One of the best parts of summer is making memories with your loved ones. From beach days to trips to the park, there are so many ways to enjoy the summer sun. But figuring out what everyone’s going to eat all day—between the nutritional needs of any chronic conditions you may have and the picky preferences of your kids—can sometimes be stressful.
“One of the biggest obstacles when implementing nutritional changes for your health is the impact it can have on your loved ones,” says One Drop health coach, Danica Crouse, a registered dietitian/nutritionist (RDN) and certified nutrition support clinician (CNC). “Just like we don’t expect anyone to overhaul their diet in a day, we don’t expect loved ones to do that, either.”
Challenging as it may be, there are some tips and tricks to striking a balance between what you and the kids are craving for your day out and about. Here’s Crouse’s advice for how to pack a healthy cooler.
Be Patient When Introducing New Foods
Let’s say you want to introduce green beans to your kids, so you pack them up in the cooler to dole out at lunchtime. Yes, maybe you’ll catch the little ones in a curious, playful mood and be able to sneak them a few bites. But, more likely than not, it won’t be an easy sell.
“When it comes to introducing new foods, it can take kids many, many exposures before they’ll accept something,” explains Crouse.
So, rather than approaching the situation with an all-or-nothing mindset (e.g., putting a big blob of green beans on their plate and expecting them to eat it all), try just putting one green bean on their plate and see if they ask about it. If they do, tell them about how you prepared it and what the textures and flavors are like.
“They might take one bite, they might just put it up to their lips, or they might disregard it altogether,” says Crouse. “Regardless, the key is to have the patience to know that it’s going to take time and, most likely, multiple exposures.”
Yes, you could be even sneakier about getting kids to try certain healthy foods by essentially hiding them in something tastier, like adding zucchini or carrots to a batch of muffins.
But, if your goal is to get your loved ones more familiar with some of the foods you’ve started incorporating into your diet, Crouse says your best bet is to be upfront about what those foods are and why they’re good for us—even if it takes them time to warm up.
Be Playful with Food
Food might be a central part of your chronic condition management, but it’s also important to remember that food is experiential—it’s meant to be enjoyed!
Channel that sense of playfulness and celebration with your loved ones by inviting them into the kitchen to help prep everything that’s going into your cooler. Not only is it more fun to cook and handle food with a group, but you can also bounce ideas off of one another to make the food more appetizing and fun.
For instance, says Crouse, it could be as simple as laying out whole-grain crackers on a cool snacking board rather than just putting them in a boring plastic bag. To make vegetables more enticing, try putting them on a kebab rather than piles on a plate. For fruit, you can make DIY fruit popsicles, or even homemade yogurt parfaits instead of prepackaged ones that may come with loads of added sugar.
Focus On Filling Options That Are Both New and Familiar
A day out at the park or the beach typically calls for a lot of grazing. That means the name of the game is to pack filling options that will keep you and your loved ones satiated throughout the day.
“You want to make sure you have good elements of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates—foods that give you that initial energy boost,” says Crouse.
For instance, chips might be your usual go-to for a quick snack to throw in your bag, but a more complex energy source might be whole-grain crackers that you can pair with low-fat cheese or an avocado-based dip that includes healthy fats and protein.
At the same time, though, when you’re planning to be out for the whole day, “you don’t necessarily want to introduce too many new things to kids because, if they don’t like it or don’t want to try it, then they might say, ‘I’m not going to eat anything,’” notes Crouse. “Then you’ll have grumpy kids on your hands, and they’re probably going to just want to binge on something as soon as they get home.”
With that in mind, one way to balance the familiar with what’s new is to get a little creative with the presentation of your food. For example, if you know your kids love peanut butter, try pairing that with celery and raisins (a.k.a. ants on a log) for a quick, easy, nutritious snack. Or, if they love chocolate, whip up a decadent, yet heart-healthy chocolate avocado smoothie. Pour it into a pretty mason jar for easy access on-the-go, pack some fun straws for the kids, and you’re good to go.
Overall, though, says Crouse, remember to give everybody—including yourself and any little ones joining your group—some grace in trying new foods and recognizing what works and what doesn’t.
Need more ideas for how to pack a healthy cooler? Here are some of Crouse’s snack suggestions:
- Turkey and cheese roll-ups
- String cheese (low-fat mozzarella)
- Veggie spears with dip (hummus, Greek yogurt-based ranch)
- Veggies and fruit shapes (using shape cutters)
- Whole-grain crackers with cheese or dips
- Smoothies (in a mason jar)
- Bento box of assorted veggies and dips
- Homemade fruit/yogurt popsicles
- Ants on a log (celery, peanut butter, raisins)
- Nuts/trail mix (if age-appropriate)
If you have diabetes, consider checking your blood sugar before and after trying a new recipe to better understand how its ingredients impact your health. If you have any questions, reach out to your One Drop coach.
This article has been clinically reviewed by Jamillah Hoy-Rosas, MPH, RDN, CDCES, and VP of clinical operations at One Drop.