The Best and Worst Foods to Take to a Picnic

Don't take foods that can't stand the heat

Spending some family time outdoors
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When you're heading to beach picnics and backyard parties, you take time to choose a good sunscreen and apply it right. You should take the same care when choosing take-along foods. Enjoying fun in the sun is much better if you can consume food safely.

Keep the barbecue menu free from harmful germs and take some simple steps to avoid food-borne illness. These tips and healthy recipes will make for safer summer soirees.

Food Safety Tips for the Heat

Both hosts and party goers are encouraged to think about food safety at every stage of the meal. Being mindful about storing, cooking, and serving food will help prevent bacterial contamination. Do your best to:

  • When packing, keep raw foods like meat separate from ready-to-eat food like salads, fruit, and condiments.
  • Store all perishable items in a refrigerator or cooler packed with plenty of ice. Ice is great for keeping dessert-like items cool, too.
  • When firing up the grill, use a thermometer to be sure meats have been cooked to the proper internal temperature.
  • Once the meal is served, keep an eye on your watch. Avoid leaving perishable items out at room temperature for more than two hours. After that much time has passed, the food must be refrigerated, cooked, or reheated.
  • Shrink this time frame down to only 60 minutes or less if the temp is hotter than 90F.

If you take some time to plan out the menu ahead of time and select recipes that can stand up to the elements, you'll keep yourself and your companions safe.

Go for the Guac

For a quick appetizer, whip up a batch of guacamole made from heart-healthy avocados. You can make it fresh right at the picnic—this crowd pleasing recipe is easy to make and tastes best at room temperature. The addition of acid from fresh lime juice also helps keep the appetizer fresh.

If the conditions are very hot and humid, serve over a bowl of ice and don't forget dippers like carrot sticks, cucumber slices, tortilla chips, and whole grain crackers.

Basic Guacamole
Serves: 8

4 ripe avocados
Juice of one lime
½ teaspoon kosher salt
Optional add ins: hot sauce, chopped tomato, finely chopped cilantro, finely chopped jalapeno pepper, minced red onion, minced garlic

  1. Cut each of the avocados in half, remove the pit.
  2. Using a large spoon, scoop out the flesh into a medium bowl.
  3. Season with lime, salt and optional add-ins, if desired.
  4. Mash ingredients gently with a fork or potato masher; serve immediately.

Safer Salads

Instead of worrying about mayo drenched salads scorching in the sun, reach for recipes that can stand up to the elements and are easy to make.

Kale and cranberry salad made from sturdy kale resists wilting even when tossed with dressing, while sweet and crunchy fennel and apple salad can do double duty as a side dish or a burger topping.

For something a little unexpected, try a colorful and delicious panzanella salad made with crispy bread and sweet watermelon– kids go nuts for this one!

Watermelon Panzanella With Fresh Mint
Serves: 4

4 thick slices whole grain, day-old bread, cubed
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 cups cubed watermelon
1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped
1 cup diced cucumber
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
½ teaspoon lemon zest
Juice of ½ a lemon
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 350F.
  2. Place bread cubes on a sheet pan, drizzle with 2 teaspoons olive oil and season with ¼ teaspoon salt and a pinch of black pepper. Bake until toasted, about 15 minutes. Set aside to cool to room temperature.
  3. In a large bowl, combine toasted bread cubes, watermelon, tomato, cucumber, mint, and feta. Add lemon zest, lemon juice, remaining oil, and season salad with an additional ¼ teaspoon of salt and black pepper to taste. Toss well and serve.

For the Grill

Popular grilling staples like burgers, chicken, and sausages are some of the most risky foods to bring to the picnic as they require excellent temperature control.

When preparing kebabs, soak in water first to prevent them from burning. Once on the grill, be sure raw meats are completely cooked through on all sides before serving. Discard any marinades that have been in contact with raw meat juices and avoid using cooking utensils on cooked food once they’ve touched the raw stuff.

Try low sodium grilled chicken and tomato skewers or seafood like zesty grilled shrimp. And don’t forget the veggies by making grilled eggplant with Middle Eastern spices. There's also no need to shy away from steak. Choose a lean cut of meat like flank steak, which is high in protein and iron and easy to cook evenly on the grill.

Rosemary Flank Steak
Serves: 4

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary
1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 pound flank steak

  1. Place oil, rosemary, Worcestershire, salt, and pepper into a large resealable bag.
  2. Place steak in the same bag and marinate in the refrigerator for at least one hour or up to 24 hours.
  3. Heat grill or grill pan to medium-high. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes per side, or until cooked as desired. Allow to rest for 10 minutes before slicing.

Save Room for Dessert

Since the desserts are typically served towards the end of the party, make sure they are properly temperature controlled for the long term. Make sure there's room so that dairy containing treats like  whipped cream, pudding, trifle, and peanut butter banana yogurt parfaits can be kept cold or on ice.

Keep a separate cooler on hand or be sure leave room in the fridge. At these times, using your freezer for ice pops may come in very handy.

Fruit Burst Ice Pops
Serves: 4

1 cup 100 percent fruit juice (white grape juice recommended)
1 cup water
Finely chopped fresh fruit (berries, grapes, pineapple, cantaloupe, apple, peaches)

  1. Combine juice and water in a large measuring cup; stir well to combine.
  2. Pour juice into ice pop molds, filling about three-quarters of the way full. Drop in pieces of fresh fruit and insert sticks and caps as directed.
  3. Transfer to the freezer for at least 4 hours to harden before serving.

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