8 ways to boost the health of summer get-togethers

Ah, summer! It’s time to kick back and get together at backyard bashes, picnics in the park and parades on the Fourth of July. Here are some tips on how to keep those celebrations as healthy as they are fun.

Get everybody moving. Organize gatherings around activities that get guests on their feet. "Explore a local trail together or, if kids are attending, head out on a neighborhood scavenger hunt," suggests Stephani Knisley, RD, LD, a registered dietician at Kettering and Sycamore medical centers. "Play active games, maybe soccer in a nearby field or croquet or volleyball in your backyard."

Serve thirst-quenching, crowd-pleasing drinks. Beat summer heat by rethinking drinks. Knisley advises that you skip sugary sodas and offer pitchers of ice-cold water instead. Add thinly sliced lemons, limes, watermelon or strawberries for flavor.

Pile on fresh produce. Serve family and friends just-picked summer fruits and vegetables. Fresh, in-season produce is at its peak in flavor and nutrition, so be ready for requests for seconds. Think veggie kabobs, leafy green salads and big bowls of cut-up fruit. "If you are on the go, easy-to-carry foods like carrot sticks, red pepper strips, cucumber slices, or broccoli or cauliflower florets are another great option," Knisley says.

Keep uninvited guests away. Don't let disease-causing bacteria contaminate your food at outdoor gatherings. Place perishable foods—such as burgers, deviled eggs and potato salad—in a well-insulated cooler with plenty of ice or freezer gel packs, and keep the cooler in the shade. Bacteria multiply rapidly in warm temperatures. "Carry wet wipes with you so you can easily clean hands or surfaces on the run," says Knisley.

Inspect your grill. Outdoor gas grills cause thousands of home fires every summer. So before you fire up the grill for the summer's first feast, be sure it's working right and review the safety tips that came with it. If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

Make sure your meat is completely cooked. The appearance of meat on the grill is not an accurate indicator of whether the meat had been properly cooked," Knisley says. "Be sure all meats reach a safe temperature: ground meat should reach 160-165 degrees Fahrenheit, chicken or turkey 165 degrees Fahrenheit, and steaks 145 degrees Fahrenheit."

Dish up a patriotic ending. Serve a red, white and blue dessert: a no-bake watermelon cake. It's topped with white, yogurt-based frosting and mouth-watering blueberries. This sweet treat is packed with nutrients and low in calories. For the recipe, go to www.morehealth.org/watermeloncake.

Finally, be a cheerleader for healthy habits. Keep in mind that children of all ages copy what adults around them do—whether that's eating well or moving more—even at parties.

Kettering Health Network is a faith-based, not-for-profit healthcare system. The network has eight hospitals: Grandview, Kettering, Sycamore, Southview, Greene Memorial, Fort Hamilton, Kettering Behavioral Health and Soin.

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