Picnic, Anyone?

It’s easy to pack portable, tasty, nutritious foods and beverages for a safe summer picnic meal.


August is National Picnic Month! If you like to throw a blanket in the car and enjoy a meal out at a park, outdoor movie, or concert under the stars, packing up a delicious, healthy, safe meal to bring along can be easy.

A Moveable Feast. Sandwiches are a popular picnic option, but they can get warm and soggy, and fillings are a problem if you’re trying to limit processed meats and maximize food safety. “The key to a picnic is portable foods, preferably those that still taste good at room temperature and don’t spoil easily,” says Kelly Kane, MS, RD, assistant professor in the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy and director of Nutrition and Business Operations at Tufts Medical Center. Carrots and celery sticks are great choices, as are spears of broccoli and cauliflower. Pepper slices are good too, but mini peppers may hold up even better. Bring hummus, black bean spread, and guacamole for dipping.

Take Charge!
For a healthy, safe, tasty picnic, try these tips:

➧ Pre-freeze. Fill reusable water bottles to within one inch of the top and freeze. You’ll have automatic ice packs and cold drinks!

➧ Keep it cold. Make sure all foods are cold when you leave the house. Use a cooler and ice packs to keep it that way.

➧ Make sturdy choices. Whole grains, legumes, and hard fruits and veggies (like apples, carrots, and mini peppers) are less likely to get soggy or bruised. Hard cheeses and whole grain crackers and breads work well, too.

➧ Trash it. If prepared food has been sitting out for more than two hours (or one hour if the outdoor temperature is over 90°F), throw it out.

➧ Carry out. Bring a trash bag and make sure everything you brought into nature leaves with you.

Some sliced hard cheese and whole grain crackers and/or breads are a perfect addition. They pair well with the spreads and add a bit more protein and a different texture to the meal. Edamame, steamed in the shell or out, is also an excellent protein source that’s tasty at any temperature.

Throw containers of olives and nuts into your basket for tang, crunch, and healthy unsaturated fats.

For a heartier meal, whole grain-based salads (like the recipe on page 7) hold up well. Bean salads are also a good choice (for a quick option, rinse three kinds of canned beans, mix in diced raw or cooked veggies, and toss with a vinaigrette or Italian-style dressing).

Whole fruits like apples, oranges, grapes, and strawberries are easily portable. Cut melon works well, too. (More delicate fruits like bananas and peaches/nectarines may bruise.) Don’t forget to wash the fruits before packing. In addition to these fruits, dried figs, soft dried dates, or date rolls make a sumptuous dessert.

Wetting Your Whistle. Don’t forget to pack plenty of drinks, especially on hot days. Try putting non-carbonated beverages in the freezer at least two hours before leaving. The frozen beverages will serve as ice packs to keep the rest of the meal cold, and you’ll have cold drinks for hours, even in the sun. Liquids expand when they freeze, so make sure to leave at least an inch of space between the beverage and the lid so the container doesn’t crack or pop open.

For a fun treat, freeze orange or other 100 percent fruit juice in ice cube trays. Pack the cubes in a thermos and add them to seltzer or other carbonated water to chill it down and add flavor.

Staying Safe. Food should be kept at 40°F or colder. If it sits at temperatures higher than this for more than two hours, bacteria can start to grow. To help food stay cold as long as possible, leave it in the fridge until you’re ready to leave the house. Pack it in a cooler with ice packs; transport it in an air-conditioned car (not in the hot trunk); and leave the cooler closed (preferably in the shade and/or under a blanket) until you’re ready to eat.

Packing List
Make sure you have everything you need to enjoy your picnic, including:

• Picnic blanket

• Cooler

• Ice packs or bags of ice

• Reusable food containers

• Reusable, freezer-safe beverage containers

• Plates • Cups

• Flatware

• Napkins

• Serving utensils

• Towel (for spills)

• Trash bag

• Recycling bag

• Hand sanitizer

• Wipes

Carry In/Carry Out. Make sure you have everything you need to serve, eat, and clean up from the foods you’ve chosen (see “Packing List” for suggestions). Always bring a bag for trash (and one for recycling) if you are not certain receptacles will be available on site. For the good of the environment, try to limit one-time-use goods by packing food in reusable containers and drinks in thermoses rather than plastic bottles. Reusable plates and cups, inexpensive flatware, and cloth napkins are also options for reducing waste. When you pack up at the end of your meal, make sure you left your picnic area just as you found it.


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