – opt to bring a fruit or veggie-based dish so you know you’ll have something you can easily gravitate to when the urge to keep snacking hits you. When your only options are chips and desserts, it’s hard to resist. A fresh fruit salad with tons of lovely fruit, a veggie slaw made with just a bit of oil and vinegar instead of the traditional mayo, or a veggie plate with hummus instead of fat-laden dressings to dip all make great additions to any gathering and are pretty safe to keep snacking on the whole afternoon.

3.) One Non-Green/Fruit Salad – summer picnics and barbecues are notorious for their plethora of salads, and not the green kind! Pasta salad, potato salad, egg salad, jello salads – the list goes on and on. Limit yourself to one of these non-fruit or veggie based salads. They tend to be highly processed and loaded with excess, non-nutritious fats.

4.) Choose Wisely – desserts are a fan-favorite at outdoor gatherings. Cookies, brownies, pies – you name it, someone probably brought it. If you can resist, opt for a heaping helping of that fresh fruit salad instead. But, if you just have to have something for your sweet tooth, choose one. Take your time and decide what you’re truly in the mood for. Or, split a dessert with a friend! (That doesn’t mean you get 2!).

5.) Recipe Redos – consider bringing a healthier option of a traditional favorite. Instead of mayo in a chicken salad, consider yogurt, or perhaps avocado! You’ll still get the creamy goodness, but without the processed fats. Bring big lettuce pieces for lettuce wraps instead of a bun or bread. Perfect for a burger or any of those non-veggie salads! Swap heavy dips like ranch dressing and caramel sauces for something healthier, like hummus or a homemade “caramel” made with soaked medjool dates, a little water, and some vanilla.

6.) Don’t Drink you Calories!  Cookouts and picnics are often times for calorie-laden beverages galore. From alcohol to lemonade, sweet tea, and soda, it’s easy to over do it and not even realize the enormous calorie intake you’ve been slurping on all day. Choose water or unsweetened tea. Not glamorous enough? Consider a carbonated water infused with fruit and herbs, like berries and mint, or lime and ginger. Save your calories for that special dessert you’ve been eyeing!

Warm-weather fun doesn’t have to sabotage your eating and health efforts. With some small tweaks and eating mindfulness, you can have a blast and improve your health too!

Aubrey MS RDN