Warm days, cool food

Children and picnics could very well be the perfect summertime combination. Eating outdoors, whether on a green wooden table in the park or on a blanket spread over a patch of grass in your backyard, is a win-win situation for parents and kids alike.

The freedom for kids to run around and burn off energy accompanied by the minimal mess factor makes for a great afternoon. All that’s needed is a little sunshine, a big pack of wet wipes, and of course, a few easy-to-pass dishes the kids can dig into in between games of hide-n-seek and catch.

Picnic fare can be simple or sophisticated, depending on your style. However, taking the easy route is usually the best bet. That said, there are still plenty of trouble-free options that are better than a bag of chips and hot dogs.

Before you head out the door, don’t forget about these important picnic essentials: Napkins, plates, serving spoons, forks, a few bottles of water and a trash bag for clean up. See the following page for our recipes.

Standup Sandwiches

This pita is a delicious addition to any picnic basket and always a winner with everyone, young and old. The shredded chicken and chopped carrots give this sandwich great texture and nutrition.

Chicken Pitas

Serves four

2 cups shredded cooked chicken

1 cup carrots (shredded)

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese

1/4 cup mayonnaise

2 Tbsp. yellow mustard

1/2 tsp. salt

1/8 tsp. pepper

4 (6-inch) pita breads, halved

In a large bowl, combine the chicken, carrots and cheese. In a small bowl, mix the mayo, mustard, salt and pepper. Pour these ingredients into the large bowl and mix. Chill for at least one hour. Just before you’re ready to head out the door, spoon these ingredients into the pita halves, wrap or store in plastic bag and go.

Who doesn’t love a new take on an old classic? This standby takes just a few minutes of prep work and a little chill time before heading out the door.

Peanut Butter and Jelly Wraps

Serves two4 whole grain flour tortillas2 Tbsp. organic peanut butter2 Tbsp. jam (your favorite flavor)1 Tbsp. softened light cream cheese

In a small bowl, mix the jam and cream cheese, set aside. Spread half the peanut butter on one tortilla. Place another tortilla on top and spread half of the cream cheese and jam mixture on it. Slowly roll the two tortillas into a roll, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about two hours (or longer). Repeat with the remaining mixture and two tortillas. Just before your picnic, remove from plastic wrap and cut into bite-size pieces (about 1 inch). Store in a sealed container.

Fruits that stand the test of time

If your kids are toddler-age or younger, a couple unpeeled bananas might just do the trick, but if you’d like to plate up a tasty fruit salad, try this dish:

Rainbow Fruit Salad

Serves four

Leave the fruit leathers at home. This delicious, vitamin-filled fruit salad will hit the sweet spot with your kids while giving them the energy and nutrition they need.

2 cups cantaloupe (chopped or balled) 1 cup Bing cherries (pitted and halved)1 cup green seedless grapes (halved)1 Mandarin orange (sliced)2 kiwis (chopped)

Mix fruits together, store in a sealed container and chill. The beauty of this fruit salad is that none of these fruits brown easily, so there is no need to add lemon or lime juice, and it won’t turn to mush if it’s left outside too long.

Delish Dips

Veggie or pasta salads are great for grown up picnics, but they’re often passed over by kids. Anything that’s an easy grab item, such as carrots, celery sticks or even a cool cucumber, are easy and edible for everyone. The difference is in the dip.

Low Fat Fiesta Dip

Serves 8

In just three ingredients, you’ll have a dip that the whole family can indulge in. Pair this dip with any of your favorite chopped vegetables and your picnic is set.

12 ounce salsa1 8-ounce container of light or low fat cream cheese1/4 cup low fat cheddar cheese

Blend all these ingredients together, place in a sealed container, chill for a couple hours and go.

Traci Danielson Mitchell is a Chicago-based nutrition coach and health writer. She provides family nutrition services through her company, DM Nutrition& Fitness. Reach her online at www.dmnutrition.com or e-mail her at traci@dmnutrition.com.

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