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Guest Column: It is possible to eat healthy while camping

Guest Column by Emily Schmidt

Albert Lea resident Emily Schmidt is a registered dietitian at Mayo Clinic Health System in Albert Lea. She enjoys writing, cooking and spending time with her son and family.

There is no doubt that one enjoyable part of going camping is the food, whether in an RV, tent or somewhere in-between. Many people tell me when they go on camping trips of any type or length of time, they are concerned they won’t eat as healthy as they should, especially if they are trying to make habit changes to manage their diabetes, weight, heart health or other health conditions. Cooking over the campfire, barbequing on the grill, fresh and cool side dishes, and beverages are all aspects of camping that can be part of a healthy lifestyle. Life should be enjoyed, and food can be a part of that without guilt no matter the situation.

Emily Schmidt

Campfires can be a fun way to cook and be creative. Are you familiar with “pudgy pies”? Many avid campers use a pie iron, a type of cooking gadget that allows you to make “pies” over the campfire. These can consist of various ingredients and are typically sandwich-like, and for many are a delicious camping staple. Try some healthy twists — make a pizza pie using whole grain bread (spray cooking spray in the pie iron first), pizza sauce, part-skim mozzarella cheese, vegetables such as green peppers, onions, mushrooms, black olives and some turkey pepperoni. Think outside the bread and make a pudgy pie quesadilla. Use small corn tortillas and fill with beans, cheese, seasonings of your choice (try cumin and chili powder), and when it’s hot and melty, top with salsa or low-fat sour cream or plain Greek yogurt.

When it comes to grilling, there are plenty of things you can do to improve nutrition. To reduce saturated fat, which in excess can be detrimental for heart health, go for skinless chicken breasts, fish fillets — including fresh fish that you’ve caught — lean cuts of beef or pork (look for words such as loin, sirloin, round, choice or select). Although processed meats should be limited due to the increased risk for cancer, turkey dogs or sausage are great lower fat and lower calorie alternatives to pork-based hot dogs or brats. These leaner protein choices are also lower in calories, which is beneficial if you’re trying to manage your weight. Keep things interesting with a variety of seasonings, low sodium marinades and brushing olive or canola oil on protein sources such as chicken or fish.

Side dishes or food items such as potato salad, chips and baked beans can be complemented by watermelon, fresh berries, grilled vegetable kebobs or grilled pineapple, corn on the cob (just go light on the butter and salt) or a mixture of vegetables and potatoes in an aluminum foil packet to be cooked either over the campfire or on the grill. In these foil dinners, try asparagus, any variety of potatoes (yes, potatoes in moderation can be healthy), zucchini, mushrooms or any other of your favorite vegetables in olive oil or small amount of butter or soft tub margarine, and season to your liking with herbs and spices.

Finally, drink plenty of water and limit sugary beverages such as regular soda, juice, sports drinks (unless going for a hike or doing other strenuous activity), lemonade or sweet tea. Of course, some of these beverages are fine in moderation, but balance them out with larger amounts of water, whether it’s flavored, carbonated or just good old plain ice water. Be careful of higher calorie alcoholic beverages such as wine coolers or hard liquor mixed with regular soda or juice and switch to drinks such as wine, light beer or liquor mixed with low calorie and sugar-free mixers such as sparkling water, diet soda or light reduced-sugar juices.

It is possible to make healthier nutrition choices while camping, yet still enjoy yourself and incorporate a variety of your favorite treats or indulgences — the key is balance. Additionally, try to stay as active as you can with hiking, biking, swimming or anything else that keeps you moving on your camping excursions, and have fun!