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Nutrition: Before heading out, plan to take along a healthy meal

August 26, 2016

basket picnic outdoor lunchArticle courtesy of LeeAnn Weintraub for the Daily News.

When spring is in full swing, beautiful weather and longer daylight hours are not the only reasons to enjoy the outdoors.

There are endless opportunities for local outdoor day trips to fun and family-friendly destinations.

Heading out for a day at the beach, a state park, the zoo, a sporting event, or anywhere else means preparation. Prepare smart and healthy food. Food that will keep energy levels stable and appetites satisfied are good ideas. So before you head out on your adventure, here are some tips for packing a safe and healthy day trip picnic.

• Tourist attractions are notorious for offering overpriced food that is lacking in the nutrition department. Plus, you’ll waste precious time standing with the crowds in long lines while forking over all your cash. Instead, bring along your own meals and snacks to maintain better control over food choices. Pack a picnic with a variety of travel-friendly and balanced options.

• If you plan to bring any perishable foods like items with cheese, mayonnaise, prepared salads, and luncheon meats, keep them in a cooler with freezer packs or ice. Keep food at the proper temperature to prevent bacteria from growing to dangerous levels, causing illness.

The rule of thumb for food left out at room temperature is up to two hours is safe. After two hours, toss it out. When the temperature is over 90 degrees, that time is cut in half; food in that heat must be consumed within one hour.

• If your day begins with an early start, plan to have a fast and simple breakfast at home or ready to grab-and-go. Since the focus is on getting to your destination, include no-fuss foods. Anything that can be prepared ahead for time savings and convenience is a good option. Opt for high-fiber, protein-rich foods like Greek yogurt, whole grain cereal bars, fresh fruit and hard-boiled eggs. A mini breakfast burrito in a whole wheat tortilla is both nutritious and easy to eat on-the-go.

• Look for nutrient-dense, non-perishable snacks that contain protein, fiber, and healthy fats. Choose whole food snacks while steering away from highly processed items. Some great day trip snacks include turkey jerky, whole grain crackers, nuts and seeds, dehydrated fruits and vegetables like Crunchies, and baked chips made with beans and lentils.

• Plan for an easy lunch that is quick to assemble ahead of time and incorporates some colorful vegetables. Depending on what works best for your travel companions, you may prefer to do a family-style picnic or pack individual lunchboxes for everyone. Whole grain pasta salad made with chicken or beans and vegetables is a great make-ahead option.

Also, try filling whole grain pita bread with tuna or chicken salad and fresh spinach leaves. Some other delicious and nutritious lunch ideas to throw in the cooler include nut butter sandwiches, turkey and cheese tortilla wraps, and cheese and veggie quesadillas. Other foods to stock the cooler with include baby carrots, string cheese, and fresh fruit.

• Finally, don’t forget to stay hydrated. Consider how much fluid everyone will need for the day and pack bottles of water and other favorite drinks accordingly.

It is best to keep a separate cooler for drinks that are easily accessible. Perishable foods can remain in a different cooler at the correct temperature until it’s time to eat.

From the mountains to the ocean, there are many exciting outdoor attractions worth experiencing by day trip. Having a plan for eating right will help ensure that your mini outdoor vacay is a big success.

Stocking nutritious snacks, a cooler with refreshing drinks and a tasty picnic lunch is a recipe for feeling great during a long day exploring your favorite outdoor spots.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock via Daily News.