Summer is fast approaching but packing up the kids to head outside could be daunting, especially for those whose experience with outdoor activities is limited.
But don’t worry. With a little help and some simple planning, the whole crew will want to unplug and find activities that will invigorate not just the body, but the mind. The opportunities to show our kids how to eat healthy and be active can stay with them for a life time. Young children and the young at heart will enjoy summer days filled with picnics and outdoor barbecues that create great memories.
Fill a cooler with ice or ice packs as you head outdoors. Think about packing perishable foods in a different cooler away from beverages. As kids go in and out of a cooler, the foods and drinks are exposed to warmer temperatures. Perishable foods such as cheese and meats will stay colder longer if the cooler stays closed much of the day. Place beverages in another cooler that’s easy to access and include reusable bottles of water to quench everyone’s thirst.
Pack fruits and veggies that your kids will enjoy. Look for choices that are simple to eat like sliced watermelon, strawberries and cherry tomatoes. Make fruit salads and serve with 100% whole wheat crackers for a quick snack. Include apples, oranges and dried fruit that older kids can easily carry in a backpack.
Build a healthy meal in advance. Think about options that don’t require cooking such as a veggie wrap or nut butter and banana sandwiches on your favorite bread. Make a pasta salad at home with sliced carrots, onions, and broccoli and add canned tuna and low-fat dressing when you’re ready to serve. Visit ChooseMyPlate.gov for more ideas.
Once outdoors, what do you do with the kids? Discover the Forest and the Spanish-language version Descubre el Bosque is a public service campaign of the U.S. Forest Service and the Ad Council that aims to inspire 8-12 year olds and their parents to reconnect with nature. It’s loaded with helpful ideas, including the aptly named “The Book of Stuff to Do Outside,” which you can download free. The book shows how to have a scavenger hunt, find directions using a compass and how to keep a nature journal.
Work with children to show them – and maybe even yourself – how to turn something negative into a learning experience. Mosquitos are a fact of life, and we don’t like them gnawing on us. But show kids that bats, largely misunderstood mammals that are night-flyers, eat more than 1,000 mosquito-sized insects in about an hour.
Another Forest Service program that helps children connect with nature is the Junior Forest Ranger. Children can complete the activities in the 18-page book to qualify for the Junior Forest Ranger pin and card. And when the summer is over, they can get ready to qualify for their Junior Snow Ranger designation.
Where ever you decide to go this summer – a county or state park or a national forest or grassland – be safe, eat well, stay hydrated and let’s move all summer long.