Pack the Perfect Picnic

Summer is officially here! Since July is National Picnic Month, what better way to enjoy a summer meal than an old-fashioned picnic? A picnic brings the family dinner table outdoors, reducing the tendencies to gravitate toward electronic screens, creating a more relaxed atmosphere and encouraging conversation, something we all can use more of!

When planning a picnic, think about foods that transport easily and safely and require minimal on-site preparation. Have a container for tableware and nonperishable items and a cooler for perishable items. Two key things to keep in mind to make a picnic enjoyable for everyone are (1) keep the menu simple and (2) involve your family in the planning and work. Pair traditional picnic foods with delicious sides such as Layered Broccoli Salad  or Watermelon Feta Salad. One-dish meals such as a Red, White, and Bleu Spinach Salad are perfect for a no-fuss picnic that doesn’t require a grill. For a simple dessert, brush fresh fruit such as peach halves or pineapple slices with butter and grill for four to five minutes. Or consider a recipe that can be prepared in advance like a Summer Berry Cobbler.

Always take precautions to keep food safe. Prepare perishable items ahead of time and chill in the refrigerator. When ready to pack in the cooler, they will already be cold. Then pack with frozen water bottles or ice cubes, and keep in mind that larger frozen chunks stay cold longer than smaller pieces of ice. Pack only the amount of perishable food needed since any food kept out for more than one hour on a hot day (above 90 degrees) should be discarded. Raw meat, poultry and seafood should be stored separately in airtight plastic containers or bags so as not to drip on other items. For more food safety information, see Handling Food Safely While Eating Outdoors

Remember, a picnic can be miles away at a park or a few feet away in your own backyard. Either way, a picnic can make family mealtime fun! 

Ensley Howell, PhD, RD, LD is currently an Extension Agent with Mississippi State University. She formerly worked as an Associate Professor at Delta State University, a School Meals Specialist at the Institute of Child Nutrition, a clinical and consultant dietitian in acute and long-term care, and a hospital foodservice director.

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