The summer may be winding down, but healthy family fun doesn't have to end just because the season does. Make the school year calendar your ally with these cool ideas for great food and family time.
- This may be the symbolic end of summer, but the weather's still fine, so get the family on their bikes and head to the park, the beach, the pool, or your favorite outdoor eatery. Don't forget to take the scenic route, keeping an eye out for the first turning leaves, or summer's last flowers or fruits.
- Going away for Labor Day? Be on the lookout for local, late-season produce and nuts at your destination. Or enjoy healthy regional specialties like salsas in the south west, seafood in the north, or specialty cheeses in the Midwest.
- Take the "labor" in Labor Day literally and do a little something for your hometown (or your vacation destination). For example, walk to the local lake or park and on the way fill up a bag, big or small, with litter you find on the way. Make it a contest, if that gets everyone motivated. All that bending and squatting provides a great workout!
- Celebrate the Jewish New Year with the family by doing something new. The weather's still temperate in many locations, so get out in it and do something you've never done before. New family activities to try might include disc golf, horseback riding, or kayaking.
- Eat something new at breakfast, lunch or dinner today, with everyone picking a fun and healthy food. Roam the supermarket aisles looking for cool produce -- maybe dragon fruit or star fruit, or lemon cucumbers, purple potatoes or bright orange cauliflower -- then look for recipes to make with your new treats.
- A time to thank those who've served in the military, why not make healthy and tasty goodies for the veterans you know? Bake up a couple dozen fruit-and-nut cookies, some banana bread, or a crumble with frozen fruits that hearken back to the summer just past.
- The weather's getting colder, but there's still fun to be had outside. A few spots are still alive with fall foliage. If you live in one, get out there and hunt for the prettiest fallen leaves. Winner gets to decide what's for dinner.
Too cold to be outside? Head indoors and exercise your mind. Visit a local museum and enjoy the paintings and exhibits together. Which is the family favorite? Which makes everyone smile? Which would you or the kids like to see every day, say hanging on the living room wall?
- Taking part in a food-related fund-raiser? Raise the bar and create new treats to offer a hungry public. How about bananas or strawberries dipped in dark chocolate? Bring a cooler full of fruit or yogurt pops -- blend juice and your favorite fruits; or combine yogurt, fruit, and juice, then freeze.
- Opt for alternative fund-raisers like a car wash or a multi-family garage sale. Plan a 3K walk-run, complete with sponsors, or hold a fair, with games, and activities like three-legged races and treasure hunts.
- The theme is exploration, so pile the family into the car and head someplace you've never been. When you get there -- whether it's a small town that's new to you, a garden, playground, or museum -- make it everyone's job to learn fun facts about the place.
- Why not explore a new food, too? Pick a theme, maybe bread, then see how many kinds the family can sample. Think pita from the Middle East, French baguettes, chapati from India, and Mexican tortillas to start.
- Of course you want to enjoy traditional favorites on this holiday, but bump things up a notch and replace one so-so dish with something new. Make it a healthy family activity by replacing a fattening dish with a healthier version.
Maybe retire the green beans in exchange for orange slices with cinnamon, golden raisins, and champagne vinegar. Or brighten the winter table with the most colorful salad creative minds can conjure, think strawberries, snow peas, julienned carrots, and spinach.
- Before every major meal during the holidays plan a walk, even if it's just a casual stroll around the block. Or better yet, throw a ball or Frisbee in the park to build up appetites, then on the walk home talk about what you're thankful for, focusing on your neighborhood, neighbors, family, or friends.
- Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, or Kwanza, there's lots of physical fun to be had during winter holidays, even when the ground is snow-covered and the air crisp. Try snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or snowboarding. Or play a silly round of golf in the park, using bright orange golf balls and inexpensive clubs you pick up at a thrift store.
- Volunteer as a family to shovel the walkways of elderly neighbors, then make time for a snowball fight or two.
- Since the New Year is on its way, plan to do something new as a family. Join the Y and take a class together -- maybe scale the climbing wall, take up kickboxing, or make a splash in the indoor pool.
- You can also sign up for fun food-related courses at the community college, maybe learn how to bake, make Thai food, or craft your own cheeses.
- Memorial Day is another great time for family fun with a service twist. A traditional Memorial Day act of service is to place flags on the graves of military personnel; you can boost the physical activity quotient by tidying up the cemetery during your visit. Or maybe head to your city's downtown and visit the memorials there, even tiny towns usually have one or more.
Need something a bit more upbeat? Revisit the neighborhood cleanup idea. Walk to the closest park, with one family member carrying sandwiches and drinks, while the others bring along a plastic bag with the goal of filling the bag before reaching the park.
- Farmers markets are in full swing about now; spend a weekend day visiting one or two near you. Encourage everyone to pick out a new fruit or veggie they've never tried before. All the better if you have a theme: think pizza toppings, burrito fillings, or cool stuff to blend and make into ice pops.
- As the days warm up, start experimenting with fun iced teas to make for when the weather's scorching. Most tea aisles have some eye-opening flavors, like coconut-mango, licorice, or chocolate mint.
- Don't forget to forage for local fruits as they come into season, from blueberries and blackberries, to pears, plums, peaches.
It's easy to make time for family, fun, and good food all year. Let these tips get you started, then branch off with even more holidays and fun ideas of your own.