One of the best parts of summer for many people is spending time enjoying a cookout with friends or a picnic at a local park or botanical garden. If you or a senior loved one are required to follow a special diet, your picnic menu can still be a fun one.
In honor of National Picnic Month, we share tips for planning the perfect picnic and for making sure your food stays safe on a hot summer day.
Planning a Safe and Healthy Summer Picnic
First, plan your menu with care. If you don’t already know, ask friends who will be attending your picnic if they are diabetic, on a low sodium diet, or have any other dietary restrictions. You’ll want to take those into account as you plan.
Here are a few tips to make traditional picnic foods a little healthier:
- Serve fruit: Berries, pineapple, melon, apples, and grapes are packed with vitamins, nutrients, and antioxidants. They also contain a lot of water making them good for hydration. For people concerned about weight control, fruit can satisfy a sweet tooth instead of eating a treat that is high in calories, sugar, and saturated fats.
- Healthy veggie dip: Summer picnics and parties often include vegetables and dips to snack on. Unfortunately, many dips are loaded with fat and calories. You can make a healthier version of your favorite dip by substituting full-fat sour cream and mayonnaise with low-fat versions or with plain yogurt. An alternative would be to skip serving veggie dip and serve hummus instead. It’s a nutritious and delicious option made with high fiber chickpeas that are linked to low cholesterol.
- Baked not fried: Instead of serving fried chicken bought from a local fast-food restaurant, bake a healthier version. One way to do that is to roll chicken in yogurt, sprinkle it with lemon juice, and bake it. The yogurt gives the chicken a crispy but healthy crust. Baking chicken cuts the fat per serving from an average of 20 grams when fried to just 7 or 8 grams.
- Healthier picnic salads: Potato salad, pasta salad, and macaroni salad are often picnic staples. While they might be popular, most aren’t very healthy. You can change that by skipping the mayonnaise and using Greek yogurt instead. Choosing lemon basil vinaigrette is another option to try, as is using herbs, chickpeas, and a variety of fresh vegetables in place of eggs and olives.
Finally, be sure to serve plenty of water at your picnic. The hotter the day, the more important it will be. Set up a water station and include enhancements like lemons, berries, limes, and cucumber.
Food Safety and Summer Picnics
Hosting a picnic outdoors when the mercury is soaring requires a little extra planning and precautions:
- Keep food chilled: Never leave food outdoors for more than an hour. If it is especially hot, even one hour is too long. Place foods that contain mayonnaise, eggs, or other ingredients that can spoil back in the cooler immediately after serving.
- Monitor the cooler: Make sure your cooler is stored in a shady spot and that the ice is keeping the contents cold. Plan ahead to determine where you make an ice run near your picnic location.
- Cooked or raw: Don’t partially cook meat with the intention of finishing it on a grill at the park. This increases the risk for food poisoning. Either cook the dish thoroughly before the picnic or wait to start it until you arrive.
Learn more about the steps you can take to avoid food poisoning by visiting the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control Foodborne Germs and Illnesses webpage. This resource contains information on the causes, symptoms, and warning signs of foodborne illnesses.
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