< Return to Previous Page

Picnic Season

By Carol Witte, RDN, Senior Services Nutrition Program Director

Summertime and great outdoors—there is nothing that I enjoy more!  I love getting outside and enjoying beautiful weather, the colorful trees, flowersPicnic Season and the produce can’t be beat! Summer picnics and warm weather just go together. Whether you cook out in your own patio area or take a picnic to a park, here are a few tips for summer eating.

Fruits and Vegetables: Don’t forget to add color to your picnic with fruits and vegetables! There is nothing better than grilled vegetables to add to your favorite BBQ. Try washing and seasoning vegetables ahead of time, placing them in foil so they are all ready to set on the grill. Remember to add some of my favorite seasonings–garlic powder, oregano, basil along with a little olive oil to make a delicious and easy side dish! Grilled fruits are also delicious! Cut peaches in half and drizzle with a little cinnamon and nutmeg. Grill and serve with yogurt for a tasty summer dessert!  Fruit or vegetable kabobs are also fun for a picnic. Clean your produce, season and place on skewers. Refrigerate them or keep them in a cooler until you are ready to grill.

Meat: Keep in mind that high sodium meats are not your only choices for picnics. Be sure to read your labels to evaluate the sodium content. Chicken, beef and pork are all wonderful choices. For summer grilling, marinating meat before cooking is a popular way to get lots of flavor in every bite. Always keep your marinated meat in the refrigerator and don’t leave it outdoors or on the kitchen counter. Also, don’t reuse marinade which was placed on raw meat. Read your labels and nutrition information for pre-packaged marinades as many are very high in sodium. When cooking your meat, use a food thermometer to ensure that it reaches proper temperatures.

Dairy: Low fat cheese, low fat or no fat yogurts in individual servings are great treats in the summer. Remember to keep them in the cooler.

Grains: Remember to read your label and limit the high sodium and high fat snack foods. Try unsalted pretzels with hummus, lower sodium crackers, lower sodium whole grain breads or wraps to go along with your favorite meats and vegetables. Whole grain pasta salads are amazing! Just mix in your favorite vegetables along with olive oil, vinegar and your favorite seasonings!

Picnic Safety
Whether you’re grilling out or taking a picnic to a park, it’s important to keep your picnic safe! Here are a few safety tips for packing your coolers and picnic baskets.

Wash Your Hands
If there is no running water at your picnic site, bring an extra jug of water, some soap, roll of paper towel and hand sanitizer. Remember to wash your hands before cooking, after handling raw meat and before eating. Hand washing is the best, but if you only have hand sanitizer, remember to rub it all over your hands, including between fingers and around nails. The friction does the trick—15-20 seconds.

Cooler Safety
Don’t forget to clean your cooler and reusable bags before you pack them. Keep raw foods separate from ready-to-eat food to ensure that meat and poultry juices do not contaminate your ready-to-eat foods. Pack food in clean tightly sealed containers. Don’t use ice that food was packed in for your beverages as it may get contaminated from the raw food.

Food Safety

  • Wash fruit and vegetables at home first—even those that have peelings on them—as bacteria can transfer from the knife into the edible portion. Packaged fruits and vegetables which are labeled “washed” or “triple washed” do not need to be washed.
  • Make sure your cooler is packed with plenty of ice to keep cold foods cold at 41°F or cooler. Make sure that you are always chilling or freezing food items partially before packing them in the cooler.
  • Pack cold and hot food separately. A food thermometer is always a great thing to pack! The food thermometer can be used to take meat temperatures to ensure they are cooked to safe temperatures with ground beef at 155°F and chicken at 165°F.
  • Remember even foods higher in sodium, like lunchmeat, should be kept in a cooler to avoid bacteria growth. Lunch meats have the potential for bacteria called Listeria, which infects an estimated 2,500 people per year. These bacteria can grow even in the refrigerator, although keeping food at the correct temperature helps to slow down the growth.
  • Beverages work best in a separate cooler, away from the food, because people will frequently go in and out of a cooler for beverages. Ice for beverages should always be in a separate bag.
  • Keep coolers and food out of the sun. The temperature danger zone is between 40-135°F. When food is in the danger zone, bacteria can double in number every 20 minutes. Remember, you cannot see, smell, or taste harmful bacteria or toxins growing in food.
  • Don’t let food sit out more than two hours if the outdoor temperature is 70°F or cooler. If it is 90°F or warmer—one hour is the limit! Remember it is not just meat and mayonnaise that can make you sick. All perishable food, including chopped salads, should be monitored.

Plates and Serving Utensils
Disposable work best—just make sure you have plenty! If you plan to take them home to wash them, don’t forget to separate plates used for raw meat from those used for serving the food. Don’t reuse platters or utensils that were used with raw meat, poultry or seafood.

Remember the tips above regarding food safety are for your safety. Each year 48 million Americans fall victim to food borne illnesses. We want to make sure you are not one of them!