Planning healthy backyard BBQs and park picnics

By Jenni Wolf

It’s that time of year when, as Minnesotans, we try to soak up every possible minute of glorious summer weather that we can. At least that’s my goal when it comes to spending my time during these long-awaited summer months!

That means more time spent at the baseball diamond for Little League games, more nights spent around a backyard campfire, endless rounds of cornhole, pool playdates and park picnics.

Wondering what to pack in your cooler or put on the menu for the next neighborhood cookout to stay fueled through these long summer days and activities? Read on for tips to plan and prepare a tasty, healthy spread for your next outdoor adventure or backyard BBQ and some sample menus!

•  Think through the food groups. I recommend including at least one source of the four core food groups at meals: grains, protein, fat and produce. Plan your main menu with these in mind to ensure you’re getting a balance of nutrients to keep your body energized and satisfied. When it’s time to eat, it can be helpful to visualize your plate as being filled with half grains, one-quarter protein and one-quarter produce with a source of fat mixed in or added on top for a healthy balance.

•  Add in “fun” foods. Once you have the basics down, add in fun, seasonal or nostalgic sides to round out the meal or just snack on. I call these “fun foods” because, while they absolutely still provide you nutrition, you might tend to choose them more so based on preference and enjoyment. Most of your nutritional needs will be met by the main spread, so no need to fret about enjoying the taco dip, a scoop of snicker salad or a handful of Twizzlers, which may not be as nutrient dense. Remember all foods fit!

•  Don’t forget to hydrate. Stock the cooler with plenty of cold ice and your favorite beverages and water. Enjoy a glass of lemonade mixed with sparkling seltzer water for a refreshing mocktail, sip a chilly, local craft beer or enjoy your favorite soda. I recommend alternating water with your beverage of choice just to be sure you are meeting fluid needs and finding a balance between sweetened beverages and good ol’ classic H2O.

Check out two of my go-to menus when I’m packing a picnic or hosting friends in the backyard. Mix and match or make swaps of your own using the tips above, then kick back and enjoy the Minnesota summer! 


Backyard cookout: classic barbecue

Grilled barbecue chicken (protein)

Pasta or potato salad (grain and fat)

Fruit salad and grilled corn (produce)

Tortilla chips and taco dip (fun food)

Rice crispy bars (fun food)

Fruit punch, lemonade, sparkling water (hydration)


Park picnic: charcuterie-style

Slices of deli meat, summer sausage and cheese (protein) – Tim & Tom’s Speedy Market has a great selection!

Whole grain crackers and pita chips (grain)

Raw carrot sticks and snap peas (produce)

Hummus dip (fat)

Pickles (fun food)

M&Ms and Twizzlers (fun food)

Juice boxes (hydration)

Jenni Wolf lives in the Como neighborhood and is a practicing registered dietitian who is passionate about helping others nourish a positive and balanced relationship with food.

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